Prototyping Primer: Making Your Idea a Reality

Photo by Mike McCune

Ever have an idea or invention you wanted to sell on store shelves? Most people have, and yet most people would’nt know how to go about making their vision into reality.

It all starts with the prototyping phase. Depending on what the idea is, you’ll probably want to do a CAD model, or some sort of 3D model for you and others to work from.

AutoCAD is reasonably straightforward software to learn from scratch, and there are also plenty of alternatives available.

3D modeling software Rhino is a popular option. It has an evaluation version which is limited to 25 saves, solid tutorials with extensive documentation and a huge community of helpful users.

There is also Google’s own SketchUp which is free and highly recommended.

Once you’ve drafted up a model of your idea, you can send the file to get prototyped. eMachineShop is a popular choice. The website’s online tools are fairly easy to use – you can get your prototype built in almost any material you can fathom – and the price is affordable.

If you’re up to the challenge, you could fashion the prototype with your own hands using blue foam, razor blades (careful now) and sandpaper. Modeling clay also works amazingly well.

Different mediums work best for different ideas, so don’t hesitate to experiment.

To get an exact replica of your idea, in the same materials you want to use for final production, search online for a local freelance CNC shop that can make plastic or metal molds from your CAD files.

From there, you’ll want to speak with manufacturers about producing limited runs, provided you still see a market for your product.

Here are 5 popular websites focused on Rapid Prototyping:

1. AdaFruit: http://www.adafruit.com/
2. Seeed Studio: http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/
3. Mouser: http://www.mouser.com/
4. Jameco: http://www.jameco.com/
5. Sparkfun: http://www.sparkfun.com


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