Virtual prototyping is a process by which engineers utilize computer-aided design (CAD) software programs to produce a simulated prototype of a product for research and testing purposes. This prototype can be tested in nearly every way that a physical prototype can be. Images rendered from the virtual prototype can also be used for market research, as potential customers and focus groups are shown these images and their reactions are gauged. Virtual prototyping often reduces the cost of overall development of a product, as well as the time required to develop it, and can increase innovation as well.
The proliferation of virtual prototyping arose as numerous companies wished to produce quality products in a faster period of time. There is a noticeable market advantage for a company that introduces a product before competitors, and this drive for faster development led to the increased use of CAD programs and similar software. Virtual prototyping often begins much like any other design process, with engineers coming up with ideas for designs and features of a product. This can include numerous drawings and revisions of a design prior to any type of prototype being created.
Once these designs are ready for prototyping, however, virtual prototyping demonstrates numerous advantages over traditional, physical prototyping. A virtual prototype can typically be created faster than a physical prototype and alterations to the virtual prototype can also be made quickly. Various performance tests can be run through the use of virtual prototyping software that can mimic physical stress on various substances and even indicate where products are most likely to be subject to unusual wear and tear during use. All of these tests and revisions can be performed more quickly on a virtual prototype, which results in a faster development time of a product that has still been thoroughly tested.
Virtual prototyping can also indicate exactly how different manufacturing procedures might change a product, before anything is ever actually manufactured. This allows a company to better understand what equipment and processes may be needed to manufacture a product as quickly and effectively as possible. Since engineers can more quickly produce numerous virtual prototypes within the same time window that a single prototype could have been created in the past, virtual prototyping can result in greater innovation. Engineers can take risks and explore unusual ideas, knowing that a failed idea has cost them much less time and money than in the past.