Case Studies

The Art and Science
of Prototyping.

Prototyping is a crucial step in product development, transforming abstract ideas into tangible representations before market release. We employ iterative design processes, user testing, and various prototype stages, from Proof-of-Concept to Beta Prototypes, to refine and optimize product ideas. Through prototyping, Slingshot ensures products are innovative, user-centric, and ready for mass production, emphasizing the balance between accuracy and affordability.
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Prototypes are visions of the future, and that journey begins with our design team. After an initial brainstorming phase, they skillfully transform abstract ideas into concept visualizations. These initial sketches and mock-ups serve as a foundation for our engineering team to create the first tangible representation of the envisioned new product.

Product prototyping is more than just a step towards the final product – it's a learning exercise. The iterative nature of the prototyping process ensures that product ideas are refined and optimized before market release. However, prototypes are not perfect and challenges do exist, including choosing the right type of prototype and managing resources effectively. You want to strike a balance between accuracy and affordability. Too much detail can be expensive and time-consuming, but insufficient detail can lead to inaccurate results. To find the sweet spot between accuracy and affordability, Slingshot employs an effective blend of iterative and parallel prototyping methodologies. This approach allows us to swiftly explore the feasibility of various product ideas, gather insights, and refine the product prototype while zeroing in on specific engineering directions. Prototypes enable our developers and designers to demonstrate understanding of the customer’s requirements. If our interpretation of the requirements is off by even a little, the customer can see the discrepancy and let us know right away. Doing this early in the product development process saves time, money, and aggravation. The outcome is a robust, efficient, and well-conceived mock-up that aligns with the project's objectives.

A prototype is like a first draft of the new product, so user testing and evaluation are integral aspects of the iterative prototyping process. Our approach parallels principles of the scientific method, where repeatability of experimental results is crucial for validation of the solution. Our team of scientists excels at creating meaningful testing protocols. These protocols enable us to test dozens of samples quickly, validating Alpha and Beta prototypes for technical limitations, performance, value proposition, usability, and user experience. Slingshot ensures that the final product aligns with client needs and expectations.

Physical prototypes come in various forms, each serving a specific purpose depending on the stage of product development. Our engineering and design teams build your prototype based largely on the intended use of the final design. It gives you a chance to test quality and identify issues in a relatively low-stakes environment before mass production begins. Low-fidelity physical prototypes are both cost-effective and ideal for understanding real-world user needs and validating core requirements. These early-stage prototypes answer fundamental questions about user experience, laying the groundwork for subsequent product development. As product development progresses, high-fidelity prototypes emerge. These prototypes aim to validate the solution comprehensively, leveraging a deep understanding of the entire system, and paving the way for production manufacturing processes.

Slingshot's prototype development process involves several phases that culminate in digital and physical product prototypes ready for user testing and performance validation:

  • Proof-of-Concept (POC) prototypes: These initial prototype designs test specific features, de-risk complex mechanisms, and evaluate technology and materials. Often referred to as a “benchtop” or “Frankenstein” model, their appearance is quick and crude. Made for a single purpose, they are often destroyed or discarded during or after testing. POC mock-ups are typically hand-sketched and hand-built from off-the-shelf materials. CAD (computer-aided design) files may or may not be generated.
  • Solid Models: Non-functional “dummy CAD” prototypes help validate aesthetics, form, size, and ergonomics; offering opportunities for early marketing team feedback and internal stakeholder buy-in. Solid models can demonstrate forward progress to leadership by filling the gap of time needed by engineers to create the first functional product prototype. These copies of the product design are usually created using 3D printers, but could also be made from paperboard or foam.  
  • Alpha Prototypes: A single device made using rapid prototype techniques and hand-assembled. Its purpose is to validate system function and has little aesthetic appeal. The physical parts are usually off-the-shelf, 3D-printed, or CNC machined using engineered CAD files. Alpha prototypes have not been designed for mass production and are not suitable for use in injection molding or other mass production processes. The level of the alpha prototypes’ refinement will impact the criteria outlined in Slingshot’s Acceptance Test Protocol (ATP); for example, it may be impractical to perform a spec-required three-foot drop test using a fragile, 3D-printed prototype. For electronics, PCBs (printed circuit boards) are produced in low volume using mass production processes to evaluate and debug surface component assembly, schematic and layout. Custom firmware is ready for initial upload and testing procedures, and a breadboard GUI (graphical user interface) may be created. This includes critical function software features so secondary features may be implemented later without issues.
  • Beta Prototypes: These "Looks like and works like" prototypes are representative of final products and are engineered with production intent geometry. Beta prototypes are constructed using higher fidelity rapid prototype methods (SLA/SLS, CNC machining, urethane casting, BetaJet, and sometimes rapid injection tooling) to build product prototypes that are representative of finished or off-the-tool parts, though are often still assembled by hand. The prototyping processes selected usually allow for a short-run of parts (i.e. 10 – 100 units) for use in field and certification testing. 

Prototyping is an important step in the product development process to cement a final design for product manufacturing. The many iterations and variations of prototypes result in successful products that can be mass produced by the right manufacturing processes, solve real problems, are cost-effective, and can even result in new intellectual property for your business.

Product prototyping is the bridge that transforms visionary ideas into real-world solutions. At Slingshot Product Development Group, our skilled engineering and design teams employ a combination of creativity, technical expertise, iterative design processes and user testing to create prototypes that push the boundaries of innovation. Through careful planning, thoughtful execution, and relentless commitment to excellence, we develop concepts into product designs and transform designs into tangible new products with quality user experiences. Prototyping isn't just about creating products – it's about creating success, and at Slingshot, we are committed to bringing the future to life through the art and science of prototyping.

“I have to say that I’m impressed…[Slingshot] reviewed all the background information efficiently, zero’d in all the relevant research, created a great research summary, and drafted a correlation protocol that was exactly what we needed.”

Sam Zaidspiner
Irrimax Corporation

“Slingshot has shown me just how much complexity is involved in taking a new paper product from the laboratory to pilot production. I’m incredibly impressed with the Science & Technology team – they really know how to plan and execute a manufacturing trial.”

Ryan D. Liss
Triple Point Innovations LLC

“It was a pleasure working with your team and I’ll look forward to working with all of you in the future!"

Paul Williamson
Proctor & Gamble