How much do prototypes cost?

One of the most common questions we get is how much does a prototype cost to make? This is a tricky question, as prototypes can be free or cost upwards of $100,000. It all depends on why you want a prototype.

So, why do YOU want a prototype?

If you ask any of the recent people we talk to, many will have a different answer. Some people want prototypes to prove out a new technical feature of a product, other’s need a prototype to launch a Kickstarter campaign and many more need a prototype to test the product/market fit.

But if you gather up all the prototype inputs there will be one common theme - RISK.

Prototypes are built to assess, qualify and minimize design risk.

Risk takes many forms including user, business, technical and manufacturing risk.  And of course, the larger the risk the higher the cost of a one-off prototype.

One end of the scale is a fully functional production-ready prototype with custom electronics and software to run it. This prototype can cost over $10,000, a lot more than a cardboard model prototype with a sketch of the user interface and 3D virtual rendering

Each are allowing the business time to demonstrate the product and qualify risk and opportunity of the new product design.  Prototyping is a progressive staging of risk evaluations. 

From the tape and cardboard to the finished product, knowing which prototype to employ at each stage requires experience and a network of supporting services.  It allows design teams to move quickly from identifying each risk, evaluating options and determining a high opportunity value reasonable path forward.

So, how much will YOUR prototype cost?  

To determine prototype cost you need to know where you are in your product development journey. This can be done by following our predictable product development process and reviewing the types of prototypes and risk identification at each stage:

Stage 1: Concept Design

This stage is all about product research ‘user and chooser’ prototypes that simulate a user experience with enough fidelity to allow third-party comment on the value of the new product.

 Risks we identify include:

  • Risk of user confusion or rejection of device
  • Identify physical size constraints of device
  • Interaction methods and the most useful solution.

Types of prototypes:

  • User Interface Mock-ups
  • Foam models
  • Wireframes, virtual 3D Renderings
  • Wizard of Oz functionality (beauty models)

Prototype Costs:

  • Low - materials are mostly off the shelf and can include 3D custom prototype parts, cardboard paper, tape, glue, canned software, module electronics
  • Design Time, can be less than a week
  • Can start at $1000 for design costs for preliminary sketching and mock-ups

Stage 2: Design Engineering

This stage is all about bench model engineering prototypes that quantifies options to make design decisions.

 Risks we identify include:

  • Thermal, fluid, stress and structural engineering risks
  • Wire and sub-component management
  • Test specific components of design
  • Mechanism functionality
  • Wireless protocol limitations

Types of prototypes:

  • Scale models of product
  • Proof-of-concept: hand built models

Costs:

  • Medium: Depends on customized sub-systems needed and user testing validation metrics
  • Starting estimate is $5000 for bench model prototyping testing + material costs

Stage 3: Prototype & Test

This stage outputs a production alpha prototype that is fully functioning

 Risks we identify include:

  • Business risk and costing of components in volume
  • Business risk of yield and high-volume outputs
  • Custom electronics and wireless connectivity

Types of prototypes:

  • Fully functional alpha prototype

Costs:

  • Medium: Depending on complexity of product and volume of output
  • Minimum 4-6 weeks of development time on average
  • The alpha prototype material costs can range from a few hundred to thousands depending on custom parts, electronics and fidelity required.

Stage 4: Manufacturing Set-Up

This Stage outputs a manufacture ready production parts prototype that is an early stage fully manufactured unit.

Risks we identify include:

  • Manufacturing process risks, these can include wall thickness of part, surface finish, color matching and more
  • Business risk tied to lead time of parts, components and assembly

Types of prototypes:

  • Early small run pilot pre-production unit

Costs:

  • Medium: Depending on complexity of product and volume of output
  • Minimum 3 months of development time
  • Costs typically start at $30,000 for basic products and move upwards depending on manufacturing process, volume and development time involved.

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