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Apr 12, 2008


Kevin Quigley

Digital prototyping is frankly a load of marketing nonsense put forward by MCAD companies who are trying to come up with the next best marketing slogan. This has been around the houses so many times that I am astounded it gets so much "air time". Are Autodesk REALLY saying physical prototypes will be a thing of the past?

Sure in some industries the accelerated lead times requires that new ways of designing have been implemented by making use of advanced analysis - think car design here with FEA based crash tests -but here's the rub. Most companies do not have the resources of car companies. Even car companies get it seriously wrong when they go too far down the digital design route.

Why is then that some of the fastest growing small companies I know are prototyping businesses? Why is there a clamour to create 3D printers? Sure there are technologies out there that allow "physical" interaction with digital models - SensAble does a great line of products - but these are niche items. 99.99% of designers, marketing execs, accountants, investors etc need the touchy feely effect of a physical object.

But then what do I know? I've just been a professional designer working for hundreds of small businesses for the last 20 years.

In that time the only area where digital prototyping is prevalent is in objects that are physically large - eg - bigger than you can make on a RP machine. Even there the trend I am seeing is towards physical prototyping as the costs of large scale 5 axes machining comes down.

Brian Cranston

I agree, I don't think physical prototypes will ever go away. Many times after working months on a design, I receive some prototype parts and think 'Wow, this is really small in real life.' What was I thinking doing something this way or that at this size of part.

Some people can think in 3D and some can't. The world will always need physical parts for one reason or another. But I appreciate the tools I have because they allow me to get the design done faster.

Larry Felser

Replacing physical prototyping is not much of a goal. If the digital model has enough fidelity to be considered a prototype, then "printing" the model is a trivial exercise.

If you are building something for which the physical properties are critical and since "printing" will not create an accurate physical model that you can stress test, melt or put in a wind tunnel, you need to run analytical models anyway. Pretty much any CAD system can feed an FEA system now, so that's nothing new. If you are doing advanced modeling like CFD, you will build physical models in order to anchor your analytical models. You then use your digital analyses to help you explore the design space.

What the goal should be is to enable such digital design iterations by shipping CAD systems with easy to use automation applications. Go beyond raw APIs and create actual GUI applications that allow easy scripting of parametric geometry and feeds into analytical systems like ANSYS. Such applications should run outside the CAD program and be able to coordinate processes across many machines.

And if you want a real goal: make a CAD system that takes advantage of multiple cores. The average CAD workstation now ships with 2 cores. In five years that could be 20 cores. Better start on that massively multithreaded codebase now.

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