Introducing Innovate Marquette’s Protolab

At Innovate Marquette, we recognize the need for rural entrepreneurs to have access to advanced technology to quickly prototype and develop products. Thanks to support from the United States Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the City of Marquette, we created a space for our clients to take their 2D ideas and transform them into physical concepts. Our Protolab connects entrepreneurs with the cutting-edge technology they need to develop innovative products in Marquette. 

What is the Protolab?

The Innovate Marquette Protolab is a specialized prototyping lab equipped with state-of-the-art 3D printing technologies that transform 2D designs into working concept models. These advanced technologies serve as a bridge between the concept development and early production stages for entrepreneurs. By utilizing advanced 3D printing technology, entrepreneurs can refine their product ideas and print tangible working concept models for evaluation and testing. A Protolab with machines of this caliber gives entrepreneurs and students alike exposure to an extensive range of digital resources.

The accessibility and affordability of 3D prototyping labs have made prototyping more accessible for everyone in the product development landscape. – Eric Prue, Design Coordinator

Research and Development Reimagined

In product design, arriving at the best possible prototype takes time and often more than one version. Like anything, when a first draft is created there is often room for improvement. Multi-iterative design is a process in which we assist entrepreneurs with producing a prototype, test it, and then, based on the testing, go back to the drawing board to take another step toward the best possible solution. By embracing this process, entrepreneurs can successfully develop their ideas into tangible products.

While digital simulations and virtual models can provide valuable insights, they often fall short of capturing the nuances of a physical product. Physical prototypes enable entrepreneurs to assess critical factors such as ergonomics, material properties, structural integrity, and the overall user experience. Prototypes offer a hands-on approach that not only aids in identifying design flaws or inefficiencies, but also instills confidence in potential investors, partners, and customers, as they can interact with and experience the product firsthand.

Traditional product development methods require substantial upfront investments and minimum order quantities, making them financially unrealistic for small-scale or early-stage ventures. Thanks to our Protolab’s accessible 3D printing technology, entrepreneurs can create cost-effective prototypes on demand and in small quantities. This level of flexibility not only reduces financial risks but also empowers entrepreneurs to refine their designs, aligning them more closely with market demands and consumer preferences.

Experiential Learning

Invent@NMU, Innovate Marquette’s experiential learning program, enhances the education gained in Northern Michigan University (NMU) classrooms by providing students with hands-on experience. Working in the Protolab gives NMU students studying disciplines like Human Centered Design and Mechanical Engineering the opportunity to learn valuable skills today that are in demand tomorrow. 

Lauren Call, a 2023 NMU graduate, and former Invent@NMU Human-Centered Designer, spent most of her time in the Protolab working on client projects. Lauren conducted product-design research, mapped design boards of products, and created computer-aided design (CAD) models of client products for prototyping. While working at Invent@NMU, Lauren received 1-on-1 mentorship from our Design Coordinator, Eric Prue. Eric works with clients to ensure they’re getting the best possible version of their prototype before they patent, pitch to manufacturers, and bring their product to market.

The availability to this technology helped us to dive into concepts and produce prototypes with a level of precision we could never achieve otherwise. This allowed us to lay a proper foundation to develop proof-of-concept models and the final designs. – Lauren Call, NMU Alum

Shaping the Future of Rural Entrepreneurship

The Innovate Marquette Protolab, which was made possible by the United States Department of Agriculture, provides our clients and Invent@NMU students with access to cutting-edge technology that advances business ventures and augments higher education. Our Protolab supports local entrepreneurs by helping them transform 2D designs into physical prototypes. 

For NMU students, the Protolab provides a transformative experience that goes beyond classroom learning. Working with cutting-edge technology, collaborating with industry professionals, and engaging in real-world projects enables them to develop a diverse skill set and build the confidence needed to excel in their future careers.

Innovate Marquette’s dedication to fostering innovation and empowering students is evident through the establishment of this Protolab. As this collaborative initiative continues to thrive, it will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and product designers, driving the Marquette region’s growth and contributing to the ever-evolving landscape of innovative product development.

Interested in learning more about the Innovate Marquette Protolab? Read more

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