Prototyping Your Way To Better Prototypes

Chipboard prototype of a wireless phone charger with style.

If you’ve ever made a prototype of something before making the “real” one or even the final prototype, you probably already know that hands-on design time can’t be beat. There’s really no substitute for the insight you will glean from having a three-dimensional thing to hold and turn over in your hands for a full assessment. Sometimes you need to prototype an object more than once before investing time, money, and materials into making the final prototype for presentation.

This is [Eric Strebel]’s second video in series about making an eco-friendly wireless phone charger. He made a paper prototype in the first video, and in this follow-up, he refines the idea further and makes a chipboard version of the charger before the final molded paper pulp prototype. The main advantage of the chipboard version is to design the parts so that each one will be easier to pull from its mold in a single piece without any undercuts.

By building the chipboard version first, [Eric] is able to better understand the manufacturing and assembly needs of this particular widget. This way, he can work out the kinks before spending a bunch of time in CAD to create a 3D-printed mold and making the paper pulp prototype itself. He emphasizes that this process is quite different from the 2.5D method of laser-cutting a single piece of chipboard and folding it up into a 3D object like it was a cereal box, which is likely to hide design issues. Be sure to check out the video after the break.

We think this prototype is quite nice-looking, and believe that everything deserves good design. Why should a wireless charger be any different? [Eric] has prototyped in a lot of media, but he seems especially skilled in the art of foam core board. Start with the masterclass and you’ll have a better appreciation for his foam armored vehicle and one of the many ways he smooths out foam parts.

13 thoughts on “Prototyping Your Way To Better Prototypes

  1. “Eco Friendly” and “Wireless Phone Charger” are mutually exclusive things. Wireless phone chargers by their nature are wasteful of electricity, with at least 30% of energy being wasted (Qi’s own docs say 40% wasted) before we even get to misalignment of the charger and the fact that 90% of people have an addon case around their phone which increases the distance from any wireless charger. Now if you just focus on the industrial design aspect and throw away all the wireless charging mess, not a bad project.

    1. On the other hand, the total electricity to be charged into a phone during the lifetime of the battery is about 10 kWh or about 5 kg of CO2. Production of the phone accounts for 50-100 kg and the operation of the cellular network has some significant contribution also. So while true, this gives some perspective on the amount of loss.

      1. Multiply that by 2 billion and it starts to add up doesn’t it…

        However, if we can get to the point where the power comes from renewables… so you only charge your phone when the wind is blowing/sun is out using smarts in the charger to be told when. And the phone battery does the rest.

    2. Broken and unfixable USB connectors have been the demise of half my phones. Wireless charging can stop that happening, or you can just shift to wireless charging when it does happen, thus recovering the phone.

  2. “Eco Friendly Wireless Phone Charger” is probably a prime example of why looking at intentions and not actions or results is a terrible idea.

    That said, this prototyping knowledge is priceless!!

    1. Ah but how far down the rabbit hole of action/result do you go – IFF you assume x devices fail early every year because the charging port is broken, or because it must have a charging port the whole device has been broken, by water ingress perhaps, than Eco Friendly it is to use Wireless charging as long as the devices you are charging have become more durable by loosing that weak point so they always make it to the end of life (for either other components or usefulness).

      You can also assume that Wireless charging was going to be used anyway, as its too convenient, stylish, whatever and then note that this is also Eco freindly as almost all of it is made of sustainably sourceable, easily recycled, compostable materials rather than a whole lot of plastic…

      Or you can only look at direct cable charging is stupendously efficient, wireless isn’t and call that an ‘Eco’ fail… Its often more complex in the real world than that one obvious element.

  3. @jpa

    You are using the wrong denominator. You have to divide the potential savings not by the total consumption, but by the effort needed to achieve that savings.

    In this case, just NOT doing wireless charging, which is next to zero.

    So this particular saving is totally worth it.

    1. Wireless charging has a few major benefits as well, loosing a small amount of electric in the charging (and it is a small amount despite the poor efficiency as the total power transfered by it is small) can be well worth it – the device you are charging can then be more resilient, waterproof, the shape and size of the device can be more freely formed as the only hard requirement to decent wireless charging is a single distance – the one between the two coils being kept as small as possible which if both charger and device are shaped to match each other gives great freedom.

      So as long as you make the device that cost so much more to make than it does to run last longer and not get replaced every 6 months for the new shinier model… at least part of which is easy – as there are no connectors to fail, its not going to die after being rained on etc its actually a win if you can keep people using older devices..

      Would I like it if wireless charging was either much more efficient, or if devices were designed such that you could get durability (or its close cousin repairability) and so longer life out of them despite the pretty fragile but efficient USB connectors absolutely. And I’m not saying wireless charging is universally a good idea – but in the right devices its far better because it allows the high cost device a much longer service life while costing so little electricity as the device itself uses bugger all anyway (and yes all those little bugger alls do add up, but it is still nothing compared to the cost of replacing the device).

  4. I do this. I used to cut cardboard with a craft knife to make prototypes (including printing both sides of a PCB on a piece of card to make sure it fits and everything aligns). Now I use a laser cutter. Winning!

    1. I’ve been laser cutting cardboard to make R/C planes lately. My petite 5 W laser diode can cut 6 mm of corrugated cardboard in 5 passes at 50% power. As a bonus the cut edge of the corrugated cardboard is often pretty (depending on the angle of the cut).

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