Virtual design capability is not without its costs

Written by: Justin Cunningham | Published:

The increasing capability of computer aided design has no doubt brought many benefits to the overall production of products and components.

The capability to virtually simulate stress and strain, airflow, choose sustainable materials, and even assess the tooling and factory layout needed for products at the earliest design stages, is saving enormous amounts of time, and therefore money, to the companies that use them.

A key message at the Autodesk Forum this year was making these capabilities available right at the front end, almost at the concept stage. Of course, this does not replace the need for more rigorous finite element, fluid dynamic and physical testing later in the design process, but it does give designers a pretty accurate indication of whether concepts and ideas are going to have the capability, and functionality, needed to be successful in the marketplace. Though being first to market is important, being the first 'best-functioning' product is arguably more tantamount.

I will say, of course, there are always exceptions to the rules before someone brings up VHS and Betamax. However, I believe, times are changing and marketing can now only take you so far. We now live in a more technology savvy age, with more independent consumer advice and consumer experiences available via various websites. Perhaps if the VHS vs Betamax battle ran today, the outcome would be different.

However, I digress. Yesterday one of the Autodesk speakers said making numerous design iterations to products is essentially free. All it costs is the design engineers' time. As many ideas, concepts and designs as one can imagine can be virtually explored, tried and tested before an optimum product is found. But this is not without cost.

It is worth remembering that time is indeed money, and whilst it is more cost effective to use simulation and digital prototyping upfront it is not without investment. And careful management needs to be applied so that products are refined and improved in a timely manner, not just radically changed from one thing to another just to see what happens. The danger is that designers get caught up in ideas and forget that a tangible product is ultimately needed.

Though the overall development and engineering cost associated with bringing products to market is significantly less with CAD systems, the investment, management and proper deployment of fully digitising the design process is a 'cost' that many companies, both large and small, still contend with.


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