The power of a Proof-of-Concept
Most special machines that we build handle customer-specific products. For this, we think along in both machine design as in process design of the actions the machine performs. But how can we be sure that our ideas about a new process or function will work in a machine? We use a Proof-of-Concept.
What is a Proof-of-Concept?
A Proof-of-Concept is the validation of devised functionalities. For example, it proofs the sub-functions of a machine, the manufacturability of a product or the production method. A Proof-of-Concept can be a virtual calculation or model, but more often it is a physical setup, a prototype of (part of) the machine.
Proof-of-Concept in a machine building project
Special machine building is a complex process that consists of several steps and iterations to arrive at a functional product. A well thought-out design is important to avoid unwanted surprises later on. In a Proof-of-Concept you test different functionalities and design ideas before the concept goes into production.
A Proof-of-Concept takes place in the design phase of a machine building project:
- Assessment: When a client contacts us, we start by mapping out the wishes and requirements of the solution to be developed. We look at the current processes and identify bottlenecks. Based on this, we can describe the goals the solution must achieve.
- Pre-engineering: During pre-engineering, different solutions are devised and compared with each other (read more). The different solutions generated in this pre-engineering are not always proven concepts.
- Proof-of-Concept: We validate the concepts by building a physical setup that performs the intended functionality. With this, we test whether the functionality works as we expected, and if it produces the desired results.
After a successful Proof-of-Concept phase, we can continue with the detailed design. Bottlenecks often emerge during the Proof-of-Concept, in this case we return to pre-engineering and both phases become more intertwined. Then, several iterations may be needed to come to a final design.
It may also happen that a Proof-of-Concept is required at a later stage of the project. For example, when you are faces with questions or risks later in the project.
Benefits of a Proof-of-Concept
A Proof-of-Concept phase provides several benefits for unique, high-tech machine building projects:
- Early risk identification and control: When the biggest risks in the operation of a machine have been tested and improved in advance, fewer problems will arise later on. In addition, it saves costs and time. When the functionalities have been validated, you will not spend any time or money on a design and realisation of a non-functional machine at a later stage.
- Promoting collaboration: Especially with larger, more complex projects, you need a team that complements each other seamlessly. A Proof-of-Concept phase can help improve the collaboration of the team of engineers; mechanical, electrical and software, with a flywheel effect. In a Proof-of-Concept of a complex project, all disciplines come together and need each other to come to the best solution for the identified risks.
- Improved machine functionality: A Proof-of-Concept provides additional insights about functionality, de sign or process that can be used to optimise the performance of the machine.
- Increased customer satisfaction: With a physical Proof-of-Concept, the customer can see at an early stage how the intended solution is taking shape and can provide feedback. In a Proof-of-Concept phase, changes in design can often still take place, so that the customer is sure that he will get what he has in mind.
Challenges in a Proof-of-Concept
Besides the many benefits of conducting a Proof-of-Concept, there are also challenges. For example, when insufficient budget has been reserved for this design phase, or when there are unrealistic expectations about what can be achieved in this phase. Depending on the type, it may also be necessary to purchase expensive materials and parts, without there being any certainty that they will be used in the final realisation.
Different types of a physical Proof-of-Concept
A Proof-of-Concept is not necessarily a prototype of the whole machine. In many cases, that would cost too much time and money. More often, it is a test setup to test one or more functions. Depending on the number of functions to be tested, this can be a simpler or more complex physical setup. It can also happen that different setups are built of increasing complexity as the project progresses.
A Proof-of-Principe is the simplest version of a Proof-of-Concept. You use this model to test a single function. For example, grabbing or holding a product. With resources that are quickly available, you build a setup that performs exactly the function you have in mind. It build from 3D printed parts, but also wood, rode or other residual materials. It shows in a simple way that the function or action is feasible.
The core functionalities of a machine are present in this setup. It is often used to validate a process step consisting of multiple operations or functions. The most important parts of the setup are of higher quality than in the Proof-of-Principle. For example, it already contains components that can be used in the final machine.
With a feasibility model you can quickly discover whether there are still major design errors or technical defects in the idea.
The third option is to create a functional model. This model looks much more like a real machine. All important functions are integrated in this model. It is a more extensive and complex version of the feasibility model. It is used to test the overall functioning of the machine. It can also validate additional functionalities, such as safety or application within surrounding systems and machines.
The functional model is made of parts and materials that can also be used in the realisation. It also happens regularly that this prototype, after is has proven itself, is disassembled and the parts are used in the realisation of the machine.
The last errors in the design and process can be filtered out before the machine is being built.
A Proof-of-Concept phase is important in building special machines. It helps to identify and manage the technical risks of the design. By removing any errors from the design at an early stage, a lot of time and money can be saved. And we are sure that we will deliver what the customer has asked for.
A Proof-of-Concept can range from testing a single functionality to building a full prototype. This depends on the complexity of the project and the identified risks.
When the Proof-of-Concept is finalised, a start can be made with the detailed design and realisation of the final machine. In complex projects, the team is already well attuned to each other thanks to the extensive pre-engineering and Proof-of-Concept phases beforehand. This allows the to confidently start the next step of the machine building project.