So you have identified a problem and are dreaming up solutions. How are you going to make your prototype happen? Prototyping is a subjective process. Engineers, industrial designers, hobbyists, and machinists will have different approaches to this process, but all follow a similar path.
Start by clearly identifying the problem you seek to solve; this will allow you to determine the requirements of your problem solving idea.
Who is encountering this problem?
How does the problem affect that person?
Can the problem be solved by something already available?
After identifying the problem and the required performance or outcome of your idea
then it’s time to introduce constraints and objectives to your design. These can be qualitative properties such as aesthetics or ease of use, or quantitative properties such as size and weight. With this information you can begin to generate a concept!
Concept ideas can be generated in many ways. The most common way to start conceptualizing is with hand drawings. It’s helpful to take the image out of your head and bring it into the real world, this way you can clearly see how it will work or why it will not. More complicated designs that have many parts typically don’t take physical form until more detailed design has been completed. With your idea out in the open you may chose to refine the ideal shape of the design by making a place holder from wood, clay, or foam. Many design firms start their prototypes with foam, cardboard, and components that can be sourced at the hardware store!
Conceptualising simple ideas is a strong point for 3D printing.
By creating and editing digital assets, the form of your design can quickly be tested, reviewed and altered until the best version has been identified. Should your idea be destined for an end user, other than yourself, it can be very helpful to generate several physical concepts and take them to representatives of the end users and get feedback on the design. This enables your ability to refine the idea and continue to improve your solution!
For simpler projects, concept verification can sometimes mark the end of the prototyping, as it allows you to choose the prefered design alternative. When solving more complicated problems, design becomes more intricate and many of the parts of your device/apparatus/solution will have to undergo this process individually!
Regardless of the size or complexity of your design, you can reach a working solution by following a few basic steps: find the problem, determine how you want to solve it, determine the constraints on your solution, conceptualize, and try it out!