rethinking the prototyping process

Prototyping with CALT Dynamics

What is Prototyping in Product Development?

Products often begin as an idea, perhaps scribbled on a napkin. Then, our designers and engineers bring this idea to life. Going from ideas to concepts to products requires prototyping. Once an idea proves that it can survive the market, well-crafted prototypes can help to bring the idea to the manufacturing stage. Prototyping involves demonstrating full product functionality with the precision and accuracy of the final product. At CALT Dynamics this often involves using our 3D printing technologies to manufacture the components. Prototypes that are ready for manufacturing are near-complete versions of the final product. Prototypes of hardware products were typically expensive and time consuming to make but modern manufacturing methods have expedited the process to a great extent. The 3D prints on the left show how jewelry can be rapidly manufactured in plastic for evaluation or even batch production, for example: the polymer can be a 'castable' type allowing the 3D form to be cast in the final metal such as gold. This shows how 3D printing can be used as part of the manufacturing process. We're interested in making manufacturing easier for hardware companies so we're creating ways to make 3D printing more practical for industry.

The Prototyping Process

Prototyping is not a single-phase process. Depending on the type of product  and different stages of the product development cycle, various types of prototypes may be needed. Typically new product design often iterates through multiple phases, with many prototypes developed along the way. It’s a non-linear process where testing (often user testing) can allow designers and engineers to revisit earlier versions of the prototype. The most effective product designs and engineering comes from taking an exploratory approach in the early stages of prototyping. Iterating in this way while absorbing learned outcomes from the previous iteration is an effective way to work towards the end product but it can also be time consuming and expensive so we've been re-thinking this part of the process. Much of the cost of hardware prototyping comes from these iterations, so engineers and product designers at CALT Dynamics try to learn as much as possible from each one and we can even do this virtually in some cases. Technologies like 3D printing have reduced the cost of hardware development over the last few decades and methods that we're developing today are set to reduce the cost further.

Proof of Concept

The first stage of the prototyping process is building the proof of concept. There are two common questions associated with this process: How will the product function? What does the product look like? In large companies, both of these questions are often answered by creating separate prototypes for either functionality or appearance. For instance, an appearance prototype with the sales and marketing team. A functional prototype can be validated in conjunction with concepts derived from initial ideas of how the product may function. 


After realizing the initial concepts in the first set of prototypes, the engineering team can create the engineering prototype that will include the visual, functional, and manufacturing representations of the final product. This prototype can be optimized for the operational environment, materials, and tooling. After iterating through this stage, the production prototype has often gone through various tests, including extensive user testing.


After the creation of production prototypes, the manufacturing plan can be executed. The first units of these prototypes that are ready to be sold are called pilot prototypes. They are often sent to independent labs to be tested for product certification. Once all the milestones of this phase are met, the product is ready for commercial deployment.

The Prototyping Process - A Case Study of Rapid Innovation in Product Development

Depending on the complexity of the product, iterating through the traditional prototyping process can take months, if not years. With the use of 3D Printing and rapid prototyping technologies, the process can be shortened significantly.  

At CALT Dynamics, answering the recent call of global PPE shortage, our Face Shields went from concept art to fully usable prototypes in days. With frontline healthcare workers engaged in our user testing, we were able to engineer features into our product, such as:

  • Providing careful contouring for a fog-free and comfortable implementation
  • Ergonomic and intuitive design for assembly 
  • Make our visor design adaptable such as fitting on top of a hard hat

 We were also able to scale production to meet demand by starting with low-cost printing methods before moving onto more industrial 3D printing techniques and then finally mass production.


After we successfully produced a production prototype of our Face Shield, we had to scale our manufacturing to meet the increasing demand from healthcare facilities all over Ireland and Europe. We used one of our technologies incorporated into a large scale photopolymer printer to produce multiple moulds at a time to increase our output dramatically. Within one week of batch manufacturing, we were able to produce enough to start meeting nationwide demand. Within weeks, we were producing thousands of units of these face shields per day.

Learn more about how the Face Shield is made

Prototyping For The Future of Innovation

The 4th industrial revolution is currently underway with massive development in 3D printing and rapid prototyping technologies. Companies that are developing innovative products need reliable partners to help them move from ideas to concepts to prototypes quickly using a comprehensive approach to prototyping.


Good products come from taking an exploratory approach to innovation. But, that does not mean massive amounts of time spent in product development. Paying attention to details of features, materials, and cost by making strategic choices in design, engineering, testing, and manufacturing can save time and lower costs. We've been rethinking the product development process and new techniques are emerging to cut the cost of iterating hardware product development and we're creating new ways to manufacture products all the time. This is an exciting time in manufacturing where the creative genius of inventors and entrepreneurs can be met with rapid product development to deploy products much faster than was historically possible.

 A critical aspect in creating a product is whats called 'design for manufacture' but what 'manufacture' means is changing all the time and the design process has to absorb this to be efficient. Creating a soft step for hardware development has been a key focus of our team at CALT Dynamics and we've found it incredibly useful. 3D batch production is a new concept we're pioneering at CALT Dynamics that's set to impact where and how products get made. This means better products and less waste.

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