The idea of virtual engineering is likely to conjure up images of clunky virtual reality headsets or scenes from futuristic movies. For many who still associate engineering primarily with crafting and constructing physical things, the idea of moving the profession into the virtual space of a computer system seems out of place.
However, a growing number of industries are seizing the opportunities offered by this technological leap forward to maximise efficiency and reduced development costs.
Put simply, virtual engineering is exactly what it sounds like. The field involves the design and construction of products (cars, bridges etc.) and then using advanced computer simulations and various other pieces of software to test the product for its intended use. Depending on the product, companies will usually focus on maximising safety, efficiency or longevity. In other instances, they may merely want to see what happens to the product in different situations.
The results have already had a significant impact on industries. For example, car manufacturer Ford has used virtual engineering to improve the means by which it tests car designs, before manufacturing costly dummy models. Not only does this save valuable time and money, their Hardware in the Loop programming has been adapted, meaning the tests can be recalibrated to suit different car models, further enhancing the company’s test efficiency.
Indeed, Ford’s Hardware in the Loop Integration Officer, Laura Winship, sees numerous benefits to the company embracing this facet of virtual engineering, including the ability to spot problems earlier. ‘If you can plug [a system] in virtually and check it beforehand, you eliminate wasted time in the actual prototype phase,’ she notes.
While there is still the need for new models to undergo physical testing, the virtual simulations allow for a variety of issues to be pre-tested. Additionally, engineers can also see how certain parts—for example the fuel pump and the hazard lights—interact in the aftermath of a crash.
For Ford, and many other industries, virtual engineering can promote substantial savings in both time and cost, as well as helping to deliver a higher quality product. When integrated properly, the area promises the same benefits for a range of manufacturers across the Australian industry.
It also serves to promote an increasingly 21st century working environment. Simulations can be programmed and run from anywhere in the world, allowing different manufacturing plants to connect to each other in new ways. Changes can be communicated directly to teams on the ground, and the ability to re-run the programs whenever necessary means issues can be double and triple checked.
Globally, the benefits to both consumers and businesses are enormous. Increased efficiency means lower overhead costs for companies, who will ideally pass on the savings to their customers. Higher quality products with improved safety records can only be a plus, while savings on time means that new products can also be delivered faster.
We have only just begun to touch on the potential benefits of virtual engineering, and continued work in the area is also likely to reveal new applications for this exciting technology. Speak with one of our Student Enrolment Advisors today on 130 701 171 about the benefits of online postgraduate study in engineering management through RMIT University.