Prototyping Services Information

Prototyping services

Prototyping services provide low-volume conceptual or working models of a design. These designers create prototypes or models to engineers to explore design alternatives and test product performance prior to production.

Selecting prototyping services requires the developer to match their prototyping needs, including purpose and type, with the provisions of the service provider. Often, suppliers of high-volume part services will also provide prototype services for those products.

Purpose of Prototypes

Prototypes are designed for a number of purposes based on the needs of the engineer or developer.

Proof-of-principle, also known as proof-of-concept, prototypes are used solely to test certain aspects of an intended design without attempting to match all the conditions and properties of its use. These models are used to prove the feasibility of a potential design approach or process.

Form studyprototypes are used to represent the physical form, shape, and size of a design. These models do not attempt to match a design's functionality or the specific details of its appearance.

Visual prototypes are used to capture a design's aesthetic qualities and appearance, including color and texture. These models do not attempt to match a design's functionality.

Functional prototypes are used to simulate the final form of a design, encompassing to the extent possible its full functionality, form, and appearance. They are used as the final test of concept and as a final check for design flaws before being produced on a larger scale. These models may be reduced in size to reduce the costs.

Types of Prototyping Services

Prototyping services may create prototypes for a variety of different types of products.

Software prototypes are prototypes used to test various stages of computer software. Stages of prototypes for software development are described in the table below:

Type of Prototype

Typical Purpose

General Characteristics

When to Use

Concept Prototype

Analyze system approaches

High-level, overall vision

Concept Definition Stage

Feasibility Prototype

Determine feasibility of various solutions

Proof of concept for specific issues

Concept Definition Stage

Horizontal Prototype

Clarify scope and requirements

Demonstrates outer layer of human interface only, such as windows, menus, and screens

Function Definition Stage

Vertical Prototype

Refine database design, test key components early

Demonstrates a working, though incomplete, system for key functions

Later portion of Function Definition Stage

Functional Storyboarding

Determine useable sequences for presenting information

Demonstrates the typical order in which information is presented

Function Definition Stage

Table Credit: Craig Borysowich -

Hardware prototype are prototypes used in the development of computer hardware.

Part prototypes include models for any type of individual product or for components of a larger system or piece of equipment.

Equipment prototypes include design models for machinery and industrial equipment.

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping is the fabrication of prototype models using CAD or other design software programs to provide the part data. These services can produce prototypes for designs with complex geometries in a relatively short amount of time. The table below describes the properties of some different rapid prototyping technologies:

Technology Acronym Representative Vendor Maximum Part Size (inches) Speed Accuracy Surface Finish Strengths Weaknesses System Price Plastic cost ($/lb) Metal cost ($/lb) Other material cost ($/lb)
Stereo-lithorgaphy SLA Sony 39 x 31 x 20 very good very good very good

large part size,

accuracy, speed

post processing, messy liquids

$219-800K $75-110    
Stereo-lithography SLA 3D Systems 20 x 20 x 24 average very good very good large part size, accuracy

post processing, messy liquids

$75-800K $75-110    
Wide Area Thermal Inkjet MJM   10 x 8 x 8 good good fair office OK

size and weight, fragile parts,

limited materials, part size

$50K $100    
Selective Laser Sintering SLS   15 x 13 x 18 average-fair good fair accuracy, materials

size and weight, system price,

surface finish

$300K $30-60 $25-30 5 (foundry sand)
Fused Deposition Modeling FDM Stratasys 24 x 20 x 24 poor fair fair office OK, price, materials speed $25-300K $115-185    
Single Jet Inkjet MM Solidscape 12 x 6 x 9 poor excellent excellent

accuracy, finish, office OK

speed limited materials, part


$70-80K $100    
Three Dimensional Printing 3DP Z Corp. 20 x 24 x 16 excellent fair fair

speed, office OK, price,


limited materials, fragiel parts,



$0.35/in2 (starch);

$0.60/in2 (plaster) + infiltrant

Laminated Object Manufacturing LOM Cubic Technologies 32 x 22 x 20 good fair fair to poor

large part size, good for

large castings

part stability, smoke, finish and


$120-240K $9   $5-8 (paper)

Table Credit: Castle Island Co., Ferris State University


Toolbox - Types of Prototypes

Ferris University - Rapid Prototyping

Image credit:

Aztalan Engineering, Inc.