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by Cubbison, on Jan 8, 2020 8:14:50 AM

Strong Manufacturer-Customer Engagement Creates Better Products

“If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.”

The first person to ever utter those words clearly understood the importance of prototyping in the manufacturing process.

Simply stated, a prototype is an early mock-up of a product with the purpose of demonstrating its core functionality. It can come in a variety of iterations—something as basic as a lo-fi hand-drawn sketch to a fully functional product, the hi-fi version.

At Cubbison Company, an ISO-certified, U.S.-based custom membrane switch, graphic overlay, and nameplate manufacturer, prototyping is an essential step in the product design process. New orders, especially those with unique specifications, require the development of a prototype that will provide the customer with a model of the product to ensure it meets specs and performs as expected. Reviews can be gathered at every stage of developing the product — whether adding new features or redesigning parts of the product--testing what is working for the stakeholders and what is not.

A membrane switch, by nature of its complex functionality, most often goes through a multi-step prototyping process. Even nameplates are prototyped. Many customers require nameplates to go through the process, most often wanting to see how the product will look on their machinery or how the adhesive will stand up in their environments.

The Cubbison prototyping team applies the same level of meticulous engineering into a prototype as for a final product, ensuring this early version of a product meets specific requirements for printed circuitry, metal domes, overlays, and graphics. This step allows form, style, and functionality to be tested before the customer makes a sizable investment in an unproven product. Ultimately, a product prototype will help our customers establish just how valuable their products are to end users. That’s where the rubber meets the road—with those actually using the products.

Feedback drives the process

Prototyping allows all stakeholders—manufacturer, OEM, and end user—to test the product and provide insights into its viability for the task it is designed.  The process is more than a manufacturer handing a customer an early iteration of a product and asking “Well, what do you think?” The R&D process should be one of collaboration. The early-stage version of a product serves as the basis for generating a practical solution through discussion and customer feedback. One benefit? “Customers feel as though they are an integral part of finding the right solution. Often, fresh insights that are expressed during this phase of the process lead to better design facilitation, improved functionality, and a better overall product”, states Cubbison COO, JC Kocjancic.

Ongoing communication allows our engineers to quickly gather feedback at every stage of product development and make the necessary refinements and additional iterations before launching the project on a wide scale, saving time and money. Is turnaround time important? “Sure, it is. I believe, however, that ‘getting it right’ is equally so”, says Kocjancic.

Not ready for prime time…yet

Regardless of the level of functionality or design an early prototype may have, it is not intended to be the final product. A number of features may not be operational and the design not quite perfect. It is, however, the catalyst for determining if the direction being taken will ultimately lead to the development of a product that meets or exceeds the expectations of all stakeholders.

At Cubbison, prototyping is improving an idea. Often, before the process even commences, our engineers may discover an alternate solution that may perform better than the customer’s original design. After some preliminary internal and external testing, adding new features or redesigning parts is common.

Cubbison’s collaboration philosophy lasts throughout the product development process. From the get-go it allows us to better understand a customer’s ‘intent’—the who, what, and why of the product. It allows for a clearer defining of goals. It saves time and money. It renders a final product that not only meets but exceeds our customers’ requirements.

Ready to go?

In any project requiring highly detailed functionality, as well as stringent submission requirements including materials, graphics, fonts, or specific colors, requirements must be met in order to ensure that customers’ criteria are met.  It all starts with developing a prototype based on your ideas as laid out in detailed drawing and discussions on product function, type of equipment in which it will be integrated, and end-user requirements.

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