by Bryan Bergeron, Editor by Bryan Bergeron, Editor
Prototyping — the process of creating an initial circuit or electromechanical device that's intended to evolve — is
an art. It's as much a mindset as it is a collection of
techniques and approaches to design. Whether you
prototype with breadboards, wire wrap, or circuit boards,
you have to approach the work with the expectation that all
— if not most — of your work will be discarded in subsequent
(and hopefully better) generations of the device.
My favorite toolset for prototyping is wire wrap for
circuits and 3D printing in PLA for the supporting
infrastructure. I use wire wrap IC sockets for both ICs and
leaded components, a wire wrap gun, and a handheld
unwrapping tool. The unwrapping tool — which is used to
remove wrapping from a wire wrap post — is indispensible.
3D printing — especially in PLA — is fast, clean, and relatively
inexpensive. There's no heated platform and no plastic tape
to worry about, and unlike ABS plastic printing, there's
minimal setup between prints. (Be sure to check out the new
column, Getting Started With 3D Printing in this issue.)
It's important to distinguish a prototype from the process
of prototyping. Some prototypes look like finished products,
but they aren't. By finished product, I mean something that
can survive shipping, occasional rough handling, and modest
operator error such as plugging in the power to a data port.
Some prototypes look like final products, but looks are often
For example, a lot of the projects featured in N&V are
prototypes. They may be presented with circuit board files
and nice engraved cases, but they're prototypes nonetheless.
Kits are typically past the prototype stage in that they have
gone through several iterations based on user feedback.
However, it's useful to think of kits as prototypes, as well.
Even the archetypical electronic kit supplier, HeathKit sold
kits that lent themselves to iterative improvement.
So, how do you approach a circuit described in Nuts &
Volts or a kit advertised in the magazine as a prototype?
The Art of Prototyping
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8 December 2014