By Robert "Buzz" Kross, Autodesk
Consumers demand quick access to products they want, and they want those products to be flawless. But finding that balance is a challenge.
For example, last spring, consumers discovered a children’s character doll had a design flaw. The manufacturer quickly issued an apology and offered replacement dolls.
Other times, mistakes can be painfully costly, leading to product recalls. Look no further than the plight of the auto industry: Automaker recalls have prompted response from regulators, including the introduction of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010.
Given the increasing pressure to get products to market faster, are mistakes like these simply the cost of doing business in the 21st century? With digital prototyping, they don’t have to be.
Digital prototyping software that is available today offers not just faster time to market, but can also help increase product quality. Digital prototyping forms the foundation for a series of best practices that could increase collaboration, and improve overall product design and development.
For example, motion control technologies company Parker Hannifin uses digital prototyping to share designs with customers, and collaborate with them in a virtual design studio. Bringing its customers into the process—and involving them during all stages of development—can minimize the potential for product errors.
In fields like mechatronics, which brings together mechanics, electronics, computing and controls into the development of complex engineering systems, digital prototyping helps keep all the different specialty areas apprised of what’s happening in the other areas as the product or part moves through the design process.
For example, when a product’s aluminum surface is altered by a mechatronic specialists, the amount of on-order aluminum sheet metal in the bill of materials changes instantly. Using a single digital model bridges the information gaps that typically exist among different specialty groups. The result is not only a faster product development lifecycle, but a better product.
These benefits extend to manufacturers of all types. Custom motorcycle helmet manufacturer Troy Lee Designs has reduced design and development time by 35% by deploying digital prototyping, allowing the company to stay ahead of quickly changing consumer tastes. Troy Lee Designs has found that speed doesn’t sacrifice quality.
RKS Guitars of Thousand Oaks, CA, uses digital prototyping to bring new thinking to the 50-year-old world of electric guitars and basses—and was able to design its first line and sell its first products to distributors without having produced a physical guitar.
As a partnership between industrial designer Ravi Sawhney and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician (and Traffic co-founder) Dave Mason, RKS was founded to create the first open-ended, hollow-body guitars based on human sound-producing anatomy.
To create these guitars, the design team and Mason used digital prototyping to collaborate across continents on the guitars’ sculpted surfaces, on physical playing ergonomics, and on musical tone. The marketing department then used 3D virtual brochures to sign up distributors while the first guitars were still being produced.
Using digital prototypes to design, visualize and simulate the real-world performance of products creates an environment in which designers, engineers and customers can collaborate continuously, from concept to production, helping to get better-designed products to market faster and with fewer errors. As a result, companies needn’t worry about choosing speed or quality: With digital prototyping, it is well within their means to help achieve both.
Robert “Buzz” Kross is senior vice president of Autodesk’s Manufacturing Solutions Division