Speed, Quality, Price – Pick Two: How Much a Prototype Costs

by | Dec 30, 2019

We can curse, cry and/or laugh when we’re prioritizing a design’s outcomes. You want it quicker? Well, that will cost more. You want it to function? Well, that’s going to take more time. You want it cheap? Well, it looks like you may have to choose a less expensive material. You want it in-budget, well-made, and on-time? Well, good luck.

Honestly, no matter your profession or what you’re trying to accomplish, this is the trichotomous dilemma that you’ll run into. It’s no different for prototyping your product. You can have it all, but you’ll need a strategy, have patience, and plan your budget to make your ideal prototypes.

Alex Tramiel, the founder of PAI Labs, wrote a brief comparison and advice regarding how to prototype your product. He describes the three most common and feasible ways to prototype:
  • Cardboard. Yep - it can be as simple as that. Though this is more of a concept exercise, I think this is a creative way to make your idea “3D” without having to jump right away into a machined design.
  • 3D Print. Though pricing ranges depending on how big your prototype is or how complex the design, it’s a reliable option; however, think about the pro’s and con’s of your design and compare your expectations with the next option.
  • CNC. Prototyping using this traditional method doesn’t mean it’s outdated. Tramiel explains the benefits of both CNC versus 3D printing, but again - think of how the quality of the prototypes fits within your budget and how rapidly you’re trying to test them.

It’s not that these three options are mutually exclusive, but time is ticking, money is depleting, and quality depends on the iterations of your design. In an ideal situation without triangular dilemmas, perhaps you could do all three. However, what is ideal is to work with an engineering firm like PAI Labs to see what method is best for you.
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