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Virtual product design: a new world for Indian companies

Virtual product design: a new world for Indian companies

Bangalore: New products typically go through several prototypes—in the case of cars, even up to 100—before a market launch. But if the emerging concept of virtual product design or computer-aided engineering, or CAE, has its way, companies could leapfrog to the final stages by simulating most of the product development and manufacturing processes in the virtual environment.

“This is realistic animation in real time," says Ashfaq Munshi, chief executive and president of California-based MSC Software Corp., a 46-year company that started developing modelling software in the 1960s.

MSC Software, which began its India operations in late 2006, has tripled its business, with no slowdown impact. It plans to “significantly invest" in its 200-strong research and development centre in Pune, from where it serves clients such as Tata Motors Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M), Ashok Leyland Ltd, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Munshi says CAE will not only have impressive local demand from original equipment manufacturers, but will also open a new sector for Indian engineering, just as animation did a few years ago. Currently, MSC estimates the global CAE market at $2 billion (Rs9,460 crore); it’s growing in double digits compared to the plateauing business software market.

Any industry that uses physical systems—steeltubing, pumps and sub-systems, wind turbines, cardiac stents and the like—can use simulation, says Munshi.

In India, the automotive sector has been the early adopter. For instance, CAE has helped auto maker M&M reduce its number of prototypes from 100 in earlier projects to 40 in current ones. “In our future projects we’ll go for 22 prototypes and eventually aim at having just one prototype for all tests and validation," says Gurdeep Bawa, manager of vehicle dynamics, CAE, at the upcoming Mahindra Research Valley in Chennai.

Bawa says the road ahead isn’t easy: The tools require good computing capability and advance CAE, needed just before the launch of a product, requires instrumentation and testing that Indian companies don’t have.

In broader terms, Indian auto makers have a long distance to cover in moving to the digital world. “Japanese car makers are 85% digital and 15% physical," says MSC chief technology officer Reza Sadeghi, whereas Indian auto makers hover below 50%; Bawa says M&M is at least 55% digital.

If computer-aided design was all about getting the look and form of a product on computer, virtual product design is about giving function to that form, says Sadeghi. From cellphones to trains to battletanks, designers and engineers can experience how each component, or the complete product, behaves in different environments, using a single toolset that can blend designing with testing mechanical, electrical and software components. For Sadeghi, using CAE is also about “democratizing" simulation and allowing a “non-CAE-engineer to use math" for better outcomes.

Though MSC already works with some defence labs, including Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment in Chennai, which is to deliver 124 main battletanks to the Indian Army by 2010, it says the nuclear deal between India and the US will facilitate its entry into labs such as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram.


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