We understand that our industry has its own jargon and terminologies so we have tried to explain a few common terms below.
An alpha prototype is designed to demonstrate the functions of a product. It is expected to work ‘most of the time’ and will provide useful feedback into the Design Process through Design Review. It will not necessarily look like the final product.
An alpha prototype will;
Provided initial testing is favourable, many of the design aspects of an Alpha Prototype may be maintained in the Beta Prototype design.
A beta prototype is designed to further demonstrate the functions of a product. It should look like and work like the final product but will not be produced using the factory manufacturing process/techniques.
A beta prototype will;
Provided testing is favourable, much of the design of a Beta Prototype is likely to be maintained in the production design.
Pilot Production is the first run of the final production design product at the chosen manufacturer. It will usually be a small batch made in accordance with the chosen manufacturer’s processes and suppliers. It may require support at the chosen manufacturer by the designers as requested by and agreed with the client. Regulatory testing not completed on the pre-production units will be completed on pilot production units. Transfer to production should be completed before or with this pilot production run as agreed with the client.
A pre-production prototype is a device or instrument made very close to the production intent. It will typically be generated with parts made off-tool and in accordance with the relevant production process for that part (for example moulding a cover using injection moulding tool and following the process defined by the manufacturer). A pre-production prototype may not necessarily be produced by the final manufacturer/integrator and will be made in lower volumes than required as a production output and on a trial basis.
The aims of a pre-production prototype are to confirm whether the production design meets the product requirements specification and that it can be produced repeatably by the manufacturer. The pre-production prototype should ideally be representative of the final production device in terms of device robustness. The design and/or manufacturing processes may be modified if problems are identified.
Software Pre-Production Release - The pre-production release of the software (also called a Release Candidate) will be complete in every respect. This version of the software will have been thoroughly tested and will implement the agreed specification. Final verification of the software must then be completed on the pre-production prototype to ensure that all functions operate as expected on the target pre-production hardware.
Addition of new features at this stage is likely to require a return to the beta release phase and may necessitate complete retesting (regression testing) of the software.
The pre-production prototype may be submitted to regulatory testing by the client provided the design will not change for final production.
eg technology does not offer warranties of any kind on pre-production prototypes or any output of the design process.
The production design is the final output from the Transfer to Manufacture phase of the Design Process. It will specify the manufacturing and assembly methods and materials suitable for the expected production quantities and is typically thought of as the ‘finished design’.
The production design will be validated against the up-to-date product requirements specification and can be used to verify the specification. It is expected that the production design will be released or sold by a client to third parties.
A production design is normally accompanied by a Technical File or documentation as agreed with the client which details how the design can be put into production and how the device meets relevant regulations to allow the product to be put onto the market, e.g. CE marking.
Final EMC, electrical safety and essential performance test certificates will only be valid if the units tested are full production design units or equivalent in design, for example in pre-production prototypes. Alpha and Beta prototype units can all be used to gain confidence that the design will pass EMC and electrical safety and essential performance testing but a final certificate (that would be accepted in a court for example) can only be offered against the final production design units or equivalent pre-production prototypes.
Production is the volume manufacture of the final product design, in numbers appropriate for sale, in accordance with the client’s sales plan at the chosen manufacturer.
A Proof-of-Principle prototype (POP rig, POP prototype) is a prototype that has been designed and built to test the validity of a particular design approach. Its primary purpose will be to understand and reduce technical risk and therefore to confirm, guide or reject the design approach being tested. It is an experimental test rig that proves that the technology / science works, and may look at only a part of the final design. It will not look like, or necessarily work like the final device/instrument. The results of testing will be fed back into the Design Process.
Examples of proof-of-principal prototypes are;
It can sometimes be appropriate to construct proof-of-principal prototypes from model-making materials including wood, plastic sheet, cardboard, lego, meccano etc.
A proof-of-principle prototype or breadboard is explicitly not a design that is immediately ready for manufacture and is unlikely to comply with all aspects of the product requirement specification.
A prototype is a design output with the purpose of testing some or all of the requirements of a project. A mechanical prototype will typically be a physical design output (an actual thing, rather than documents or CAD models) from the Concept Generation, Detailed Design or Transfer to Manufacture phases of the eg Design Process as outlined in the Design Procedure. An electrical prototype will also typically be an actual thing and may be an electrically representative implementation built with components that are easier to work with by hand than those intended to be used in a manufactured version.
Prototypes may or may not be representative of the finished product: their purpose is to assess the feasibility of a particular design approach in a timely, cost-effective way. A prototype may be designed to assess a visual and/or a functional representation of a part or the whole of a product.
In general, prototypes from the earlier phases of the Design Procedure are more likely to have been fabricated using materials and methods unsuitable for production manufacturing scales but cost effective for small batches. Similarly, prototypes from the latter phases of the Design Procedure are more likely to have been produced using realistic production methods.
Note, in some cases it may be appropriate to combine the generation of an alpha and a beta prototype into a single prototype phase.