Where Can You Find Help With Prototyping?
In many cases, you can make at least a crude prototype of your product by yourself. This helps you to validate functionality and approximate dimensions of the key parts. But where can you find professional prototyping help to get to the next level? Everywhere.
Often, you could do your own prototyping, but you lack access to the right tools. The good news is the tools you need can be found in ‘makers spaces' – including CNC machines, 3D printers, drill presses, table saws and more.
You've just come up with a fantastic idea for a great invention. Congratulations!
But you cannot sell an idea by itself. An idea is like the opening tempo of a famous song – until the music and lyrics are written (prototypes built), it is just an interesting idea. The next crucial step in the inventing process is to build a working prototype of your idea. Some inventors spend months worrying about how to find affordable prototyping help. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available, you just need to know where to look.
The Magic of Makers Spaces and Universities
Maker's spaces can be found in every major city. They operate on a membership model: pay a monthly fee and, as needed, take a bit of training and you may have access to all of the tools and equipment you need. Here is a link to a listing of many maker's spaces.
What if you are just not a DIY person – you need help from a professional? No problem. Help is everywhere and it is surprisingly affordable – especially if you are a bit creative in your approach.
When I came up with the idea for my first invention – a slim, flexible leather wallet, now sold everywhere as Wonder Wallet – a local leather furniture store gave me free leather swatches. I cut them up, got an upholstery needle and thread and sewed up my first several leather wallet prototypes – by myself. The prototypes were ugly, but functional. When I was ready to pitch to some manufacturers, I wanted more refined samples. So, I found a seamstress who had worked at JoAnne's Fabrics and struck a deal with her – make me 3 leather wallets for $200 (my budget). Her finished samples were quite nice and I used them to pitch to manufacturers.
Cost-effective help can usually be found in your nearby community college or university – in the industrial design or engineering department.
Often the department head or a university prof will refer your project to a third or fourth-year student who will happily help you – at a minimal cost. One engineering professor told me that he often made up projects for students to work on because he lacked real world applications. In such cases, the students will do the work almost for free to gain the real world experience. It's amazing that such intellectual resources are at our beck and call if we just are willing to ask for it. An electrical engineering professor helped me to modify the PC circuit on my flashing disco light cat toy, just because he thought the project was interesting. He refused to accept payment for his work!
There are lots of resources available to help you with prototyping.
If your product is mechanical in nature, there are tool and die shops and machine shops nearby. Do a Google search for “tool & die shops” or “machinists shops.” Usually, you will find several near you. Set up some appointments and go to visit them. If your needs and their capabilities don't match up, simply ask, “who would you recommend I might contact for help with this project?”
The combination of the telephone and a ‘warm referral' is the Force for accomplishing many things. It amazes me that inventors often overlook the simple, old-fashioned phone call – visit – and referral technique to find help. It works very, very well. That is why I call it the Force! Use the Force!
Click below if you would like a free ‘cheat sheet' with additional information on prototyping.