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Rapid Product Development Technology Report

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Updated: Mar 8th, 2022


Globalization and the current financial crisis felt all over the world are two forces that are changing the mindset of business leaders. In the past, European and American businessmen can afford to spend money without thinking hard about where it went and how it was spent. As long as a product was created at the end of the day then that is considered as a mark of success. In the 21st century this is not the case because today, one of the major goals of businesses is cost-efficiency and the need to reduce time-to-market. This is especially true when it comes to firms that employ lean management strategies. In a lean management system, one can find a concept that has revolutionized product design and product delivery and it is called rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping promises to improve communication, cut costs, and deliver the product on time with minimal or zero modifications needed.

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping (“RP”) is a subset of lean management systems. The main purpose of a lean management system is to eliminate waste, reduce the number of constraints and finish and deliver a product on time without having to send it back for modifications or make major changes to the design. In other words, the company will achieve cost-efficiency without having to sacrifice quality. This is made possible by identifying the needs of the customers, then delivering what was agreed upon in the meetings with the client. One way of using the lean management approach is to use RP, but before going any further it is important to first define the meaning of a prototype.

According to one explanation a prototype is simply defined as, “An approximation of a product or a system (Chua et al., p.1). It can also be a component of a system. The more popular definition of a prototype is stated as follows, “… the first or original example of something that has been or will be copied or developed; it is a model or preliminary version” (Chua et al. p. 1). This provides a basis for the development of a product or software. This will jumpstart the project and instead of wasting valuable time discussing the capabilities of the project staff and other less important issues, by providing them a prototype the customer will automatically determine what they can expect from the manufacturer. The rapid deployment of a prototype will allow the customers to have a general idea or a “look and feel” of the final product. In this way, they can immediately offer their suggestions on the preliminary stages of the development cycle and the project goes on to the next level without wasting time and effort.


The first step is to interview the customer about their needs and wants. The next step is for the project staff to determine if they can satisfy these needs and wants in view of budget, schedule, and technical constraints (Frame, p. 59). After accepting the project, the staff will begin the long and arduous task of deciding what exactly is needed by the customer and then proceed to manufacture the product, develop the software or finalize the design of the component. The customer on the other hand will wait until the project is completed and then test the new product, software, or component. If there was a miscommunication or a misunderstanding in the preliminary meeting then it will result in a product that is below the expectation of the client. The product will be returned for modification or redesign.

If there is just a way to reduce the time between preliminary meetings and customer feedback then it will reduce the cost of the production and will allow the project staff to deliver on time as well as earn high praise from the customers. The solution is RP. This is because RP will enable the project staff to determine the correct design early in the production cycle. This is made possible by the fact that a prototype can be a virtual representation or a rough representation of the product (Chua et al., p. 2-3). In certain cases, the project staff can be so experienced when it comes to dealing with a particular product that they can even bring a prototype on the first meeting with the clients.

A company known for creating management information systems (MIS) for instance will have a general idea of what customers wanted due to their vast experience in the field of Information Technology. In their first meeting with the clients, they can show the three prototypes and in the field of IT, this is nothing more than screen images. The three prototypes are simply screened images of a) data entry forms; b) data retrieval forms; and c) help menus (Frame, p. 60). These images are rough and yet very effective in allowing the clients to see a tangible representation of what the final product can be. This is an example of a prototype. The reason for creating a prototype is to provide customers with a “look and feel” or overview of the final product (Frame, p. 60). The customer will greatly appreciate this level of professionalism because they can immediately feel that the team handling the project is not wasting their time.

In the case of a company that is in the business of supplying components to an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), they cannot afford not to use RP. For this type of company, they must be able to provide a rough representation or at least a scale model of what they are going to do. In the case of significantly large components then they must have a scale model before going to rapid prototyping and rapid deployment. The OEM will be able to have an overview of the plan and from the very beginning can inform the project staff that there is something wrong with the design. Therefore, they do not need to purchase raw materials just yet and then build the component based on the erroneous design. This is another example of why RP will enable cost-efficiency.

