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What’s Behind Digital Prototyping

By Peter Varhol

Editor’s Note: This content is sponsored by Intel Corp.

For many years, the new product lifecycle worked in pretty much the same way. Engineers used design software to create schematics for new products. Product engineers created prototypes based on the initial designs, and tested those prototypes according to design requirements and simulated use. Often the initial designs failed one or more requirements, requiring a trip back to the design engineer for modifications. More prototypes would ensue, along with additional testing and analysis, until the design met its requirements. It would then be moved to manufacturing for high-volume production.

Depending on the product complexity and design requirements, this cycle tended to be slow and deliberate. But thanks to high-performance engineering workstations based two Intel® Xeon® processors and innovative design software, design groups are better able to produce and test designs without ever leaving the computer.

The new technique, digital prototyping, lets product stakeholders virtually explore a product before it’s built. It lets design engineers produce a product that can be tested, evaluated, and modified before being built.

Digital prototypes can be analyzed and tested in ways not feasible just a few years ago. Product engineers can examine moving parts and estimate fit and wear, and place simulated stress on materials to find physical weaknesses. Industrial engineers can make decisions on form and packaging, and manufacturing engineers on materials and manufacturability. Much of this can be accomplished without actually building out the design. Instead, it’s all done on the engineering workstation.

While digital prototyping can’t completely replace actual prototypes and live testing, it has many benefits. A 2006 study from the Aberdeen Group indicates that design groups using digital prototyping build half the number of physical prototypes as the average manufacturer, and get to market 58 days faster than average. That’s because fewer physical prototypes being built, requiring less testing.

The result is lower cost and faster time to market with better products. The need for fewer physical prototypes, and the ability to do analysis and testing on the computer, enables product teams to rapidly improve a product within the design lifecycle.

Driving Digital Prototyping
Digital prototyping isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s being driven by the latest generation of engineering workstations that enable design engineers to do far more than simply lay out a concept as a product design. Faster and more powerful engineering design workstations make it possible to simulate the actual product as well as many tests on the product.

Engineering-driven organizations now have access to inexpensive workstations and workgroup clusters based on the new 64-bit Intel® Xeon® processor 5600-series, with six cores and two threads per core. These workstations and workgroup clusters deliver the compute capacity of high-performance computers that were only available in the data center just a few years ago. These systems let engineers create a design, then bring that design to 3D life. Complementing the best inexpensive workstations are advances in engineering software that is taking advantage of the ability of hardware to deliver higher performance at lower costs. Engineering software vendors such as Autodesk, Dassault, and PTC offer the ability to create digital prototypes from designs. These prototypes can be tested in the software, recreating many physical tests and saving time and money.

For a complex product design, engineering teams can implement an affordable high-performance cluster. These clusters, available from companies such as SGI, Appro and others, take advantage of the Intel Cluster Ready specification to create inexpensive out-of-the-box cluster solutions. Design groups will see new systems with simple deployments using Intel Cluster Ready certified hardware and software components. Intel Cluster Ready simplifies the HPC solution requirements for large and small organizations, making it possible to create even complex digital prototypes.

Design groups are finding digital prototyping to be a key ingredient in breaking the long design, prototype, and test process.

More Info:
Intel Corp.

About Peter Varhol

Contributing Editor Peter Varhol covers the HPC and IT beat for Digital Engineering. His expertise is software development, math systems, and systems management. You can reach him at DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.