After the R&D stage in the hardware development lifecycle, you have a clear vision of what you’re building, the problem it solves, who the target user is, what other products are out there trying to solve the same problem (and how those products were made) and you’ve started iterating on the product design.
A next critical step in the development process is to research the best materials to use for prototyping and then ultimately for mass production.
Best Practices for Choosing Materials
Before you begin prototyping your product, there’s a benefit to thinking about production materials and manufacturing processes early on.
For example, if you’re working with plastics, a lot of 3D printing materials were designed to emulate molding resins. So if you’re able to first find a production resin that matches your product requirements, you can then pick a prototyping material with comparable specs to your production resin.
If you’re unsure which production resin will match your product requirements, you can still test various prototyping materials to assess which comparable production resin is best.
Here’s an example of this strategy in practice:
When prototyping Roost, an ergonomic laptop stand, James Olander leveraged his background in Aerospace Engineering to assess the structural elements of his 3D printed plastic prototypes and then extrapolate those results to understand how a comparable injection molded resin would perform.
Here are the 3 main components of James’ workflow:
1. Undertand the critical components of your design
The first step in the process of choosing the right material is to understand which structural elements are most important for the mechanical integrity of your product. For Roost, these were strength and stiffness.
2. Know your materials
In order to choose the right materials, you need to understand the mechanical properties of the materials available to you. Ask for material property sheets so you can compare and then find the right materials to test for each stage in the prototyping process.
3. Validate your mechanical design
Build it and then break it until you get it right.
To Source, You Need a BOM
After finding the right materials to use for your product, you’ll need to source those materials for production. In order to source your materials, you’ll need to create a Bill of Materials, or BOM.
A BOM is a critical document that gets engineers, procurers, and manufacturers on the same page and communicates the specific “ingredients” that will be used to build your product.
A strategic approach to materials and component sourcing is a critical component of successful hardware development. If you’re able to start planning early on which materials and manufacturing technologies you might use for mass production, you’ll have the advantage of a more systematic and efficient approach to prototyping.
With attention to detail during this development stage, the final result will be a product that looks and feels the way you envisioned and meets your functional and aesthetic requirements.