Digital transformation of the development process is important to ensure the future success of a company. We need to have a clear strategy and vision to succeed in this transition. It is time to revisit the virtual engineering process. What are we aiming for?

Virtual engineering is a broad concept centered around computer-aided development methods. The intention is to enable earlier concept and design evaluations, making it possible to adopt a more agile and iterative way of working. As there are no rules on how to successfully implement the new process, many companies struggle with the transition. The slow progress implies that we might need to rethink how we approach the subject. 

Most companies aim for a smooth transition, taking the current development process, tools and methods as a starting point. This is a wise approach, it takes time to design the new process. It’s natural to start from what we already use and understand, while increasing awareness and knowledge about new methods. However, when doing so we need to take care not to lose sight of the overall mission.

The goal in most virtual engineering transformations is to achieve a process fit to realize the digital twin. The increasing need for simulation and tool integrations with this vision will add a new layer of complexity to the development process that we need to account for. To reach an efficient workflow without redundancies, we will need to review and simplify our current processes. Otherwise we risk inventing a process unfit for the purpose. Always start with a clear vision! That way we can approach the subject step-by-step, without losing sight of the final goal.

A digital twin is a virtual replica of a product, a virtual prototype, that can be used throughout a product lifecycle. In the development process, the digital twin promotes shorter iteration cycles, closing the gap between hardware and software development. It enables rapid concept evaluations and analysis. It fosters data exchange and deployment in the organization. It makes it possible to change the focus of the physical hardware testing from innovation to validation, leading to products of higher quality. 

The new engineering process must be designed to fit the nature of both the digital twin and its physical equivalent. It must allow us to clearly distinguish the characteristics of a twin from its boundary conditions, requirements, analysis and validation. The virtual prototype (the system mock-up) is defined by its characteristics, like system architecture, system data, design- and simulation models. Boundary conditions and requirements define its environment, use cases and what the system mock-up should satisfy. To ensure the quality of the digital twin, we need to make sure that simulation models are validated regularly. Last, our new process needs to include the new role of physical testing, both for model calibration, and validation of the end product.

In the new process requirements-, data- and documents management, systems engineering, design, simulation, testing etc. all play important roles. The challenge lies in how these tools and methods interact. Today's engineering tools are in many ways adapted to solve yesterday’s challenges. Interfaces and openness are in many cases still insufficient and no vendor currently supply the full range of tools to achieve a virtual engineering process fit for the digital twin. To reach the goal we need to have a process-centric and tool-agnostic approach. We need to approach the process step-by-step, with the digital twin in mind! 

No-one knows where this digital transformation journey will take us. That makes expandability, flexibility and openness key features of the new process!


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