Prototyping during product development 

The design and production of physical technological products with challenging requirements across multiple competences such as software, electronics, mechanical and user experience is a complex process. Each of these competences have very different timelines and dependencies and there can be significant development risk which needs to be managed. 

For example, to define the user experience of a product it is important to know the formfactor of the device. However, the formfactor is dependent on the electronics solution, which subsequently needs to match the software application that controls the user interface. 

Furthermore, it is impossible to assess and manage all product development risk up front. The risks that are known can be managed, but it is the unknown risks that can severely influence the development project. The later these risks pop up, the bigger the impact can be. As these risks can often be in the detailed implementation, it is important to work towards this implementation as soon as possible. 

To make sure that a development project can continue without one group blocking the other and to identify development risk early on, it is important to define a strategic prototyping approach from the beginning to the end of the design and manufacturing process.  

1. Engineering prototype Level I
  • Using dev kits to approximate behavior
  • Starts software development early on
  • Early risk mitigation
2. Engineering prototype Level II
  • First iteraction hardware design
  • co-create electronics-industrial design
  • Early risk mitigation
3. Functional prototype
  • Functional testing
  • Iteration electronics-indestrial design
  • Design optimalization
  • Pre-certification
4. Production prototype
  • Production validation
  • Production optimalization
  • Certification

At Zign Innovations, we work with a four-phase approach, which allows all involved disciplines to work effectively towards the shared development goal and through this approach, development risk will be identified as early as possible. 

1. Engineering prototype Level I: Initial prototypes with off the shelf components 

In most of the embedded products, software development has the biggest footprint, both in effort as in lead time. Therefore, it is important to start the software development as soon as possible. Within Zign this means that once the main architecture has been defined the software development will start immediately using prototypes created by, as much as possible, combining off the shelf development kits of the components selected in the architecture. 

2. Engineering prototype Level II: Non-mechanical prototype 

The next phase is to generate a non-mechanical prototype. This is an electronics board which is mainly focused on creating a representative environment with respect to the final product for the software development. This prototype does not have to be feature complete but should at least prove the main technical solution direction without taking all mechanical constraints into account. This prototype provides enough information about the electronics solution to be able to start an iteration loop between the industrial and electronics design parties.  

implementation - prototyping

3. Functional prototype 

Once the technical solution direction is proven, the first fully functional iteration of the product can be created. During this phase, short lead time development processes are used such as local PCBA assembly, 3D printing and manual assembly. These initial prototypes can subsequently be used for initial user testing and standard pre-certification. 

4. Production prototype 

During all previous phases of the development, we worked closely with our production partners to make sure that the design can be manufactured and tested efficiently.  

Therefore, the production prototype will be functionally identical to the previous iteration, but it will be produced and tested using the quality process of the production factory. This validates that the product is ready for mass production. The first prototypes which are made in the production facility are commonly used for final product certification. 

Implementation - prototype user testing


For a customer, Zign is developing a medical ECG system. But where such a system traditionally consists of a large box with shielded wires, our solution needs to fit within a deck of playing cards formfactor and connect wirelessly to a control station.  

During this development process the design was split up into multiple proof of concept subassemblies. These subassemblies can be combined to create a non-mechanical prototype which can be used for software development and early synthetic testing.
When the functionalities of these sub-designs are integrated in a 3D constellation using flex-rigid PCBAs, it creates a functional prototype fitting within the given space envelope. This prototype is used for further functional validation and certification.
In parallel, the production prototype is prepared in close collaboration with the PCB material and plastics manufacturer. 

Do you want to know how we can support you in your development project?