How to prototype like a pro: Get your product to market faster!

Get your product to market faster!

By Protolabs
prototyping drawings

Overcoming the challenges of prototyping to bring your product to market involves a mix of strategic planning, effective tools, and agile processes. So, how can you streamline your prototyping process and get to that vital product stage more efficiently? This blog will give you a few tips.

So, first of all, let’s start with prototyping challenges. What are they? What are some of the key challenges?

  1. Cost Constraints
  2. Time Constraints
  3. Complexity
  4. Resources
  5. Security
  6. Feedback, Testing and Iteration
  7. Quality Assurance
  8. Communication

Now we have our challenges; how do we overcome them? Or work around them?


Challenge 1: Cost Constraints—High-quality materials and tools can be costly, and each iteration will only increase the cost.

  • Define your Prototyping objectives: What do you want to achieve with each prototype? Are you validating a concept? Testing functionality? Demonstrating a product? What are the key features that need to be tested? What functionality is it important to test? Do they all need testing? You must go into your prototyping phase knowing precisely what you want to get from it; this will benefit you from both a cost point of view and time.
  • Materials: Consider what materials fit within your prototyping budget. If you can’t afford to prototype the material you plan to use in the end product, is there a cheaper material with the same characteristics? Do you need to physically prototype the whole part? Reducing the amount of material used can also lower your cost.
  • Process: Which process do you plan to use? Do you need to use the same process for prototyping as you do for the end-product? Is there a cheaper option that could be used? For example, you plan to use injection moulding for your final product as you will eventually need to ramp up production. However, the material is available for 3D printing, which would be a much quicker and probably cheaper option for prototyping your part.
  • Outsourcing: Using a seasoned supplier to support your prototyping and production needs will cut down on your costs. You won't have to spend a lot of cash upfront on machinery, software, and expertise.


digital manufacturing shop floor

Challenge 2: Time Constraints – Market pressures can lead to rapid turnaround time requirements, and extended development cycles can lead to a time-consuming and delayed project timeline.

  • Materials: Some materials are quicker to process than others, and some require finishes to provide the required functionality.
  • Service: Which service do you plan to use? Depending on complexity/ material, etc., one service may prove quicker to prototype your part than others. 3D printing tends to be the go-to for prototyping. However, it may not always provide the material, finish or tolerances you require.
  • Outsourcing: Use a supplier who has the capacity and expertise to turn your parts around quickly and efficiently and to meet the standards you require.
  • Feedback: Use design for manufacturability software. Get feedback on your part and potential issues quickly, fix them, and re-upload. Keep looping around until you are ready for physical prototypes.


Challenge 3: Complexity – Complex designs can be timely, costly and inefficient. They may also require technical expertise to manufacture without issue.

  • Supplier: Choose a supplier that offers the complexity you require.
  • Service: Which service will you use? Complexity can significantly impact which service is most suitable for your prototype. Also, different suppliers offer different tolerances, geometries, features, etc.
  • Technical Support: If your part is complex, you may have to iterate your design a few times before it is manufacturable by your supplier. Use a supplier who provides feedback and offers technical support.
  • Break Down: Can you break down complex designs into smaller, more manageable modules? Prototype each element individually.


Challenge 4: Resources—Limited access to tools, materials, and expertise often makes outsourcing your manufacturing a good idea.

  • Outsourcing: Do you have in-house machinery to manufacture your part? If you do, do you have enough capacity to fulfil your needs? And the expertise to carry it out? Most companies utilise a manufacturing partner. What things do you want in a partner?
    • The service/s you require.
    • The material/s you are opting to use.
    • Provide Feedback and Technical Support.
    • A Supply Chain that is not easily impacted.
    • Communicates openly and collaborates with you.
    • Minimum order quantities.
    • Bridge Tooling (From prototyping to production).
    • Production Runs.


Challenge 5: Security—Protect intellectual property, especially when outsourcing. Ensuring confidentiality and preventing leaks is crucial in the prototyping stage, when competition may swoop in and copy your design.

  • Secure E-commerce Platform—Consider where you are uploading your CAD. Who can see it? Can anyone access your file? Or is it secured? If you are using a supplier, choose a platform that offers NDAs and will not use/ share your work beyond your authorisation. A password-protected platform. A partner that openly offers up privacy policies and T&Cs.


Challenge 6: Feedback, Testing, and Iteration—It's important to test and request feedback as much as is required, but if the process is ongoing and lengthy, it can lead to fatigue and frustration.

  • Design for Manufacturability/ Feedback: Utilise DFM as much as possible to get your prototype to the best position before you start prototyping.
  • Digital Twins/ Augmented Reality: Try to utilise software that enables you to reduce the number of physical prototypes. Use AI to predict issues and problematic areas.
  • Outsourcing: use a supplier who can produce your prototypes quickly, preferably onshore, so delivery is quick.


Challenge 7: Quality Assurance – Prototypes may not consistently meet desired quality standards, leading to unreliable test results. Also, early prototypes may not be durable enough for extensive testing, meaning limited insight into long-term performance.

  • Meeting Standards: Can you produce products that meet the standards that they need to meet? Most industries have industry standards that parts need to adhere to. Or do you have a supplier that can meet those requirements? If your prototype does not adhere to the required quality standards, it may lead to unreliable results.
  • Quality Testing Identify areas that could lead to quality issues using design for manufacturability, digital twins and augmented reality.
    If the prototype quality is not consistent or good enough, seek feedback or expert advice on how to improve it.
  • Post-Production Quality Inspections and Post-Processing: If quality is potentially an issue, can anything be done to the part post-production to improve this? Do you or your supplier have the capabilities to enable you to maintain the quality of your prototypes and, eventually, end-use products?


Challenge 8: Communication—Effective communication is key, as without it, misalignment and delays can occur.

  • Documentation: Keeping detailed, up-to-date documentation/ records of changes and iterations can be overlooked but is essential for tracking progress. (At Protolabs, you can download PDFs of your iterations to store for your records; this can be super useful for tracking.)
  • Open Communication: With all suppliers and team members, ensure everyone is aware of the status, progress, and what is required of them and by when. This is where project coordination and ensuring the meeting of deadlines are key.

Addressing prototyping's challenges requires plenty of forethought, careful planning, resource management, and a flexible approach.
Maintaining clear communication and leveraging tools and technologies where possible can help mitigate these challenges.