A prototype is the first prepared example for an often larger project. Prototypes are used as an important part of a design process, as they allow the designers to try out theories and test possible alternative models before final design decisions are made. New designs may be problematic or not performing as expected.
A common design strategy is using a series of prototypes to construct and test as the final design takes form. Specialists having skills in the manufacturing techniques are used to interrelate with theoretical designers, ensuring the practicality of the design. Additionally, prototypes act as a preliminary but detailed example for relevant persons so that they can better understand the scope and goals of a design project.
Electronic prototypes are occasionally built on a breadboard and show no resemblance to the size or appearance of the final product. These prototypes help to identify which options will work and show areas where more research and testing are required. They enable interaction with the end user, making sure requirements are being met.
The solder-less breadboard is a common method that works well with ICs and is quick and easy to build and to make changes. Its use is limited to smaller circuits and high capacitance values can be experienced between the rows. With Wire Wrap it is possible to make complex circuits quickly in a compact fashion. Wire is wrapped tightly around the square pins of special IC sockets. The resulting circuit is reliable and inexpensive but only makes a good connection to a square lead. Components like resistors and capacitors are soldered to a header that will fit an IC socket or to individual wire pins.
Perforated board is another method. Leads are simply twisted and soldered together and connecting wires are run wherever needed. This is a reliable process and can handle any size of component. It does not work well with ICs and is slow to make, requiring skill to construct.
A PCB with a pattern of holes and connections is available and this is easier than using a plain perforated board, especially when working with ICs. A plain board with a copper surface can also be used. Known as a Dead Bug, ICs are glued to the board upside down with the leads sticking out, allowing other components to be soldered to them. This can result in a high performance circuit that is inexpensive and reliable. These do require a high level of skill at soldering and can take time to build.
Components are surface mounted in most modern designs. This is an easier board layout and results in a more compact board. Surface mount designs can be laid out and designed using specialist software. They are very reliable, but it is hard to make changes. Getting a board fabricated can take time and be expensive but once the design is set it can be reproduced easily and cheaply.
An advantage to building an electronics prototype is that a theoretical design becomes available to check for correct function and provides a physical platform for tweaking and debugging. Because these products are built using techniques like wire wrap and bread boarding the prototype has little resemblance to the finished product.