Tested and True: How to get to a Functional Prototype

Tested and True: How to get to a Functional Prototype

This is the most exciting phase of product development. Seeing an idea become something tangible. It’s a long road to get here, but it is a path that is well worn. When you think about it, an engineer can design anything when given enough time and money. But there are so many aspects of an idea to design… How does one prioritize aspects of design? What to pursue?

 One way that you can begin the concentrated thought process of designing, is by working backwards from the end goal and breaking things up into bite sized pieces. Here's an example of a few steps to organizing and solidifying the prototyping process.

Step 1: Define Your Performance Goals

When it comes to designing a prototype, it's essential to have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve. Take some time to define your performance goals and set measurable targets. For me, it was all about finding the perfect balance between function and manufacturability.

Understanding the environment, intended uses, and possible unintended uses all play a role in selecting materials, makeup, and geometry of any design. The best way to gain this knowledge is by speaking with the intended end users. New perspectives into how a product is used and understanding exactly what end users need, will guide a design to ultimately be useful and effective.

Step 2: Research and Select the Right Components

Not all parts are created equal, so it pays to do your research and invest in high-quality components that align with your performance goals. At this stage of investigation, suppliers and new manufacturing methods are being evaluated. Various factors such as cost, complexity, and lead time all contribute to manufacturability.

With our experience in design and product development, we are able to provide a robust design that will outperform the competition in motion translation and at  checkout counter. Kyle and I had to spend hours vetting suppliers and reading product specs to find the perfect combination of components for our prototype.

Step 3: Conduct Thorough Testing

It's crucial to put your prototype through its paces with some thorough testing. Start by testing each component individually to ensure everything is working as it should. Then, once you've assembled your prototype, don't be afraid to push it to its limits in a variety of controlled scenarios. This is the perfect opportunity to find weakness in design before it is scaled up.



Through our testing, we ran the prototype through different combinations of motion. We found that in complex translation, we were seeing some chassis interference. For load testing, we made use of Kyle’s squat rack weights and loaded the machine up with 350 lb. The prototype didn’t even break a sweat (unlike Kyle).

Step 4: Optimize Power and Efficiency

Power is nothing without control, so it's essential to fine-tune your prototype to maximize performance and efficiency. Look for ways to optimize components, software, control, or configurations to get the most out of your prototype.

Hours were spent tweaking filters in motion software. It became a simulation of setting a real car up. Fine tuning adjustments in suspension modulation, climbing in and out of the simulator, and turning countless laps to dial in sensation in the seat.  the right feeling through the seat. Details like these  are what set motion simulators apart from the arcade. A little tweaking in software can take you further into immersion.

Step 5: Test in Realistic Conditions

Testing your prototype in realistic conditions is key to ensuring its performance. Whether you're using a simulator or hitting the track for some real-world testing, make sure you're replicating the conditions you'll encounter. 

With the software and filters dialed in, we set out to run the machine as much as possible. Turning endless laps on different tracks, with all sorts of cars suited for different surface types. The goal was to test the durability of actuator and chassis design. 

Step 6: Address Feedback and Iterations

As designers, we're always striving to improve, and the same goes for our prototypes. Don't be afraid to seek feedback from peers and enthusiasts to pinpoint areas for improvement. Remember, iteration is key – keep refining your prototype based on user feedback and testing results until you've got it dialed in.

Early in the prototype process, Kyle invited his brother and other folks interested in the machine to try it out, and show what we had built. We took that opportunity to get feedback about the overall user experience. It’s difficult to see a product from the eyes of the customers at times. As a designer with intimate knowledge of a product, things that may make sense to you, may not make sense to someone unfamiliar with the product. Keeping a feedback loop open, helps find these details.

Step 7: Document, Document, and Document Again

Keeping detailed records of your prototype development process is essential for troubleshooting and future changes. Trust me; you'll thank yourself later when you're trying to remember why you made a particular modification or tweak. It'll make life a whole lot easier down the road.

When first starting out this design project and any other project, I start out by organizing my workspace. constructing a skeleton of the file structure needed, and creating any documents I would need to maintain this file structure. Building something without a plan or process to maintain, is a waste of time.

One aspect I focused on was Part Numbers. Part Numbers are key in communicating B2B, especially if you’re working with global partners. A good Part Number should make sense to a designer at a glance. They should be arranged in a way where possibly a type of part or assembly can be identified, what product line, or possibly with what system they are used in. Not to forget, the assemblies should be organized how they will be presented to manufacturing and to the customer. This extra groundwork will save time down the road in design, pouring through a library of parts, and when building sales order codes.

Step 8: Continuous Improvement

Finally, don't forget that perfection is a journey, not a destination. Keep striving for continuous improvement by staying up to date on the latest technologies and best practices. Keep the feedback loop open. As we went through our development process we were constantly seeking feedback from those that were able to take the simulator for a spin. There's always room for improvement, no matter how flawless your prototype may seem.

From defining your performance goals to continuous improvement, each step plays a crucial role in the development process. An effective prototype will be a close representation of what the end user will see. Organize your process, get to work. With a little time and effort (and dollars), you can build a prototype that's tested and true.




Back to blog

Leave a comment