Saving Costs with Virtual Prototyping

Article by Rod Mackay updated April 3, 2018


Leveraging the combined powers of 3D solid modeling and design analysis software, engineers can now test a design on the computer instead of using prototype-test iterations for design. CAD models have become virtual prototypes, and design analysis has supplanted physical testing, enabling faster, less costly, and more optimized product development. In addition, computer-based design analysis allows for more in-depth examination of product performance than would ever be possible using even the most detailed prototypes, resulting in more innovative, reliable, and marketable products.

Virtual prototyping

Virtual prototyping

Prototypes vs. Design Analysis

Studies have shown that 80% of a product’s manufacturing costs are locked into the approved design, which is why the ability to perform quick and inexpensive design iterations prior to releasing the design has become a critical competitive advantage.

Design analysis makes it possible to perform design iterations quickly and inexpensively on computer models instead of on costly physical prototypes. Even if prototyping costs were not important considerations, design analysis provides significant product quality benefits, enabling engineers to detect design problems far sooner than a prototype could be built.

Design analysis also facilitates studies of more than one design option and aids in developing optimized designs. Quick and inexpensive analysis often reveals nonintuitive solutions and benefits engineers by providing them with a better understanding of product characteristics.

Optimized design

Optimized design

If it isn’t broken, it still might need fixing

Numerous misconceptions surround the use of design analysis software. Many engineers believe that FEA-based design analysis is esoteric, expensive, and hard to use. Some engineers believe design analysis software requires a Ph.D. to operate, is only used by really big companies, and is unnecessary for the type of work they do. Studies have shown that seven out of ten design engineers using 3D CAD have these impressions.

As a result, many engineers take untested designs straight to prototype or even directly into production, thereby jeopardizing product quality and valuable customer relationships. In other cases, designers simply stay the course by reproducing outdated products, preferring to continue with concepts that have worked in the past instead of striving for innovation and breaking new ground.

Their premise is: “If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.”

Staying with the status quo can cost a company a lot of money in lost opportunities for introducing higher-quality, more aesthetically pleasing, modern products that more consumers want to buy. Not optimizing product design can increase expenses, for example, the use of excessive amounts of materials, that could be trimmed by implementing design analysis and optimizing designs. Saving just one-tenth of a penny per unit can add up to a sizable sum when a manufacturer produces thousands of units. In other words, even “if it isn’t broken, it still might need fixing.”

Now that design analysis is fully automated and very affordable – some analysis capabilities are included free with SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD packages – the misconceptions regarding design analysis are fading away as more and more engineers evaluate design analysis tools.

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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.