Product Rescue Part 4: Beta Prototyping

The second phase of prototyping, beta prototypes not only function, but also look and feel like the final product. User and environmental tests  can be done at this point to validate AND verify that all of the requirements have been met.Product Rescue: Beta Prototyping

So far in this series, you’ve come up with an idea for a new product:

// Part 1: Discovery //

developed a product design:

// Part 2: Design //

and created an initial alpha prototype:

// Part 3: Alpha Prototyping //

Now you’re ready to begin the beta phase.

The alpha prototype was only intended to demonstrate function and probably didn’t look too pretty.  If your product is electronic, it might have just been the basic electronic components put together on a “breadboard.” At the Beta stage, we are interested in the full form, fit, and function combination. During this phase, you will be creating 10-20 pieces that will look and feel like the final product.

Why we beta

Beta testing is very important because just proving a product will work, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for the customer. We need to create a preliminary short run and allow engineering, marketing, and the lab put it through an all new set of tests.

Producing betas

Because we want to get an idea for how this product will assemble, look, and feel, we need to invest in preliminary tooling. This means that rather than investing big bucks into steel molds for the plastic components, we would create aluminum molds at a fraction of the cost. “Soft Tooling,” as it’s called, allows us to get an idea for how the molds will work on low volume production. 3D printing has come a long way in helping to reduce the confusion of soft vs. hard tooling. Not every prototype can be 3D printed, but when they can, it has the potential to save a LOT of money in tooling costs.

Once the parts and components are created to match the drawings, we get a first look at how things fit together.

Give a few to the engineers

The engineers will need a few betas to test functionality and assembly. They need to make sure that everything fits the specifications and no unforeseen issues come up when all the pieces are put together.

Give a few to marketing

Marketing will not only want a few Betas for photographs and trade shows, but also to put in front of the end user.  Many times, you will get valuable feedback from customers once they get their hands on a sample.  Maybe it’s too big, maybe the screen is too hard to read, maybe it’s not loud enough, maybe they hate the color.

Hopefully the changes are quick and simple because you remembered to ask all the right questions during the discovery phase…but we’ll get to that later.

And please give a few – maybe a few more – to the lab

The lab is a very important part of the beta process. There are only so many things you can test at the alpha phase because the product is not in it’s final format.

Once the electronics are encased in their plastic/metal enclosures, the lab can test a whole slew of environmental variables including, but not limited to:

  • EMI (radiated emissions, radiated susceptibility, conducted emissions, conducted susceptibility) – This is only for electronic products and is VERY important, especially for military applications.  If you want to learn more, give us a call.
  • Salt/Fog
  • Shock
  • Vibration
  • Temperature
  • Humidity

the reason I say you should give them a few more is because a lot of these tests are meant to be destructive – meaning you don’t always expect the product to survive.

Anyone up for a second round?

Unfortunately, one beta phase is not always enough. Depending on what you run into during the testing, the engineers may be able to squeeze by by making a few minor changes and moving right along to pre-production, but many times, the design must be altered and the beta phase must start over again.

What could possibly go wrong?

While the beta phase is fairly straight forward, the expectations of beta are not. There is always a chance that you will catch unexpected issues with the product at each step of the production process, but with each step, the cost of making changes increases exponentially.

That unfortunate truth rears its ugly head during this phase most frequently because it is the first time that the product it truly tangible.

At the alpha stage, your electronics worked great and the wifi range fit the 100ft range requirement with a few extra to spare…but once you got the plastic case around it, your range dropped to 50 feet – now what?

even though there are certain tests at each stage, you really need a solid contextual understanding of the materials, tooling, assembly requirements, and user requirements from the very beginning so that you can avoid costly hidden problems that wouldn’t come up until much later in the process.

That’s where Ehren-Haus brings the most value. With over 30 years of product development experience in medical, defense, retail, aviation, auto, and other industries, we understand the materials, testing requirements, and product development process variations. We can help remove some of the guess work and mitigate some of the risks involved by asking the right questions from the very beginning.

What’s next?

If you’re happy with the beta, it’s time to start gearing up for production.  Tune in next week to learn how we ramp up and prepare for full production in Part 5: Preproduction.

Keep up with us

If you’re in over your head or maybe just beginning the product development process and would like some support, let’s chat. We have helped countless companies save time and money at each stage of this process.

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