How to Build the Right Prototype and the Prototype Right

Origin of the idea

As an innovator, Karthik was always curious and passionate about creative ideas and enjoys building stuff which helps people to make their life better. Quitting his engineering degree midway was the first of many bold decisions Karthik took in his journey.

He started developing social projects from his college days. When he was in his third year of engineering he developed a prototype to recover a child from abounded borewells, which was a major problem spoken by the people all over in Tamilnadu back then in 2019, and his solution was recognized by the Coimbatore collector.

In June 2020 COVID-19 was spreading fast, large scale testing was an unprecedented challenge for the government to balance. Newspapers were filled with various problems that pandemic has brought into our lives. Karthik found that people who were frequently involved in sample collection from the suspects were affected by the virus and a few of them lost their lives too.

Karthik wants to create a semi Automatic robot, with the intention to help lab technicians and nursing staff to collect the samples from a safe distance. He then built a proof of concept prototype to quickly test his idea. Soon after that, Karthik contacted Dr. Santhosh Babu IAS, COVID-19 monitoring officer of Dharmapuri, to explore opportunities to develop his idea further. And he was very positive about the innovation.

Forge being a platform to support innovators in building their ideas, Dr. Santhosh Babu wanted Karthik to work with Forge. With the proof of concept (POC), Karthik approached Forge, hoping to make his idea into a reality.

Why you need an Innovation Tool Kit

In order to solve the right problem, the need for understanding and validating the problem with customers is necessary in the first place. Product Innovation Hypothesis (PIH) canvas helps us validate our highest possible level of problem assumptions that we thought the customers are currently facing.

“ The solution of the problem lies in the understanding of the problem; the answer is not outside the problem, it is in the problem”

Jiddu Krishnamurti [Indian Speaker]

For any product innovation to succeed in the market, the validation of multiple risks associated with the problem is much more important before solving the problem. Based on the data gathered in the PIH canvas we started scoring our idea across the product innovation rubric (PIR) which helps us in validating the problem significance and magnitude, selection of the target customer, acceptance of the value that we offered to the customer, adoption barriers for the customers in experiencing the value that we offer, and customer motivation to solve the problem.

“Higher the validation risk, lesser the possibility that the innovation can succeed in the market”

Vish Sahasranamam [CEO, FORGE Accelerator]

Here it is!!!!! We got a score of 66 out of 100 before validating the problem, but after validation, we got a whole lot of surprises. As the first step, user validation was carried out with the field team responsible for swab collection in Pollachi, led by Ms. Krishnaveni, Microbiologist, Govt Hospital. The following insights were obtained during the validation process.

As per the onsite data collected from Pollachi government hospital, the swab collection being done by the trained lab technicians there are only 0.3 to 0.5% of people got nose injury from not responding properly while collecting the sample.

The number of samples collected per day goes approximately from 600 to 800, so there is no limitation in collecting the samples in a given period with additional resources the sample collection rate can go up to 1200 per day.

The personnel involved (Lab technicians) in the swab collection have given proper one-day training to collect the samples as per the Indian council of medical research (ICMR) guidelines.

After the validation, the new set of facts has been gathered from Ms.Krishnaveni, with all the data Karthik and I scored our refined problem across the product innovation rubric. This time with more ground reality the scores go down from 66 to 32.

In the interview, Ms. Krishnaveni revealed to us the major challenges that they are currently facing in the field. The data management process involved in manually entering data of the people being tested and digitizing the documents in two online portals is cumbersome and is vulnerable to errors.

The data has to be entered into the ICMR & RT PCR portal, separate resources have been allocated to enter the data manually by the nursing staff, which makes their process more difficult and time-consuming.

She also pointed out that there is a risk of disease spread to the testing personnel while carrying out large-scale testing if procedures are not followed correctly also the loss of human lives kept increasing in the testing centers.

Hence the product development is an iterative process a clear understanding of the problem is much more important before offering a solution to the customers. The PIH and PIH are the innovation tools that help us understand the problem and the risk associated with the problem more in-depth. To start building the solution with all the new facts Karthik and I decided to create our first Minimum usable prototype.

Process of building a Minimum Usable Prototype (MUP)

The best way to solve the problem is to break down complicated elements into fundamental truths and then reassemble them from the ground up. But in most product development processes, we often tend to think that a full-featured product will solve all the user needs, but that might end up with unwanted and unusable features and functionalities.

A minimum usable prototype is an approach to build a minimum scope of the solution which is enough to convince the end-user to use it. The approach is to rapidly Ideate, design, develop, deploy, and test with the users for feedback and iterate which takes less time, money & effort. MUP offers the innovator to quickly test their solution with the customers and understand how much they willing to pay.

After having understood the customer problems and challenges through the problem validation process, we gathered all the data and insights to brainstorm and generate as many new ideas as possible. First, we started discussing what is the ultimate goal of doing this prototype? The answer is to collect the swab samples from a safe distance.

Next, what are the key features & functionality that the user really wants? While discussing this with Karthik, we started sketching our first napkin model. At this stage, there won’t be any highest priority given for the aesthetic appearance of the prototype.

