164: Three Key Types of Prototypes in Product Prototyping Phase

164: The 3 Prototyping Phases for New Product Development

February 23, 2023

With Tim Uys, Director of Design at MAKO Design + Invent

Hosted by Kevin Mako, President of MAKO Design + Invent

164: The 3 Prototyping Phases for New Product Development
164: The 3 Prototyping Phases for New Product Development

Over the past 25 years, Tim Uys has established himself as a leading figure in industrial and mechanical design engineering. He has held various senior design leadership and lecturing roles and has shared his expertise with prestigious companies like Dell, Nike Golf, Qualcomm, and Ironman. Previously, Tim served as the design director for IDOne, a top design firm in Austin, before it was acquired. Currently, he serves as the head of design at MAKO Design + Invent, a position he has held for the past 8 years in Austin, Texas. In today’s session, Tim will share valuable knowledge with inventors, startups, and small manufacturers on the three key types of prototypes, their respective order, and the crucial role that each stage plays in the prototyping process for creating a successful hardware product.

Today you will hear us talk about:

  • Mock Prototype / Rough Prototype
  • The cost of parts and iterations is relatively low for mock prototypes.
  • Prioritize the major aspects of the product rather than minor details when developing the first prototype.
  • Utilize a series of rough prototypes or prototype parts to test multiple elements simultaneously.
  • Mechanical / Functional Prototype
  • The prototype parts can be developed either in tandem or linearly.
  • Advanced parts are used in mechanical test prototypes to closely resemble the final production mechanics.
  • It is worth the cost to solve problems during the prototyping stage.
  • Proper prototyping is essential before proceeding to production.
  • Developing mechanical features that accurately represent the final manufactured product is valuable in perfecting mechanical design elements.
  • Refined / Presentation Prototype
  • Hardware startups use final prototypes for marketing and manufacturing purposes.
  • Manufacturers require a fully vetted product before taking on a project.
  • Iteration is a critical aspect of product development.


