How do you turn your idea into a product (without investing heavily in costly production)?

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A real model of the Stanford dragon created wh...
A real model of the Stanford dragon created whith rapid prototyping. Note: This photo depicts a reproduction of the Stanford Dragon. The original work is under noncommercial license. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you go into any full-scale manufacturing you’d better have some way of knowing whether your product will succeed or will be a complete failure.

For simple product such as food lines, informational products and craft items it’s relatively easy to knock up a quick and cheap sample or prototype. You can show it to prospective customers and get their comments or response.

You can test a service concept setting up your trial service and getting prospects to give it a try. An online tax or legal service could be set up online in a basic form. Prospects can use the service even at no charge so you can obtain their feedback.

New models for service such as on-demand access, selling time instead of a “good”, adding educational or interactive experiences and offering a complete or holistic service can be quickly and easily tested. If you don’t get the response you expected, it’s relatively simple to pull back and reformulate or tweak your service until the customer finds value in it.

For products such as components, tools and toys, for example, making a prototype can be a little more tricky. Markets are ruthless. New product failure is high. Anything from 40% to 50% of new products flop (although some consultants put the failure rate in the 80% range).

The first thing is to develop a product concept statement that describes the product, its features, its design and what it does. This concept statement may include rough sketches, wooden or clay models. At this stage you may even use these materials if they are sufficiently professional looking to test the concept with selected potential customers.

To really test your product concept you can create a more life-like model using rapid prototyping processes. For a cheap and fast process you may use fused deposition modelling (FDM). If you want greater precision, you could use stereolithography (SLA) or selective laser sintering (SLS). You can also use cast urethane, CNC rapid prototyping or rapid casting. If you are able to hire time on a 3D printer, this may be cost effective. A big drawback of 3D printing is that it takes hours or even days to print a 3D model, depending on complexity and resolution.

What these rapid prototyping processes will do for you is allow you to test whether your product works or not. It will also manage your risk of manufacturing large quantities only to find out product defects or that prospective customers can use some other products already on the market that does a better job.

Prototyping is a crucial step to monetising your business idea. It separates the dream from the genuine entrepreneur.

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