Prototypes and Products

Many years ago, my friend Franco DeAngelis expounded to me the difference between a prototype and a product and the enormous effort it took to take a prototype and make it into a product. I was young and thought that he was exaggerating, but over the years I have realized that he had been telling the truth.

The gulf between a prototype and a product, is huge, especially for tangible products. For products that you hold in hand a large number of steps have to be followed to make sure that they work. And there is no easy way out if the fail. Unlike software products there is no upgrade or update that will fix everything, and product recalls are very expensive. So it is important to get everything right.

Let us say you want to make an electronic product that you hope to deploy in thousands. Here are the steps that you must follow

  1. Gather requirements
  2. Develop prototype, keeping in mind Design For Manufacture and Design For Test. Ensure that parts used are available and will remain available for the life of the product.
  3. Test prototype for functionality and usability
  4. Test prototype for safety
  5. Test prototype for standards compliance and reliability (EMI, EMC, Temperature, Humidity, Shock, Vibration, Stress). Even thouh you may not be legally required to perform all these tests, you cannot simply skip these tests if you want a reliable product.
  6. Iterate through preceding steps till you think you have the prototype right
  7. Ensure that the product can be manufactured cheaply in quantity and easily tested. Check again into parts availability.
  8. Set up production. Develop test harnesses, production programming and testing utilities.
  9. Do a limited production run for manufacturing.
  10. Test the manufactured products. Process differences often cause significant differences between manufactured products and prototypes.
  11. Do manufacturing.
  12. Set up support and service.

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