Rapid Prototypes as Openers of an Innovation Block

Rapid Prototypes as Openers of an Innovation Block

Erno Salmela (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland), Ivary Vimm (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland), Marika Hirvimäki (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland) and Pasi Juvonen (Saimaa University of Applied Sciences, Lappeenranta, Finland)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/IJACDT.2017010102

Abstract

The purpose of this research was to find out what value rapid prototyping (RP) adds to innovation and creative activity, what challenges it entails, and what sort of innovation it is especially suited for. The research was implemented as a qualitative case study of ten cases. According to the study, RP is an important part of the innovation process regardless of its tinkering reputation. It opens up an innovation block, adds creativity, engages people, and helps to estimate the potential of idea´s originality and effectiveness. RP has a positive impact on people's work enjoyment due to its playful and communal nature. And anyone can participate. Therefore, the creativity is a matter of everybody. The main limitation of the research was examining RP as a static event in one phase of the innovation process. As practical value, this article encourages organisations to increase RP in their innovation activities.
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Introduction

With the help of “traditional” prototypes, information is gained regarding the technical functionality of a product and its value to customers. However, these kinds of prototypes may take up a lot of time, as a result of which ideas can be concretised to customers and partners at too late stage. An idea may not work as well in the eyes of outsiders as the development group had thought. In this case, change work may be laborious and expensive (Rubin, 2013; Sims, 2011, Diegel et al., 2006).

One solution for this are so called rapid prototypes (RP), which are also called paper and mock up prototypes. RPs can be made and modified quickly. Easily available, inexpensive material, such as paper and clips, are used in manufacturing them. The idea will be concretised in hours or even minutes. Instead of planning, making begins as quickly as possible. And if the idea does not work, a new prototype can be made fast (Carleton et al, 2013; Sims, 2011).

The innovation process can be divided into three main stages: fuzzy front end innovation, the development, and commercialization (Koen et al., 2002). Where traditional prototypes are useful on the boundary between fuzzy front end innovation and the development phases, RPs are needed at fuzzy front end innovation phase, because this phase require considerable creativity and includes remarkable uncertainty (Furr and Dyer, 2014; Carleton et al, 2013; Chang et al., 2007). This innovation phase begins either with a new recognized problem, opportunity or idea (Koen et al., 2001) and ends in a decision to either launch or not to launch a development project (Kim and Wilemon, 2002). Good performance in this process is of fundamental importance with regard to the creation of new innovations (Björk and Magnusson, 2009; Paasi et al., 2007).

Compared to traditional prototyping, RP has been studied relatively little. Searches from Journal TOCs and Google find ca. two times more articles concerning prototyping than rapid prototyping. Little information is available on the benefits and challenges of RP, and its suitability for different kinds of innovation and creative cases. Three questions were set for the research:

  • What added value RP brings to innovation and creative activities?

  • What challenges RP entails?

  • What kind of innovation RP is especially suited for?

The research was implemented as a qualitative study of ten RP cases. In the first phase, every case was described and analysed with same formula: 1) What was the development goal?, 2) What kind of RP was created and how was it created?, 3) To whom RP was presented first and what task was given to them?, 4) What were the most important benefits of RP?, 5) What challenges came up in RP?, and 6) What is the current development result? Research data was obtained by interviews, observations, documentation and born rapid prototypes. In the second phase, the cases were cross-analysed to find similarities and differences between cases. On this basis, the conclusions were made.

In the following Section, the literature review is presented. Section 3 focuses on analysing individual cases, after which the cases are cross-analysed in Section 4. The research results are discussed in Section 5, followed by conclusion and further research needs.

Literature Review

This section starts with presentation of creativity and innovation and their mutual relationship, followed by review about prototyping and rapid prototyping.

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