Using RP, a firm can experience not only efficiency but also a significant improvement when it comes to customer satisfaction. The following reasons help explain why (eFunda, 2009):

  • Increase effective communication – in the first meeting with the client the project staff can show them a prototype that will allow them to provide feedback and the design can be clarified even on the early stage of the production cycle;
  • Decrease Development Time – a prototype enables not only the customer but everyone involved in the manufacturing process to see an overview of the software or a rough representation of the product/component, allowing them to voice out their concerns with regards to the viability of the project;
  • Decrease Costly Mistakes – the client, the engineers, and even the end-users can see where the project is heading, and having an idea of the final design they can provide feedback improving the design much further and reducing the possibility of recall or redesign;
  • Extend Product Lifetime – since the engineers were able to create the correct design by the needs of the customers as well as the actual users of the product then it can be used effectively and correctly reducing the possibility of breakdowns due to incorrect design or improper use.
  • Decrease Delivery Time – the rapid feedback provided by the customers in the early stage of the production cycle will also translate to faster turnout.

The most important feature of the RP concept is its ability to enhance communication. In this day and age where components and software development is outsourced to places like Shanghai, China, and New Delhi, India the chances of miscommunication and misunderstanding can be increased exponentially. Even two firms one located in the UK and the other in Germany can discuss a project and all of a sudden both camps will be talking about two different things. The language barrier is a very critical issue in the age of globalization. This problem can be easily overcome with the use of RP.

RP works by how the human mind functions. A person will have a better understanding of the project and the expected results if he or she can see a model or a prototype. Even a virtual prototype developed on a computer screen is much better than having nothing to work with. It is also a well-known fact that a picture can paint a thousand words. Imagine the impact of a prototype that customers can see and touch.

In the aforementioned example of the development of software for MIS, the project staff only brought with them screen images but the customer can already provide much-needed feedback. Every client is different from the last one and they have their individual preferences such as background color and even the type of font used in the system. During a very long meeting, the details of the project can be easily glossed over because there are so many things that have to be discussed like the main purpose of the software or the delivery date. A prototype will allow the customer to immediately discover flaws in the design especially those that cannot be easily detected in a written or verbal description of the project. For instance, in the case of the MIS project, the customer can comment on the size of the data entry field.

Enhancing Rapid Prototyping

RP can be further enhanced with the use of cutting-edge technology. In the past, RP can be made possible by creating scale models or developing a replica of a product by merely producing the shell or framework. Even if this is not yet the final product, creating samples or representation of the final product in this manner can be time-consuming. Today, this process can be enhanced by the use of 3D modeling on the computer. For instance, the design of a new aircraft need not require a scale model or even the creation of a replica using cheap material such as wood or Styrofoam. All of these can be done using computer software that will replicate the design in a virtual environment (Chua et al., p. 26). The customer can even experience a walk-through within the 3D environment. Therefore, even if the project is still months before completing the customer has a general idea of what the cockpit or the fuselage will look like.

Using advanced computer systems the project staff does not need to meet with the clients regularly. They can send improvements and modifications of the design through the Internet. The client can view the virtual prototype on the computer and provide inputs. This can go back and forth until both parties are satisfied that they had a lock on the correct design. They can proceed to the next phase which is to bring together the people and the appropriate machines or equipment that will create the final product.

While computer systems are a great advantage when it comes to RP. Prototyping can be also enhanced by simply modifying the way feedbacks are generated. As mentioned earlier the first phase of the development process is for the project staff and the client to meet. They can show the prototype and then the clients will make comments regarding the general direction of the project based on the prototype shown to them. When the team handling the project has finished making improvements to the prototype, before they go to the production stage, they can also show the prototype to the end-users. These are the people who are going to use the product. In the case of the MIS project, it is the clerks who will perform the data entry and so they must be consulted. On the part of the manufacturing company, it is their engineers who will do the actual work and not just the designers who created the prototype on a computer.


In the age of globalization and increasing competitiveness in the marketplace, it is crucial to be the first to bring the product to the market. But this product will be useless if it has many flaws in the design. The challenge, therefore, is speed and cost-efficiency. This is can be solved using rapid prototyping. It allows manufacturers, developers, and clients to communicate effectively, expressing their expectations and agreeing upon a particular design very quickly reducing wastage in both time and money. The use of computer systems can greatly enhance the effectiveness of RP because it also improves the sending and receiving of data and the result is more effective communication between two parties as well as a significant reduction when it comes to time-to-market – the length of time needed for developing the product before it can be delivered to stores, showrooms, clients and end-users.


Chua, C. K. et al. Rapid Prototyping: Principles and Applications. 2nd ed. New Jersey: World Scientific Publishing, 2004.


Frame, Davidson. The New Project Management: Tools for an Age of Rapid Change, Complexity, and other Business Realities. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.

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