Prototype designers are responsible for creating working models for products in development. This involves working with technicians and members of management through the entire development process. The work of these professionals often determines whether a company can successfully move an idea from concept to full production.
Prototypes are necessary in every product from garments to computer chips. Subsequently, exactly what a prototype designer does is based on the industry in which he is employed because skill sets and education varies widely.
Even though prototype designers can have a wide range of education and skills, all prototype developers at some point meet with members of management and others on the design team. They discuss the project at hand so they have a solid understanding of what the company needs or has as a goal. They also figure out the main constraints the project has to have, such as staying within a particular budget or the need to adapt the model later on.
Once prototype designers know the concept that needs to move to a physical product, they come up with blueprints, diagrams or patterns for one or more prototypes. At this point, the designers have a visual representation of what the prototype has to look like. This representation is useful as a reference during construction. Prototype designers use these materials to help members of management understand what materials are available, what the costs might be for different versions of prototypes and what benefits and disadvantages are present in the options that exist. Management makes a decision about what prototype option to pursue based on this information.
Armed with the blueprints, diagrams or patterns for the prototype, the prototype designers oversee the purchase of the materials necessary to create a physical model. They also may hire or assign technical workers to complete different aspects of the prototype construction, such as painting or welding. In some cases, depending on a designer's expertise and the complexity of the product, the prototype designer might not need to assign anyone else and might do the majority of the work on his own. The purchase of materials and hiring decisions sometimes requires designers to submit formal proposals or requests to members of management for approval.
Once the prototype designers have all the necessary tools and other resources, they begin working on alone or with their teams to build the physical model. Depending on the product needed, the prototype might be full size or only a fraction of the weight, length and height the final product will have. The designers have to take safety regulations into consideration during the construction process, as well as regulations on labor and the stipulations of the company's contracts, if any. The designers also have to test the prototype. If problems arise during the construction, such as a material failing to meet expectations, the designers go back to the drawing board and troubleshoot.
Upon building a working prototype they feel is acceptable given the needs and constraints of the company, prototype designers present the prototype to members of management. They demonstrate that all components of the prototype meet or exceed project expectations. The designers then begin working with members of the production team to move the prototype to mass construction.
Through the entire development of the prototype, members of management often require prototype developers to submit formal reports about the progress of the project. Additionally, prior to mass production, the project developer might have to present the prototype to investors or others providing financial support for the production venture. This means prototype developers have to be comfortable with and skilled in written and oral communications. Their ability to report highly-technical information in an accurate, easy-to-understand way is critical to the project moving forward.