What Is Virtual Prototyping?

By Steve Elting

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Virtual prototyping or digital prototyping is a computer simulation of a part or assembly using 3D solid modeling CAD software. This can include structural, thermal and motion analysis as well.

Why use Virtual Prototyping?

A virtual prototype design can be optimized prior to building the first physical prototype. This way, product-development costs can be substantially reduced. One major benefit is that it enables the designer a way to view the simulated physical behavior of a particular part under real-world operating conditions.

What's the difference between Rapid Prototyping and Virtual Prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping is the actual making of a physical part, a facsimile of the part you want to create. Where as the Virtual Prototype is only on the computer. Rapid prototypes are very useful if you need to actually touch the part or to send it to a pattern maker to develop a mold.

How can Virtual Prototypes save tens of thousands of dollars in manufacturing costs?

One example is in the design of plastic parts. Suppose you have a cover for a battery compartment for TV remote control. To open the cover, one must press down on the cover to slide the hook under the catch. A certain amount of force is required to cause the plastic to deflect enough to get under the catch. If the part is not properly designed, the repeated loading will cause a crack to form and the cover with break. This would cost tens of thousands of dollars in modifications to the injection mold. But, the damage to your company's reputation could be far worse.

So, with the use of virtual prototyping we can simulate the real world and optimize the design before building a real part. This way, a lot of frustration, time, and money is saved in the process.

Steve Elting is the Director of Technical Services for Elting Mechanical Enterprises, which provides 3D CAD based design services in the area of Product Design, Machine Analysis, and Mechanical Design. For more information, please see their website at: http://www.eltingmechanical.com

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