Often times the expectations of a prototype are that it will look exactly like the finished production product. This is very much not the case. First of all the real purpose of a prototype is to validate the design and also to test the functionality. This essentially means you are trying to prove that the design you have chosen addresses the needs more so in a mechanical sense and not so much from an aesthetically standpoint. Having said that, there are a number of prototyping methods that may yield better appearances than others. For example the 3D printing process which is very popular now has some limitations because the way it creates layers of melted extruded plastic. The 3D printed parts is typically not very durable and has a textured surface finish which is very identifiable. On the other hand small batch molding can be used for making a plastic part and the surface finish and strength will be very close the production-level process. As a result the comparative costs reflect that. Below are a list of typical processes used in creating a prototype.
– Machining; lathe or milling out of stock or block materials
– 3D printing: layered printing of melted plastics
– Prototype Molding: thermal forming of melted plastic
– Hand crafting; includes any manual process that results in finished product
In the case of electronics, it is common to prove the concept and prototype using open-source components that can be quickly and cost-effectively packaged to test the functionality. Only once that is done would a custom circuitry be made.
Every project is different and unique but they all require a prototype.
Give us a shout when you want some help getting that idea developed.