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Are You Just Modeling in 3D or Are You Digital Prototyping?

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

A lot of designers are modeling in 3D these days. Let’s face it, it is easier to visualize in 3D and it’s a great way to create drawing views very quickly. However, not many manufacturers using 3D modeling CAD systems are digital prototyping. What is digital prototyping? Digital prototyping is using a 3D CAD model just like a physical prototype.

Some examples of digital prototyping are checking for interferences or observing the motion of a linkage. Motion can actually be used for many things: functional validation or demonstrating operation are just a couple of examples. There are actually many ways a digital prototype may be used for virtual testing, and those same models may be used to create photorealistic marketing materials.

Going from 3D modeling to digital prototyping is part of an evolutionary process. However, some companies don’t take that next step. One reason is that the previous step in the evolutionary process, 2D CAD systems, obscures the customers’ view. 2D CAD systems digitized the drafting board and made it faster to create and edit drawings. So it would seem that the next step in the evolution process would be to use a 3D modeler to create manufacturing drawings faster. 3D modelers, especially parametric modelers, actually offer substantially more than just faster drawing view creation.

Another reason a business may not take the step towards digital prototyping is the perception that the cost to implement (software, hardware, and training) is too expensive. This typically is not true anymore, especially when compared to the cost of physical prototyping or field failures.
These are just a couple reasons why a business may not be digital prototyping. There could be other reasons of course. A good reason to move forward though is that the benefits of digital prototyping are compelling.

One of the benefits of digital prototyping includes reductions in physical prototype costs. Physical testing offers a lot of value but it is very expensive. Consider the steps and people involved with physical testing: physical tests require manufacturing drawings for the prototype and test fixture, fabrication of these components, and finally the testing. A lot of planning and coordination between departments is often required as well. With a digital prototype a virtual test can be performed without even creating a 2D drawing or using resources outside the engineering department. Some businesses avoid physical testing on dedicated prototypes all together simply because it is cost prohibitive. In this case, digital prototyping can make testing an affordable option.

Digital prototypes are also an exceptional means of raising revenue. Rendered images and animations can bring life to designs. They can be used to introduce new products to market or provide a rich amount of data to a proposal. This can often be done without capturing all the necessary detail for a physical prototype. Instead, you can just develop enough to convey a concept. The time and cost to create a rich amount of marketing material from digital prototypes is orders of magnitude less than a physical alternative. Even the testing of digital prototypes can translate into increased revenue. More testing should translate into increased quality and in-turn, increased repeat business.

Siemens PLM Solutions portfolio has several products for digital prototyping, including Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology and FEMAP. Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology is a cornerstone product for digital prototyping. Besides being a first class modeler, Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology offers productivity tools to develop a digital prototype very quickly. Some of these include process specific tools for sheet metal, welded frames, machine parts (e.g.: cams, bearings, springs, fasteners, belts, gears, etc…), and wiring for control systems. Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology offers several tools to test and market that digital prototype. For virtual testing, Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology offers several inspection tools, many ways to apply motion, and even stress and vibrations analysis. For marketing, motion may be used again to demonstrate operational characteristics. Beyond that, Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology offers a powerful studio environment for rendering still images or animations with motion, moving cameras, and fading in and out components. The studio environment also has several prebuilt environments, lighting arrangements, and surface materials to create dramatic image quality quickly.

FEMAP is a comprehensive virtual testing environment with direct connection to other products such as Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology. FEMAP can perform more complex stress and vibration problems than Solid Edge. The complexity includes large deformation and nonlinear stress analysis, dynamic loading, and more. You can also solve advanced thermal and fluid dynamics problems. FEMAP was once considered a very complex system requiring years of experience to use and expensive hardware to use it efficiently. FEMAP’s interface has evolved significantly over the years and runs on a Windows based platform, making it easy to use and cost effective alternative to physical testing.

So how does a company go from just creating 3D models for 2D drawing views to digital prototyping? A first step is usually an assessment of existing processes and business needs. This can be as simple as a quick overview by an individual or as involved as several team meetings with ROI reviews. The outcome should tell you what direction to go in. Here are a couple of scenarios.

  • A company is losing a considerable amount of return business from customers due to field failures and testing is cost prohibitive and time consuming, then upfront validation on a digital prototype should be considered to reduce field failures.
  • Marketing has determined customers are asking for a new product concept, but they need to see a concept model. If a physical model for presentation can’t be produced fast enough or cost effectively, then a digital variation should be considered.

Digital prototyping is not a new concept. It has been around for many years but has become attainable to just about any business these days. Software and hardware are less expensive and the software has become much easier to use. Many businesses have the tools they need at their fingertips today, they just haven’t made the move. With the challenges businesses face from global competition it is important to take advantage of these tools. Don’t just model in 3D to generate 2D drawing views. Use the extended capabilities to validate and sell your designs.

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