Modern software tools should allow engineers to design, develop and test their designs before a single part is sent to the prototyping shop. So why is it not happening? Why are hundreds of prototypes manufactured, tested and then rejected? Why is so much time wasted at the testing and then redesigning stage?

Individually, the components for the ideal virtual prototyping tool are available, but they have not yet been wrapped up into a single integrated environment that’s based on design principles that engineers find intuitive.

Why is that?                                                 

It could be because we’re carrying the legacy of 50 years of computing technology, developed in domain-and industry-specific silos, and patched together by a network of connective software and human procedure (and perhaps a touch of complacency as well).  Also, many companies seem to be much more interested in producing very broad, highly administrative Product Lifecycle Management tools.  These tools tend to be costly to implement and complex to administrate and therefore can be a very profitable product. However I feel that this has removed the focus on providing a much more useful integrated virtual prototyping environment.

A comprehensive and reliable digital prototyping tool would be much more useful and beneficial to a wide range of users, driving ground level productivity, but it is currently not available. It is a hard, but solvable problem and it would provide substantially greater benefits than yet another grand Product Lifecycle Management tool.

So what characteristics would the ideal virtual prototyping tool have?

  • It would exploit the latest advances in computing technology to be fast and responsive, capable of simulating the increasingly complex systems.
  • First-principles physics would simulate the way the various entities in the model behave in the real world.
  • 3-D visualisation would provide immediate tactile feedback about how the entities in the model interact with each other.
  • Control analysis, modeling, and optimization tools would be provided in a single environment.
  • The process of building a physical model would be abstracted from the underlying mathematical implementation, enabling the engineer to concentrate on higher order effects.
  • Design documentation would be an integral part of the modeling process.

I’d like to end on a question for my readers.  In a world unencumbered by legacy issues, what other qualities would this ideal tool have?

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