It makes an idea real
A tangible ‘something’ born out of a solution to an identified need, envisioned by the inventor. Every prototype is a great milestone, and we are often asked ‘do you make prototypes?’, as well as other product development-process related questions such as, ‘how do you test prototypes?’ and ‘do you transfer prototypes to manufacture?’.
They’re all great questions, and each one is integral to the product development process. But what is that process, and where do prototypes fit?
The point of product development is to monetise the innovation by selling a product (or associated service) that embodies it. Along the way there may be other forms of monetisation, but ultimately it all comes down to being able to place the product on the market.
Think of a product or piece of equipment you’ve bought, and why you’ve bought it. Chances are it’s to fulfil a need you have at an acceptable value, or to put it in ‘user requirements’ language because it’s commercially attractive and works as manufactured. And that’s what product development is really all about; designing and engineering a ‘thing’ to meet those requirements.
For complex products, that means both understanding those requirements, including the use environment which for AgriTech can be challenging, engineering a working solution, and importantly testing any uncertainties in the design effectively, which most often involves prototyping.
Tackling all uncertainties at once is often not only inefficient but impossible as many questions only reveal themselves once others have been answered. The art of product development is therefore to sequentially recognise the uncertainties and address those in the most appropriate manner, using prototypes designed to address the most pertinent questions at each stage.
Most projects therefore go through several rounds of prototyping, hence terms such as proof of principle, alpha, and beta prototypes, each increasing in fidelity as the technical and commercial risk is reduced.
Conceptually, this looks like the process depicted in the diagram below, where each project has a different number of ‘W’ cycles – and activities within those cycles – depending on the specific pertinent uncertainties.
So back to the original questions…
‘Do you make (and test) prototypes?’
Yes, we do! Our workshops and labs are an integral part of our business for that very reason. The real questions are:
What are trying to learn?
How will we do that?’ and as such,
What does the prototype need to incorporate to enable that?
One must also bear in mind that not all prototypes are for technical testing; some may be to test investor appetite, customer reaction or manufacturing aspects. Not having the appropriate aspects or functionality in a prototype renders it unfit for purpose, while adding too much adds redundant costs.
‘Do you transfer prototypes to manufacture?’
Yes, we do! Production intent, pre-production and pilot production prototypes are all integral to the process of making sure that designs are delivered from their manufacturing processes as intended. All prototypes are means to an end, and upstream of that prototypes are useful tools to refine the design, but rarely suitable for commercial deployment.
There are of course many more nuances to the process, and each development project is unique in the challenges it identifies and how it addresses those. The art is understanding the process of developing the appropriate prototypes to get it to its commercial market as effectively as possible.
If you were thinking about these questions, or have any others about product development, don’t worry, it’s often unchartered waters for innovators and investors alike, and there is no such thing as a naïve question. The good news is that in working with eg technology, you’ve come to the right place to have them answered in a constructive way.