Abstract: This paper describes a virtual prototyping (VP) system that integrates virtual reality with rapid prototyping (RP) to create virtual or digital prototypes to facilitate product development. The proposed VP system incorporates two new simulation methodologies, namely the dexel-based and the layer-based fabrication approaches, to simulate the powder-based and the laminated sheet-based RP processes, respectively. The dexel-based approach deposits arrays of solid strips to form a layer, while the layer-based approach directly forms a complete layer by extruding the slice contours. The layer is subsequently stacked up to fabricate a virtual prototype. The simulation approaches resemble the physical fabrication processes of most RP systems, and are therefore capable of accurately representing the geometrical characteristics of prototypes. In addition to numerical quantification of the simulation results, the system also provides stereoscopic visualisation of the product design and its prototype for detailed analyses. Indeed, the original product design may be superimposed on its virtual prototype, so that areas with dimensional errors beyond design limits may be clearly highlighted to facilitate point-to-point analysis of the surface texture and the dimensional accuracy of the prototype. Hence, the key control parameters of an RP process, such as part orientation, layer thickness and hatch space, may be effectively tuned up for optimal fabrication of physical prototypes in subsequent product development. Furthermore, the virtual prototypes can be transmitted via the Internet to customers to facilitate global manufacturing. As a result, both the lead-time and the product development costs can be significantly reduced.
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