Improving the product development process through integrated revision control and twinning of digital-physical models during prototyping

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


An orchestration of physical and digital models of varying fidelities, and in differing sequences, is required for the product development process. The choice of these models depends upon the: skills of the design team; resources and tools available; purpose of the model; and nature of the design task. In all engineering disciplines a combination of digital and physical models is necessary to support the progression of the design process, with each model and iteration thereof generating new understanding and knowledge to inform decision-making. While extensive modelling - both physical and digital - is imperative to develop right-first-time products, the parallel use of digital and physical models gives rise to two interrelated issues. These are: the lack of revision control for physical prototypes; and the need for designers to manually inspect, measure, and interpret modifications to either digital or physical models, for subsequent update of the other. This manual process of revision control for physical models and what is referred to herein as 'twinning of digital-physical models' impacts on the cost, quality and time of the design and development process. In particular, the lack of revision control leads to multiple near-identical model instances, which contribute to issues of process management, traceability, decision-making, design duplication and inefficiency, and design rationale capture. It also makes optimisation of the product development process in terms of the digital-physical tool-chain all but impossible. In this project we will fundamentally redefine the revision control and twinning processes for digital and physical models from a manual, cumbersome, error-prone and expensive procedure to one that is seamlessly integrated (digital-to-physical and physical-to-digital), rapid, reliable and knowledge rich.

Planned Impact

UK Manufacturing output totals over £150bn and is ranked 6th in the world , the UK Construction industry is worth over £300bn , and the creative industries employ almost 6% of the UK population and generate over £122bn . This position is being maintained in the face of immense competition from developing nations. Central to maintaining this position is the ability to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of manufacturing processes (productivity), and in particular, the design process. To date, while it is widely believed that digital tools and rapid prototyping can bring about a process transformation, it has not yet been fully realised. This research programme will address this deficiency and bring about a game changing capability to underpin a step-change in design process capability and productivity. In addition, the multi-disciplinary nature of the project will have a wider impact on technology and processes. The medium and longer-term impacts include:
1. Techniques and approaches to support revision control of mixed reality assets/artefacts.
2. An order of magnitude reduction in new product development cycle time.
3. Design methods & processes to increase innovation & new product development levels.
4. New paradigms of design development e.g. rapid interdisciplinary teams convened for short periods - similar to hackathons.
5. Democratisation of design with communities and groups executing the process largely independently through modification of physical prototypes rather than CAD systems which require specialist skills.
6. New approaches to enhance productivity of traditional manufacturing processes / technologies e.g. late customisation. This includes process planning for hybrid additive and subtractive technologies.
7. Methods and standards for twinning in fields such as asset management and building information modelling.
8. New classes of tangible interfaces for almost seamless digital-physical integration and personalisation of user-interfaces


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