It is not a requirement to have a prototype when you submit your application to the USPTO. All that is needed is to accurately describe the invention so that others can use and create it. While some kind of tangible or visible form of a concept is necessary, you can start by testing your idea on paper. Many inventors ponder if an idea can be patented.
The answer is no, an idea alone is not enough to obtain a patent. However, an idea can easily become a patentable innovation if it is expanded upon so that it has drawings that can be patented. It is not necessary to go into technical details to get a patent, but rather focus on the practicality of the situation. To benefit from your idea, it must be packaged in a way that the law recognizes as something that can be protected.
The thought of a mechanized solution making the process faster, easier and causing less muscle injury is great, but without any kind of solution being offered, the mere idea of a mechanized solution is worthless. Creating a functional model will strengthen your patent application, answer any questions examiners may have about the effectiveness of your device, and increase your chances of success. When searching for patents, you may come across inventions that seem similar or identical to yours. This does not mean that inventors should give up on their idea when they realize there is only one idea present without any identifiable manifestation, but rather more work needs to be done to develop the idea and take it beyond the limits of the innovation of the idea.
Researching existing patents will show if an innovation shares too many similarities with one created before. A few years ago I represented a client who wanted to patent an invention that used a spring with more than one point of balance. Without patent protection or a confidentiality agreement that obligates not to use or disclose an idea - which is very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain with just an idea - the idea can be taken and used without payment. Anything that humans think of can be considered an “idea” or even a “useful idea” without meeting the requirements to be patented.
The lesson here is that mere ideas cannot be protected, so inventors must think in terms of an invention. Once the journey of innovation has been completed, it's time to file a patent application. Many people will have great ideas, but what sets apart those who can turn their ideas into money from those who cannot is having a strategy to define the idea with enough specificity so that it can become an asset that can ultimately be protected.