What Is Automated Design?

M. McGee
M. McGee
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Automated design refers to two different steps in the same overall system. Some people use it as a shorthand way of saying computer automated design, the process of using a computer system to create digital prototypes rather than have a physical one manufactured. The other common use is applied to machinery that creates physical objects via computer control with no human interaction. Both meanings are heavily used within their respective areas of influence. Since both terms refer to the creation of items without directly involving human labor, they have nearly as many similarities as differences.

The basic point of automated design is getting a computer to do the work that would have normally been done by humans. This concept has boiled down into two basic methodologies: theoretical application and applied construction. The differences between these two areas are great, but the computer’s place is basically the same.

In theoretical automated design, a computer makes an item in a virtual space. This item is typically a prototype of a future production item, but this is not a requirement. The virtual item is completely real as far as the computer system is concerned, and can be manipulated just like a real object. This means that designers can see what the design looks like in three dimensions, allowing an easy way to find any subtle design flaws such as blocked access panels or uneven housings.

In addition, the virtual object can operate within computer-simulated conditions that mimic the real world. This allows the designers to test strength, waterproofing and durability without ever having to go through the expense of making a real item. This can save a great deal of time and money over standard prototyping, but the automated design and testing are limited by the capabilities of the computer program.

The applied construction version of automated design works entirely differently. In this use, a computer is used to design the product, possibly even via the virtual prototyping methods, and then another computer controls its manufacturing. By using specialized software, computer programs can dissect an item and determine the best way to put it together. The program can then instruct and direct the connected machines to configure themselves for the project. Production can begin as soon as the production plan is approved.

The only human-influenced steps in this version of automated design are the initial creation of the item and the approval or modification of the computer’s proposed plan. The rest of the sequence is done entirely automatically, possibly to the point of being boxed up for shipping. These automated systems require very few workers outside of machine maintenance and computer troubleshooting, reducing costs dramatically.

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