This step is to take the idea from the head to the next steps, it’s simply used to communicate the design idea to others in the team.

Paper sketch to 3D model

After sketching the prototype model, the next step is carried out to convert the paper sketch into a 3D model. For this, few design inspirations have been taken to start the design.

In the swab collecting bot design process, we inspired the aesthetic part of the design from the Kuka robot. Then we started figuring out to combine the napkin sketch and Kuka model to create a new design for swab collecting cobot.

Each part has been designed individually, few components like stepper motor and servo have been selected before the design to allocate the proper dimensions.

We combined the different pieces of the individual parts in Solidworks assembly to test the mechanical fatalities and dimensions adjustment in the design. Hence the design is a minimum load application there is no need to run the stress and strain test, but the motion analysis has been done to check the functions.

In this case, the base and rotating parts are used to achieve a horizontal degree of freedom. The pivot point is attached to the linear actuator to achieve the vertical degrees of freedom. The translational movement of the linear actuator is used to enter the nostril.

After the design analysis, the next step is to export the “Standard Tessellation Language” (STL) executable file from the software for 3D printing.

  1. 3D printing

The concept of prototyping is there for a very long time. In earlier days tools and technology weren’t developed so much, the hardest challenge for any product development is to build a prototype. Hence it is an iterative process the amount of money spent on developing a prototype is more expensive, especially in hardware products.

The good news is that all these have changed very rapidly in the last few years. The new tools and different technology 3D printers have changed the way we think about building prototypes. When it comes to rapid prototyping 3D printers are the quicker, easier, and cost-effective ways to turn great ideas into reality.

To convert any imagination into reality first feeding the right input to the machine is very important, 3D printers can only understand machine language (g-code). First, the STL file is loaded into the slicer software and the necessary changes have been done to print the 3D model.

Based on the environmental condition the material selection for 3D printing will change. The most commonly used material for plastic applications is Polylactic Acid (PLA) & Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) few other filaments like nylon, PET, carbon fiber shall be used for specific applications.

HWJunction is an integrated innovation lab for rapid hardware prototyping houses inside the FORGE.FACTORY. The different innovation labs have been established to foster collaborative learning and forges significant relationships among hardware enthusiasts.

A Digital Fabrication (FABFORGE) lab (was approved by the MIT Center of Bits and Atoms) has all the necessary tools to build the prototype from scratch. Different technology 3D printers like FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) has given us a wide opportunity to build the prototype rapidly.

2. Component Selection

Before getting into the selection of the right component, understanding the budget allocated and constraints is more important in the first place, any component we choose involves a price tag. Based on the budget allocated for the particular project, we will decide whether we are going for a 50 rupee or 500 rupee component, the quality of the prototype will defer drastically based on the component selection.

All the components used to build the swab collecting bot have been covered from FORGE HWJunction Inventory the wide variety of component lists has given us the opportunity to select the right component for doing the right prototype. The size, range, cost, replacement option of the components & supply chain for the particular components will be considered before selecting the components.

3. Bill of Materials

Once the right components have been selected, the final Bill of Material will be generated. The BOM involves a complete list of material that has to be used in the prototype from the Development board, motors, and fabrication to nuts, bolts, fasteners, and screws, etc.

This will be the final list for procuring the components if in case the prototype has to replicate several times the same inventory list will be followed. Later the vendor selection and supply chain management process will be fixed. Each BOM should carry components, quantity, price, and total cost involved so that we can make sure our final cost doesn’t exceed our allocated budget.

Swab Collecting Bot Bill of Material

Deploying the prototype and getting user feedback is the necessary step in any product development. Finally, the customer is the one going to buy the product. Anything we develop should satisfy their needs.

Ms. Mythili microbiologist, from the Coimbatore government hospital, has given us the opportunity to deploy the prototype in a real-world environment.

We tested our prototype with the lab technicians and nursing staff in the hospital, and a lot of insights have been shared by the COVID-19 task force in terms of deployment constraints and adoption barriers in the field and new problems they are facing in collecting the patient’s data manually.

Testing the prototype

After deploying the prototype in several places a whole lot of feedback will be shared by different users. The key features and functionalities will be considered adding to the existing system, the unwanted feature will be removed from the prototype.

After all the updates and changes have been made, now the prototype will be again tested with the customer to get user feedback. In each iteration, the updates will be made on all sides of the prototype like design, selection of the components, size, quality of the raw materials to 3D print, electronics PCB, etc.

Product development is hard, especially when you develop hardware products. But with a clear understanding of customer needs and the right process will help us build the product right.

With so many great-sounding innovations in the garage, research labs fail to see the light of the day. Let’s take Karthik as an example, if he decided not to build the prototype the idea may vanish from his brain after a few days.

No matter where you are in, creating a prototype is exciting. The ideas that you have or already working on, just bring out and transform into a real, physical prototype! with a clear understanding of customer needs and the right process, you can always build a “Right PROTOTYPE, Prototype RIGHT”.

A passionate, curious professional of Innovation & Entrepreneurship