Computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering (CAD/CAE) tools are a valuable resource in today’s product development process. Among other features, these tools enable collaborative development, reduce costs, and improve the efficiency of the development process (McGrath, 2004). Virtual and networked organizations should explore these computational tools to the utmost. Among CAD/CAE tools, virtual modeling and rapid prototyping are very pertinent for virtual and networked organizations due to the large impact those tools can have here (Wright, 2001). Adequately used, virtual modeling allows collaborative development to its full extent, either among team members inside a company or between companies involved in the development of a specific product. It is necessary to emphasize that CAD/CAE tools, particularly those for simulation of virtual models (either process simulation or structural modeling), can be very dangerous when used as a black box; a sensible analysis of results is a prerequisite to prevent complications in later stages of the process. This article starts by describing the main stages of product design and engineering. The concept of virtual modeling and a comparative overview to traditional product development methods are provided. The current rapid prototyping techniques and their advantages and disadvantages are described. Last, some of today’s main applications for CSCW within the framework of product design methodologies are analyzed.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Virtual Modeling: The procedure of creating a full model of a component, a part, or an assembly on the computer. The virtual model is a digital representation of the physical object and serves as a basis for simulating the fabrication process and the structural behavior of the part. The virtual model can also be used to prototype the object.
Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): An interdisciplinary area which deals with how cooperative work can be supported by IST (information science and technology). The purpose of CSCW is to improve efficiency, enhance productivity, and maximize performance. The fundamental aspect of CSCW is the existence of a shared environment to which several individuals or groups have access.
Rendering: The procedure of generating an image from a virtual model and displaying it on a computer. The object being rendered is characterized not only by its geometry but also by several characteristics such as texture, color, and opacity. The scene being rendered considers not only the model itself but also background, lighting, and viewpoint. Over the past couple of decades, the ability to generate photorealistic scenes affected society dramatically, for example, by transforming the digital movie industry.
Collaborative Product Development: When two or more individuals or firms work together to create a new product. This can include some or all the product development stages, as developing the concept, engineering parts or components, and marketing the final product. It is also often termed collaborative development.
Product Development: The entire process of designing, producing, and marketing a product. This product can be entirely new or an upgrade or modification of an already existing product. A successful product is oriented to fulfilling a real need of the market, whether it is a basic or a superfluous need. The product development process should be implemented by a multidisciplinary team including designers, engineers, and production managers, aside from commercial/marketing people.
Prototyping: The procedure of building a working physical model of an object, which can be used to validate part geometry, illustrate functional concepts, convince clients, and assess the potential interest of the market. This is often a vital stage of the product development process, reducing costs and improving the efficiency of that process. A physical prototype can be very important for final validation of the product as well as to ensure its manufacturability.
Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE): The application of computer software as an aid in the engineering of components, parts, and assemblies. Here are included tools for simulating manufacturing techniques, such as injection molding of polymers, as well as tools for structural simulation to predict performance in service (under load). CAE can be applied to the study of all physical properties, including mechanical, thermal, electric, and magnetic behavior.
Computer-Aided Design (CAD): CAD involves a plethora of computational tools that aid the product design process. These tools are widely used by engineers, architects, and designers, and have become commonplace in today’s information society. CAD tools can range from simple 2D Cartesian representations, akin to drawing on paper but with enhanced functionalities, to full 3D parametric designs of virtual models.