Virtual prototyping is a technique in the process of product development. It involves using computer-aided design (CAD), computer-automated design (CAutoD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) software to validate a design before committing to making a physical prototype. This is done by creating (usually 3D) computer generated geometrical shapes (parts) and either combining them into an "assembly" and testing different mechanical motions, fit and function or just aesthetic appeal. The assembly or individual parts could be opened in CAE software to simulate the behavior of the product in the real world.
The product design and development process used to rely primarily on engineers’ experience and judgment in producing an initial concept design. A physical prototype was then constructed and tested in order to evaluate its performance. Without any way to evaluate its performance in advance, the initial prototype was highly unlikely to meet expectations. Engineers usually had to re-design the initial concept multiple times to address weaknesses that were revealed in physical testing.
Move towards virtual prototypes
Today, manufacturers are under pressure to reduce time to market and optimize products to higher levels of performance and reliability. A much higher number of products are being developed in the form of virtual prototypes in which engineering simulation software are used to predict performance prior to constructing physical prototyping. Engineers can quickly explore the performance of thousands of design alternatives without investing the time and money required to build physical prototypes. The ability to explore a wide range of design alternatives leads to improvements in performance and design quality. Yet the time required to bring the product to market is usually reduced substantially because virtual prototypes can be produced much faster than physical prototypes.
End-to-end prototyping accounts fully for how a product or a component is manufactured and assembled and links the consequences of those processes to performance. Early availability of such physically realistic virtual prototypes allows testing and performance confirmation to take place as design decisions are made; enabling the acceleration of the design activity and providing more insight on the relationship between manufacturing and performance than can be achieved by building and testing physical prototypes. The benefits include reduced costs in both design and manufacturing as physical prototyping and testing is dramatically reduced/eliminated and lean but robust manufacturing processes are selected.
The research firm Aberdeen Group reports that best-in-class manufacturers that make extensive use of simulation early in the design process hit revenue, cost, and launch date and quality targets for 86% or more of their products. Best-in-class manufacturers of the most complex products get to market 158 days earlier with $1.9 million lower costs than all other manufacturers. Best-in-class manufacturers of the simplest products get to market 21 days earlier with $21,000 fewer product development costs.
- James C. Schaaf, Jr. and Faye Lynn Thompson. “Systems Concept Development with Virtual Prototyping”. Proceedings of the 29th conference on Winter simulation, pp. 941 - 947. 1997. DOI 10.1.1.74.2308
- Dan LaCourse, “Virtual Prototyping Pays Off”. Cadalyst Magazine. May 1, 2003.
- Tim Ghazaleh. “Virtual Prototyping” (PDF). Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture Magazine. November 1, 2004.
- Von Thomas Otto. "Endlich umfassend simulieren". Digital Engineering, 6/10 – July–August 2010
- Fouad El Khaldi, Raymond Ni, Pierre Culiere, Peter Ullrich, Carlos Terres Aboitiz. “Recent Integration Achievements in Virtual Prototyping for the Automobile Industry”. ESI-group.com; ESI Group. Presented May 31, 2010, FISITA.
- Aberdeen Group (October 2006). “Simulation-Driven Design Benchmark Report: Getting It Right the First Time”. p. i. October 2006. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
- Aberdeen, p. 5.