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In 2007, design software company Autodesk staked its claim to be a leader in the digital prototyping world. The USD 2 billion dollar company launched updated versions of products aimed at digital prototyping. This included Autodesk®AliasStudio™, Autodesk® Maya®, Autodesk® Showcase™ and Autodesk® Inventor™. Digital prototyping gives manufacturers the ability to virtually explore a complete product before it is built—so they can create, validate, optimize, and manage designs from the conceptual design phase through the manufacturing process. By using a digital prototype, manufacturers can visualize and simulate real-world performance of the design with less reliance on costly physical prototypes. 

This helps manufacturers – such as car manufacturers, the ability to cut costs when designing prototypes. For example, high-end sports car company Palumbo Motorcar Company, earlier used to create physical prototypes of car chassis in a small scale. And then during the design phase, a full scale prototype would be created. The company started using Autodesk Inventor and this drastically cut the cost and time in the creation of its hybrid sports car, the Palumbo M-80.

Autodesk’s digital prototyping solution helps manufacturers to create a single digital model that can be used in every stage of production, bridging the gaps that usually exist between conceptual design, engineering, and manufacturing teams. It provides the technology to help manufacturers build fewer physical prototypes, reducing design and production costs. Designers can capture ideas digitally—from initial sketches to 3D concept models using Autodesk AliasStudio software and then share those designs with the engineering team using a common file format. The company’s Autodesk Maya software is a natural partner to Autodesk AliasStudio because it allows designers to easily move their AliasStudio data into Maya. The advanced animation, effects and rendering capabilities of Autodesk Maya help designers create the highest quality photo real and stylistic still visualizations of their digital prototype.

Autodesk’s software, Autodesk Showcase helps facilitate informed and streamlined decision-making by providing realistic representations of the product created from 3D design data. Then the designers can use Autodesk Inventor software to present a range of design options to help reduce the time, cost, and the need for building physical prototypes. “The Inventor model is an accurate 3D digital prototype that enables users to validate design and engineering data as they work, minimize the need for physical prototypes, and reduce costly engineering changes discovered after the design is sent to manufacturing,” says Autodesk.

Designers can import their Inventor data into Autodesk® 3ds Max® software for advanced rendering and animated visualization of digital prototypes to complement design reviews. These visualizations quickly communicate how the end product will look, behave and function in any context. Autodesk’s digital prototyping solution includes AutoCAD® Electrical software for the design of electrical controls. The sharing of electrical design information from AutoCAD Electrical with the cable and harness functionality of Autodesk Inventor allows mechanical and electrical teams to work collaboratively on the digital prototype.

“We have updated our products to help manufacturers leverage the power of functional design to make it fast and easy to do more digital prototyping. This allows them to bring new products to market faster, without the expense and waste of multiple physical prototypes,” said Robert Kross, vice-president of Autodesk Manufacturing Solutions, in 2007.

Autodesk Inventor 2008 updates included DWG® TrueConnect, which enables users to read and write DWG files without translators to reuse and share 2D manufacturing data. Plus import tools for AliasStudio surface and solid data; improved sheet metal design tools, including support for manufacturing information such as flat pattern modifications and punch tool data; enhanced ribbon cable design tools for control over the shape and routing of ribbon cables, improved sketch productivity tools with clearer constraint status information and sketch geometry formatting tools.

Automotive Industries spoke to Xavier Melkonian, global accounts automotive executive, Autodesk.

AI: Please tell us a little about how Autodesk’s digital prototyping products can impact the automotive industry.
In the actual very competitive automotive industry every car Manufacturer are looking for expanding their business and reduce their costs. They want to increase their car model portfolio, address global markets, and improve the quality of their cars and at the same time to increase their profit margin. Autodesk Digital Prototyping solutions perfectly fulfill all of these goals, and helps automotive design studios to meet this new challenge.

AI: The power of three-dimensional design – your thoughts on this…

With Autodesk AliasStudio and Showcase, our styling & design software, you can create, model and visualize the 3D digital prototype of the car. The idea is to create very early in the creation process of the car a digital prototype that will help designers and product management to define and visualize the future car. The major benefit is to have prototypes very fast in order to take design decisions. Imagine that just in few days a design management or a focus group is able to see a photorealistic virtual car driving in dynamics in city or mountain even if there is not a single physical part of it.

There are many other benefits like the ability to explore much more design variations and alternatives is shorter time, instead of waiting very expensive physical prototypes. It also allows designers to avoid many errors that they can evaluate early in the process on the digital prototypes, like the shape quality, colors & materials, proportions, feasibility or ergonomics. Taking also in consideration the global development strategy of car manufacturer we see design studios opening everywhere. This means car manufacturers need also to share globally and instantly prototypes. It is only with digital prototypes that global organizations can collaborate.

AI: By how much can automotive companies save using digital prototyping?

I will not surprise you by saying that there is no public number disclosed by car manufacturers about their design & engineering processes costs. But there are several strong elements showing the benefits of digital prototypes. For example in a traditional design process, designers used to sketch their design and to build several physical prototypes to visualize and validate some design intents. This process is very expensive and very slow. Today the best in class automotive design studios use intensively digital design made with Alias Studio & Showcase. This allows reducing the number of physical prototype to only 1 or 2 and decision time from weeks to hours. It is a huge financial benefit AND you can explore much more designs intent in a shorter time. The direct effects are a cost reduction, Better decisions, and an increase of design quality. It terms of project development is also cut time by delivering very early in the process 3D definition of the car to engineering department to work in synergy with designers.

AI: What has the reaction from the auto industry been so far to Autodesk’s digital prototyping suite of products?

Moving to digital prototyping with Autodesk AliasStudio was a natural & inevitable step for the automotive industry. Today all the car companies are using our product to create, model and visualize their design before to produce any physical car. Today, we see the automotive industry working on the optimization of their process with our software.

AI: What do you think the future of automotive prototyping is?

There will be more and more digital prototypes. There are two major trends that we see for the next coming years.
First, the adoption of digital prototypes for sales & marketing activities, we will create “Virtual Car Fleet” with our new solution named Autodesk CREATIVE BRIDGE. The goal is to be able to produce 3D asset, images, movies & real-time configurator of cars event before the production of the first car.

Second, I believe that designers will move from an iterative, step by step, creative process “to create, prototype, visualize and then decide” to an interactive creative process with our new realtime and interactive AliasStudio & Showcase Digital Prototype, interactively deform the shape of the car and you see interactively the shape, material & reflections.

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