Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford in collaboration with their industrial and government partners have joined in a consortium for rapid design and generation of parts and assemblies through the transformation of virtual prototypes into physical prototypes. They are building an experimental system using the Internet to enable students in design courses and engineers at partner companies to use rapid prototyping services. They will bring together rapid virtual and physical prototyping technologies to create a network of interconnected services to support the rapid design, test, and manufacture of mechanical, electro-mechanical, and electronic products.
With the proposed prototyping environment, a user will be able to design, test, and debug a product before it is built. Once a virtual prototype is finished, the design can be sent directly for manufacturing on one or more of the available and developing rapid prototyping technologies. Initially, the research will focus on designing and manufacturing mechanical parts such as those that would be designed by students in a senior-level design class. Building on the expertise and facilities of the participants, the network will later be expanded to include electro-mechanical and electronic designs. The long term research goal is to create a prototyping environment that integrates traditional electronic simulation and software prototyping environments with the mechanical prototyping environment.
One goal of this research in prototyping is to allow automatic, rapid generation of parts by exploring the mapping from the design description to the manufacturing plan; that is, the transformation from the description of the virtual prototype to a plan for manufacturing the physical prototype. To test the level of process understanding, the rapid prototyping services will be made available remotely over the Internet. If designers from remote sites can use the rapid prototyping services with confidence, the research goals will have been achieved.
The following results are anticipated from the proposed research:
- A deeper understanding of the relationship between virtual and physical prototyping; for example, what behaviors can be simulated effectively and how manufacturing processes constrain the geometry and material in a design.
- More capable, reliable, and predictable (better documented) rapid prototyping processes and a comprehensive infrastructure that supports their use.
- Increased understanding of the new rapid prototyping processes -- both virtual and physical -- How they perform, what characteristics they impart, what their economics are, how to use them, what they are best for, what their niche is, and how to present them to professional design engineers.
- A better understanding of the role of rapid prototyping in collaborative design and how best to support that role.
- Results of experiments from each semesters' design students use of rapid prototyping to determine the information that must be made available and in what forms.
- A community of graduating engineers with a clear understanding of how to use rapid prototyping services in design and of how to collaborate over the Internet.