Before producing a prototype, every new product introduced on the market underwent multiple (sometimes dozens) iterations. Even after prototyping concludes, more revisions are necessary to assure manufacturability for a minimum viable product (MVP). Finally, with enough design iterations, the mass-produced version, as seen on store shelves and in marketing materials, becomes a reality. Developing a new product introduction (NPI) is an optimization process that follows specific steps, culminating in full-scale manufacturing.
A product without a great proof-of-concept (POC) can lack focus and spend excessive development resources correcting circumventable issues. This design phase may end with a somewhat crude board, but it allows teams to understand the final product’s functionality. By carefully moving through each design iteration while adhering to necessary DFM requirements, the functional prototype and the final product will exhibit high quality and manufacturability at scale. In other words, MVP vs. POC is not a competition of design goals; designers and manufacturers will want to collaborate for a seamless development process.
Comparison of Design Stages
|Proof-of-concept (POC)||Prototype||Minimum Viable Product (MVP)|
|Definition||A physical working concept of a design, the exact values, components, and performance are less desired than general functionality.||A bridge between the open-ended design and constrained manufacturing process. Highly malleable, but with more DFM framework.||A design-build that evaluates the device for suitability for mass production, removing or replacing circuit elements that are not cost-effective.|
|Suitability for field usage||Poor||Fair~high||High|
MVP vs. POC Design Foci–and What About Prototyping?
Whether tinkering with a device idea or developing a plan to produce a full-scale production, starting with a POC helps establish design intent and project scope. A POC qualifies whether ideas are feasible in a scale-produced product. This vital stage of the NPI process affects the downstream prototype and MVP design sections. This essential part of NPI also allows you to define the functionality requirements of a new product rigorously. POC design can begin after determining the circuit’s needs for both the function and any necessary components.
Proof of Concept
Almost all electronic POCs will begin on a breadboard to quickly alter or expand the circuit without investing in a customized printed circuit. While breadboards are easy to manipulate and require no design or manufacturing time as an off-the-shelf device, they are notoriously noisy. Development should expect to encounter performance issues at any appreciable digital speeds, and analog signals are likely to suffer some distortion; however, a POC that works on a breadboard should directly translate to a PCB layout without issue. Double-check jumpers and pin locations to ensure no unintentional connections when difficulties arise during breadboard layout. Swapping components can also diagnose malfunction.
Working directly on a POC can be frustrating due to the technology’s inherent limitations. Still, it helps narrow down signal integrity, power integrity, and DFM requirements critical to a new product. There is a significant opportunity to identify any layout problems and manufacturability challenges with a new device before entering into modest production lot sizes.
After troubleshooting bugs in the POC – and possibly after the production of an initial test board – the next step is a functional prototype. Prototype design should proceed with the mindset of testability and functionality in the device’s intended end-use environment. While the POC phase is the time to identify design issues that affect electrical behavior, the prototyping phase is an opportunity to test things like user experience, embedded software, and overall function. Environmental testing can uncover otherwise undiscoverable design problems in a prototype; because the POC operating environment is an environmentally-controlled lab, the specifics of field operation will be lacking until accounted for. Testing this way also clarifies the proposed functionality and can suggest additional components or circuitry for inclusion.
PCB prototyping will involve multiple iterations or parallel variants of a single design. Locating and rectifying significant design limitations is crucial before the device reaches the market. Alternatively, prototypes can incorporate user feedback within a limited release window, allowing direct critique from the target audience during the work-up to the MVP. The product’s design intent should crystallize by this point, and it will be ready to proceed to the next stage.
Minimum Viable Product
An MVP represents the final design phase and should be the first production run of appreciable quality. While it may seem counterintuitive, developers want to reduce functionality at the edges to reduce cost and prevent inhibiting testability. MVPs will most closely resemble the final product and be readily scalable for mass production.
Your Contract Manufacturer Instills “MVP Design” at All Product Stages
When issues arise during development, it’s not MVP vs. POC – DFM is central to every aspect of design; following basic DFM guidelines will eliminate many manufacturing and assembly errors as root causes of malfunction. DFM is most applicable to the MVP phase and is arguably the most important due to its proximity to device mass manufacturing. The design of an MVP should be high-volume manufacturable, which will increase yield and reduce per-board costs.
At VSE, we have experience working on single prototype runs and helping customers scale to mass production. Our team of engineers is committed to building electronics for our customers, and that means offering guidance through every step of product development to optimize performance while adhering to strict production deadlines. Alongside our valued manufacturing partners, we’re ready to assist design and manufacturing with quick turnaround PCB assembly services, involved electronic engineering consulting, or anything in between.