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OM in the News: The Revolution in Vehicle Design

October 24, 2013
Design software produces ideal shapes for vehicle parts like this motorcycle frame

Design software produces ideal shapes for vehicle parts like this motorcycle frame

A revolution in vehicle design that has been sweeping the auto industry, writes The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 21, 2013) . Advances in computer-aided engineering (CAE) and big investments in computing power have given manufacturers new tools to create designs and the ability to test their ideas in a fraction of the time and at far less cost than they could before. The result: many more design ideas are being conceived and tested, and the best are being adopted quickly, helping manufacturers improve the fuel efficiency and their vehicles. “This new process is allowing us to do a lot of innovation,” says Ford’s head of CAE.

Car makers are using computers to run through dozens of design possibilities in the time it once took to produce a single prototype. Only a few years ago, it might have taken as long as 8 months to get from the idea for a new cylinder head to the building of a prototype, and it would have cost millions of dollars. Today, the part is created in a computer simulation that comes up with the most efficient design possible. Engineers then alter that design to account for manufacturing constraints and test the revised design virtually in models that use decades of data on material properties and engine performance as a guide. The firm then creates the mold to make a real part that can be bolted onto an engine for further testing. The entire process takes days instead of months and costs only thousands.

In the past 4-5 years, car makers have been ditching physical prototypes as computer simulations of real-world conditions improved. Costs, performance and safety designs have been digitized so they can be weighed by design programs. The vehicle can be built, run through snow banks, started in frozen or hellishly hot conditions and crashed repeatedly—all inside a network of computers.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is CAE such an important OM tool?

2. What role does simulation now play in vehicle design?

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