A prototype, or working model, is crucial to attract potential investors and make sure your invention really works. In the past, prototypes were built from scratch, from parts of existing products or by using a prototype shop.
A new development, rapid prototyping, makes the process easier. It uses a computer program to draw a 3-D version of the product, then uses computer-aided machinery to create a working model. The process can be started using rough sketches, rather than engineering drawings or rough models. The total cost can be 25 percent to 50 percent less than the cost of a traditional prototype.
You can find rapid prototype shops in the Yellow Pages under "Prototypes," "Computer Graphics," "Designers--Industrial," and related categories, as well as through invention magazines, your local Small Business Development Center and inventors' clubs. (See "Resources" on page 32 for contact information.)
Contacting inventors' clubs is a good idea no matter what. These organizations are set up to help people who lack manufacturing experience. If you have an idea, take the time to contact inventors' groups and get feedback on how to proceed.