Virtual manufacturing involves the use of simulated manufacturing processes and computer models. These components typically can help with the production and the design of the products that are being manufactured. A virtual manufacturer usually adds analytical simulation during production to ensure a greater amount of confidence in the overall process.
Before virtual manufacturing existed, design technology was centered more around the conceptual as opposed to the functional. Now, virtual reality manufacturing allows designers to create a three-dimensional (3-D) model of a product and then virtually test the efficiency of its performance. Because of its virtual nature, this form of manufacturing usually allows companies to lower the amount of money they spend on materials, warranties, and production costs.
For example, a car manufacturer might use virtual manufacturing to design a component for a car engine. Money can be saved because no actual component parts need to be constructed for testing purposes. The software allows the manufacturer to test the component for maximum power efficiency. This in turn can reduce the costs that would be needed to run the vehicle as a finished product, as well as reduce the impact the vehicle could have on the environment.
Companies usually must optimize their products prior to releasing them for purchase. In order to implement the most efficient optimization possible, companies typically need to perfect the factors that play significant roles in product profitability. These factors could include the final shape, durability, manufacturability, lasting stress levels, and overall life span of products.
Another important part of any manufacturing success of a company usually is time efficiency. Originally, companies relied on improving physical prototypes of products which took time to build and rebuild. Virtual manufacturing software is designed with time efficiency in mind. This technology allows designers to change important details faster, thereby helping to deliver the product to the market sooner.
Finite element analysis (FEA) software implements the technology that enables the optimization and time efficiency upon which virtual manufacturing is based. Designers and engineers use FEA to simulate the behavior of various structures, to make changes to designs, and to see how those changes affect products. Engineering problems that FEA is designed to solve include fluid flow, heat transfer, and electromagnetism.
There are, in theory, no restrictions as to the types of products for which virtual manufacturing FEA technology can be used. As long as it can be designed, then a corresponding model can be made. This is evidenced by the fact that originally only the aerospace and auto industries used it, but it since has expanded to include most all industry sectors.