Table of Contents:
Taking ClimateTech Hardware from Prototype to Production
Prototyping is an essential process that every product must go through before it can be available on the market. If you’re developing prototypes for a new climatetech product, this guide can serve as a framework to help you advance it to the production stage. While there is no one “right” way to develop a prototype, we recommend following the steps outlined in this article in the order they’re listed.
Before you begin prototyping, you should make sure to complete the following steps, as described in the Idea Stage article:
- Identify a target customer with a specific problem that your product can solve
- Define your product’s value proposition
- Define the customer requirements for your product and translate these into technical specifications
If you have already begun prototyping but are unsure which prototype stage you are at, our Product Stage Assessment can estimate your product, prototype, and testing stage for you. It also provides you with a personal product roadmap tool to monitor your product development progress over time.
Introduction to Prototyping
Prototyping is the iterative process of building preliminary products or parts of products to test their design, functionality, usability, and satisfaction of customer requirements. Each prototype should be thought of as an experiment. Every time you build a prototype, you should have a clear hypothesis that you are testing, as you did during customer discovery. Building prototypes and putting them in the hands of your customers early and often is the best way to ensure that your end product will meet their expectations.
As you read through the typical progression of prototype levels outlined below, keep in mind that prototyping is not usually a linear process. The steps below represent the most direct path to production, but it’s very likely you will need to iterate on multiple prototypes at each step – or go back and repeat steps – and this is okay! It’s better to spend time testing multiple prototypes to make sure you are building something that your customers want to buy, rather than rushing an uncertain design to production.
Step 1: Pre-Alpha / MVP / Proof-of-Concept Prototype
The first hardware prototype that is typically built is called a Pre-Alpha Prototype, Minimum Viable Product (MVP), or a Proof-of-Concept Prototype. This early stage of prototype development may be referred to as the “research,” “benchtop,” or “lab” stage. In the Scale For ClimateTech program, we refer to prototypes at this stage as Pre-Engineering Prototypes (or Pre-EPs for short).
No matter which name you choose to describe it, prototypes built at this stage all have a common goal: testing and validating the core or “killer” assumptions of the hardware device. As the name “proof-of-concept” implies, you are testing the basic concept of your product. The name “Minimum Viable Product” is also apt because you are developing a prototype with the minimum features necessary to prove whether your product can provide value in the marketplace.
Testing Your Product Concept
You can test your product’s concept by:
- Creating engineering models and / or simulations, followed by:
- Building partial subsystems (a subsystem is a group of parts, and an entire product system is typically made up of multiple subsystems), followed by:
- Building full subsystems independently (eg. building an electronic assembly & outer casing separately and testing each on its own, before putting them together).
The results of these tests will help you decide whether to proceed to the next prototype stage, or to iterate and adjust your product concept.
Step 2: Alpha Prototype
If you have completed the steps above and have gathered initial evidence that your product concept can work and will provide value to your target customer, then you can proceed to the Alpha Prototype stage. Alpha prototypes are primarily used for internal testing, but they can still be shown to your customers to receive their feedback.
In the Scale For ClimateTech program, we refer to alpha prototypes as Engineering Prototypes (EPs).
An Engineering Prototype is a single looks-like & works-like prototype resembling the full product. It should be an assembly of all your product’s systems. At this stage, your customer requirements should also be validated.
Customer Requirements Validation
Before proceeding with the prototype development process, it’s very important to validate that your product’s customer requirements are complete, consistent, and accurately aligned with your customer’s needs. This can be achieved by thoroughly reviewing the requirements for conflicts and testability, and also by talking to your customers and sharing your requirements with them to ensure you are on the same page. Making all the necessary changes to your customer requirements at this stage will help you avoid costly changes down the road. Here is more information on the process of customer requirements validation.
Step 3: Beta Prototype
Beta prototype units are typically used for external testing with customers (eg. demos, pilots, beta tests, etc.) as well as for regulatory and / or certification purposes. In the Scale For ClimateTech program, we break prototypes at the Beta stage into two categories: Engineering Validation Test Prototypes (EVTs), and later, Design Validation Test (DVT) prototypes.
Engineering Validation Test Prototype
An Engineering Validation Test Prototype is the first build of multiple units with production-quality tooling. As the name implies, the product’s engineering is tested at this phase to validate that it satisfies the product specifications including quality. It’s necessary to build and test multiple units at this stage in order to have a statistically significant sample size.
Design Validation Test Prototype
A DVT prototype looks-like & works-like the final saleable product. It is also fabricated using scale production processes such as injection molding, screen printing, casting, etc.
Step 4: Pilot Prototype
The purpose of a Pilot Prototype is to test the manufacturing processes for your product. At this stage, you have completed your first official production run at a relevant quantity (~5-10% of a full production run). In the Scale For ClimateTech program, we call pilot prototypes Production Validation Test (PVT) prototypes.
Production Validation Test Prototype
To be considered PVT Prototypes, your units must meet the previously-defined requirements to be saleable to customers. At this point, you should also have quality, packaging, and shipping processes in place.
The prototyping process can sometimes feel like a long and winding road with many iterations and pivots along the way, but remember that these changes are much less expensive to complete up front than after you have started manufacturing at scale. Each prototype brings a new learning opportunity, and you should try to learn as much from each one as you can while the cost of making changes to your product remains low.
Next Up: Low-rate and Full-rate Production
If you have completed all of the prototype stages above, validated that your product meets the customer requirements and technical specifications, and you have successfully tested your manufacturing processes, you are ready to begin low-rate production. We will discuss the production stage, including how to manage interactions with manufacturers and suppliers, in the next article.
Would you like help navigating the journey from prototype to production? If you’re a climatetech innovator, Scale For ClimateTech can provide expert guidance through this process.
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