  • 4:50 – The mock prototype, otherwise known as a rough prototype or 3D printed prototype or model prototype.
  • 5:25 – Mock prototype starts after you have gone through great detail on figuring out the sketches, CAD design, renderings, features, how the product will work, etc.
  • 5:40 – Mock prototypes are there to evaluate things like size, form, ergonomics, possibly basic primary functionality, and other large product ideas.
  • 5:50 – Mock prototypes are not where you focus on every little tiny detail as instead they are used to flush out the big and important parts of the product’s core part ideas.
  • 6:15 – Sometimes you can have a series of mock prototypes to be able to tweak and iterate rapidly and cheaply.
  • 7:15 – If you go too deep into the weeds on the small mechanical details of a prototype, but you haven’t yet flushed out the big ideas on the product, it can be costly to iterate because you have to keep re-doing all the micro details every time you make a macro prototype change.
  • 7:30 – The first prototype is the foundational piece of the product’s engineering, and it must be derived from very professionally done and well though out 3D CAD of that product.
  • 8:15 – Start big picture on your prototype, and work your way into the engineering details from there.
  • 8:20 – Building a hardware product is like building a house, you want a great design to start, then strong foundation and framing, then worry about the details inside.
  • 8:30 – Unlike building a house, many details of a new innovative hardware product will be unique, never done before, and as such, requires more experimentation and testing to ensure that the product works well.
  • 9:00 – You learn many things from each iteration of prototyping
  • 9:15 – People don’t realize that when a product is released on the market, there was a huge amount of design, engineering, and testing that went into it to get it to that point.
  • 10:10 – The mock prototype is so fundamental on starting the process of rinse and repeat to get to the result of a quality product, a product that has not been made before.
  • 10:20 – Sometimes you realize through early prototyping that you have to go back to the drawing board on a particular part or design theory, so the early you can discover these hardware issues, the cheaper the overall cost of product development.
  • 11:10 – It’s not just failures in prototyping, it’s also identifying unforeseen opportunities in the product.
  • 12:10 – The mechanical engineering, mechanical prototype, functional prototyping phase.
  • 12:40 – Sometimes mechanical prototyping is not the whole prototype, it’s just key mechanical parts of the overall product.  This also keeps the cost of engineering and prototyping lower.
  • 14:00 – You can break out different parts and run them linear if one is required before the other, or in tandem to save overall time to market.
  • 15:20 – Mechanical prototypes have significantly more detailed and higher quality parts in order to mimic the eventual production units as closely as possible.
  • 17:00 – High-quality parts ensure they will perform in prototyping like you want them to in order to accurately and cost-effectively test the core components of your hardware.
  • 18:15 – It’s not just enough to test out if something works, but also to use prototyping methods to ensure that it will work over time reliably as well.
  • 18:30 – The pricing can vary in prototyping, but whatever cost it is, the key is that you’re solving the problem and thus creating a tremendous amount of value in your hardware product.
  • 18:45 – A lot of people, especially those who are new to hardware product development, see a good mock-up prototype and want to go straight to production; however, they are far too early for that as there is still a lot of detail and engineering to work out first before you can even realistically approach a manufacturer.  This is where the mechanical prototypes come in and provide a lot of value in figuring out those key product technical challenges.
  • 19:30 – You cannot take a design to a manufacturer that is not thoroughly engineered, tested, and perfected.  A manufacturer will simply not take you seriously any earlier.
  • 19:35 –  A manufacturer’s job is to repeat parts at low cost, high quality, and on schedule.  Their job is not to sort out your hardware engineering challenges or solutions.
  • 20:15 – The beauty of mechanical prototyping in 2023 is that the prototype part technology is so advanced, that hardware startups can test much more quickly and accurately than ever before in order to get to the point they are ready for manufacturing.
  • 21:00 – From a design firm’s perspective, it’s important to have access to a lot of different prototype part vendors that you’ve used for many years to be able to figure out which prototype parts work best for which product part applications.
  • 22:20 – A refined prototype, otherwise known as a final prototype, sales prototype, or presentation prototype, is a prototype that has uses the learning andresults of the mechanical prototype and the external designs of the mock prototype, then put them together in a very nice finalized fully functional, beautiful looking, and manufacturing-ready prototype.
  • 23:00 – Most hardware startups used the Refined prototype to pre-sell to real buyers through crowdfunding, distributors, retailers, wholesalers, direct-to-consumer, etc., or use that refined prototype to raise a significant investment round.
  • 24:00 – The refined prototype is also a key milestone to be talking to manufacturing/production companies to get their input on how to actually product the product.
  • 25:00 – An example of a very complex product that manufacturing wouldn’t take on until they saw that the design, engineering, prototyping, and testing had already been done, then they were excited to take it on.
  • 27:00 – All new innovative products have unique elements, and that is what makes them innovate, thus, those unique elements need to be figured out entirely before going to manufacturing.
  • 27:40 – When you figure out the engineering and prototyping details to make your product work, you have created a tremendous amount of intellectual property value for yourself as the inventor.
  • 27:45 – It is competitive to get your new product into a reputable manufacturer, so the better you can present your product, the better thought out it is, the higher the probability that you will get quality production, at good costs, and on time.
  • 27:55 – Manufacturers are busy and they don’t make money of a first production run, so they do need to believe in the marketability and the engineering quality of your product.
  • 29:00 – You want to give your actual refined prototype to manufacturers that are quoting on the project.
  • 29:20 – In addition to the refined prototype, the manufacturers should also be getting the full 3D CAD design in multiple formats so they have it in a method they can use, the 2D line drawings, the feature callouts, the materials specification sheet, and the CAD callouts so that they have everything they need to give the best quote.
  • 31:00 – Mako Design takes design to manufacture one step further in the refined prototyping process by bringing in both internal Mako Design manufacturing expertise and engineers from the actual manufacturers earlier on in the prototyping process, even as early as going into the mechanical prototyping phases.
  • 32:45 – There is always some final tweaks in manufacturing, but the goal in prototyping for manufacturing should be to minimize those changes when in actual production.
  • 35:00 – Short-run production can be an intermediary phase between prototyping and full-scale manufacturing.
  • 36:00 – Manufacturing iterations can continue well beyond even the first production run to ensure you are constantly improving your product, but also reducing costs as you increase your volumes.


Tim Uys Links:
LinkedIn | MAKO Design

The Product Startup Podcast Links:
Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook Page | Facebook Group | Pinterest | Twitter | YouTube

PTC Links:
OnShape | Creo

Mako Design Links:
YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Kevin Mako Links:
Instagram | LinkedIn | Quora | Facebook | Twitter

Partner: PTC’s best-in-class software solutions Onshape: The only cloud-native product development platform that delivers full-featured computer-aided design (CAD), integrated product data management (PDM) and enterprise analytics in a single system, and Creo: 3D CAD solution that provides designers with the most innovative tools to build better products faster, such as generative design, additive manufacturing, real-time simulation, IIoT, and augmented reality.