|The role of Virtual Engineering in design, as seen from current developments, is quite immense and important specially in integrating diverse engineering activities including easy communication among engineering teams located at different parts of the globe. This is particularly crucial in the context of globalization where companies are operating internationally and sharing data is a necessity.
Mechanical design requires competence and knowledge from diverse fields, for instance, mechanics, solid modelling, creativity, material science, production technology, control techniques, marketing and economics. In addition, the classic design process of design work of a mechanical part or system that is characterized by sequential activities is known to make the time to market very long and does not fit todayâs production philosophy. It is also a well-established fact that design work is characterized by cross-company collaboration involving intensive exchange of product data, where sequential processes are no longer the options. As a result of the huge rise of computing power and the available commercial and open-source tools the design practice is dynamically changing. For instance, engineers widely use diverse digital tools and operate in multidimensional engineering processes. This has initiated research ideas in collaborative product development where investigating the way engineers currently work and how the newly emerging VE technology and the idea of globalized companies influence the main engineering roles such as design, analysis and design validation. There are clear indications that current research in application of VE technologies using design data has focused on the usability and benefits of the technology by interfacing with standard simulation software such as FEA and multi-body systems. As a result, 3D model based computer simulations are now common practices in industry, while research on exploration of the analytical aspects of design process and how the design data is integrated to serve in various stages of the product lifecycle is lacking. Though 3D manipulation capabilities in virtual space have served in creating design visualization easier, making design modification based on real-time virtual simulation can be achieved, particularly in making significant added value for complex applications, only when virtual design technology is fully utilized.
As stated, the traditional design process that follows the line from design to prototype development, testing prototypes, design analysis and simulation and redesign is time consuming and leads to high production costs. Rapid prototyping (RP) technology was primarily intended to assist the product development phase of design works by improving design concept visualization and hence reducing the time consumed in developing physical object, in most cases scaled prototypes. This is because RP technologies can develop prototypes for diverse purposes such as design object visualization and verification within a relatively short time. The function or application of such prototypes is highly dependent on the type of technology whose process depends on the material used and other factors.
By using a digital model for testing and design evaluation in a virtual computational environment, the VE concept is expected to improve some of the shortcomings of current RP technologies. This is because the concept allows getting the physical âfeelingâ in virtual environment and errors can be detected before high costs are committed. Design iteration on the digital model is cheap and the design optimization is done within shorter time because the number of design iterations using physical models, including those produced by RP technologies is significantly reduced. Most of all, visualization using VE concept is an effective way to create real scenarios that facilitate effective communication of design idea.