What Does a Prototype Engineer Do?

G. Wiesen

A prototype engineer is typically responsible for overseeing the process of designing and developing a prototype product. This often begins with a brainstorming and design stage in which an engineer either creates a concept or uses the ideas and design of someone else to begin developing a realistic approach to it. A model is then typically created of the prototype, either in a physical form or as a computer-generated object that can be tested in a virtual space. The actual prototype is then usually created by an engineer for use in demonstrations or as the first step in future development.

A prototype engineer designs a product that has not yet been manufactured.
A prototype engineer designs a product that has not yet been manufactured.

One of the first responsibilities that a prototype engineer often has is the creation of a concept or design that can be used to develop a prototype. The exact way in which an engineer does this can vary quite a bit, though it often begins with brainstorming and numerous iterations on ways to develop the product. The engineer may also need to work from the concept of someone else and find a way to make it actually work. This can be a rough concept that is described in general details, or can be a fully conceived product that needs to be further developed by the engineer to make it practical.

Prototype engineers review a product design for feasibility.
Prototype engineers review a product design for feasibility.

After the basic design is established, then a prototype engineer typically creates some type of model or non-functional version of a product. This is often done to begin seeing how parts may need to be acquired or made and to test the overall look and initial usability of a product. Physical models can be created by an engineer, often used to ensure that an item can fit into part of a larger object that it may only be one component of. Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) programs are often used to make a digital model of an item that can be tested and analyzed in a virtual environment.

When these development stages are complete, a prototype engineer usually creates a functional prototype of an item. This can be one of the most difficult and complex stages of the process as different flaws need to be found and numerous tests are performed on the prototype. A functional item is important, however, as it is often used in demonstrations and to show practical applications to others within a company. The first version of an item is rarely used, so a prototype engineer may need to make numerous models and go through many iterations of a product before work on it is complete.

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