It's virtual prototyping, stupidIt's
In the last couple of days I found two older, but still very relevant and interesting reports. The first one is called "Mechatronic Development Process for the Machine Tool Industry" by the ARC Advisory Group.1 This report talks about, among many other things, how "late consolidation and difficulties with system integration has been consistently one of the primary causes of lengthy system development and the associated cost". This is something I have consistently heard from many of our customers wanting to frontload their development process. They basically don't want to wait until the hardware (mechanical and electronics) is ready to start developing and testing their software. The report also describes how a "clear definition of the functional requirements early in the concept design phase" is required to successfully integrate designs with mechanical, electrical, and software parts, but how the industry has lagged in the adoption of tools that link the concept design phase with the development phases.
I wonder why that is. Why are companies not keen on investing in new tools and methods, such as virtual prototyping, that will solve their bigger challenges? Especially since the benefits have been proven over and over again, as illustrated in the second report I just dug up. This report, by the Aberdeen Group, is called "Simulation-Driven Design Benchmark Report: Getting It Right the First Time".2 Aberdeen Group claims in the document that "best-in-class manufacturers that make extensive use of simulation early in the design process hit revenue, cost, launch date, and quality targets for 86% or more of their products", which is quite impressive. Moreover, they're able to quantify that statement with actual numbers: "best-in-class manufacturers of the most complex products get to market 158 days earlier with $1.9 million lower costs than all other manufacturers." Given that the report has been issued a while ago, the effects nowadays are only bigger. The complexity has only gone up and thus the cost of late integration and subsequent late release to the market has increased significantly.
So, I believe it is time for today's companies dealing with complex mechatronic systems (in areas such as, among others, automotive, industrial automation, medical) to move their archaic software -development processes aside and experience the benefits of simulation-driven design. Such systems rely upon multiple embedded controllers interacting with each other along with closed-loop control to achieve the precision (at the speed ranges) that today's systems need. Dealing with mechatronic (or like research calls it these days, cyber-physical systems) simulation is not a matter of just mechanical, electrical and control algorithm parts anymore. To really link concept with development, you need to refine the control part down to the digital hardware (microcontroller), distributed networking (CAN, EtherCAT), hardware-dependent software (drivers, OSes), and control software. Luckily, this is all possible today with virtual prototyping.
Victor Reyes is currently a technical marketing manager in the System Level Solutions group at Synopsys and a co-author on the Virtual Prototyping Tales blog on Embedded.com. His responsibilities are in the area of virtual prototyping technology and tools with special focus on automotive. Victor Reyes received his MsC and PhD on electronics and telecommunication from University of Las Palmas, Spain, in 2002 and 2008 respectively. Before joining Synopsys, he held positions at CoWare, NXP Semiconductors, and Philips Research.
1. "Mechatronic Development Process for the Machine Tool Industry", ARC Advisory Group, September 2010 (m.plm.automation.siemens.com).
2. "Simulation-Driven Design Benchmark Report: Getting It Right the First Time", Aberdeen Group (2006)
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