A prototype of what? That’s the first question to ask before trying to find someone to make one. There are prototypes to be made of nearly everything from buildings to cars to newspapers to microprocessor chips to software, so how you start searching for a builder depends on what you want done, as the final bill from prototype makers can range anywhere from the low $20K's to more than a million dollars.
Who Uses Prototype Makers?
Decide which prototype maker best suits your needs. They are used mostly by companies that need scale models for trademark patents, engineering parts and equipment, or new scientific inventions. However, they are also used on a smaller scale just for when you need to have an idea of how something is going to look or work out. Typically, small-scale prototypes are made by those who are going to make or manufacture the item because “prototype-makers” tend to be on the hefty price tag side.
Decide if you need a large company or if a small one will do. Companies like Industrial Modern Pattern & Mold offer full-service prototyping, with in-house modeling, machining, silicone and epoxy tooling, and finishing applications. It assists with basic project and concept evaluation to building patterns, forming multiple prototypes and molding short-run parts. The fields it works in mainly include medical, electronics, aviation, automotive, hand tool, lawn and garden, farm and communications industries. Its design teams usually include workers who have degrees in plastics and mechanical, electronic and manufacturing engineering.
Base your decision on whether or not you are handling a heavyweight or lightweight project, such as toy making. The Lund and Company Invention of River Forest makes prototypes for toys, and it builds them all by hand. If you didn’t know better, it is said, you would swear it is secretly employed by Santa Claus himself.
Do you have a bang-up idea for a company that does its own research and development (R&D)? Companies like Toshiba have its own R&D on-site staff. If you want to sneak a peek at what’s coming up, it now has a prototype Ferroelectric Random Access Memory part with a capacity of 128 Mb and a top read/write speed of 1.6G bps. The chip makes use of new architecture that inhibits signal degradation. In case you don’t know what that means, it means that it provides high random-access memory speeds on your computer, with the ability to retain data while down-powered. Faster. But your best bet is to patent it yourself before attempting to present it to the company. Chances are it won't even look at it for fear of being accused of idea theft.
Are you looking for some less expensive alternatives? Wallyco, a company headquartered in the Caribbean, makes soft-steel or aluminum molds for prototypes and claims it does it for one-third the price you get in the United States.
Then, there's always do-it-yourself. In the video below (see Resources), two college types work up their own prototype of the “SmartSwitch” with an exploded schematic (a picture or drawing where you can see all of the intricate details of the prototype). The SmartSwitch promises to electronically “sensor” overall electricity usage levels and refuses to turn itself on (or let you turn it on) if the levels are too high.
Your safest bet in choosing a prototype maker is deciding what you want to get done, how, who can see your latent vision with almost as much clarity as you, and what your budget is. Also, make certain you turn your invention over to someone who you can trust with your sensitive information. The agreement you sign must contain strict language on confidentiality.