Will model-based design make prototypes obsolete for the Military & Aerospace Industry?

By Skyler Frink
Before computers could run complex programs the only way to know something would work was to build a prototype and test it. If the prototype worked: great! If not: back to the drawing board. There was science behind designs and engineers obviously got a lot done using blueprints, diagrams and complex formulas, but in this day and age a new form of design has become a powerful force.

Model-based design, having models in programs be the center of design rather than physical documents and prototypes, emerged in an effort to lower program costs and allow for tests to be done without spending the large amounts of money required for prototypes.

The obvious benefit of model-based design is that, with programs that include environmental variables (wind conditions, shock and vibrations, altitude, etc.) you can test a model without having to spend the time or money involved in putting together a prototype. You can even use different levels of abstraction. Need to make sure a certain part is working correctly? Just run the model of that part through a series of virtual tests. Want to test the entire project? Run a model of it through a series of virtual tests.

I spoke with John Friedman, Information Marketing Manager at Mathworks Inc., a company which has created popular engineering programs such as MATLAB, about model-based design. Before model-based design there was a saying, "'It [the design process] can either be faster, cheaper or better quality,'" said Mathwork's Friedman, "With model-based design it's a place where you can move the needle in all three areas."

The best part about model-based design is it has not finished improving. As computers grow more powerful, so too do the models and the tests they are put through. While physical tests are still necessary, model-based design allows for many flaws to be caught before money is spent on costly prototypes or production models for tests.

Model-based design has not yet fully removed prototypes from projects. Simulations aren't yet accurate enough to account for every little variable, but if Moore's law holds true we may just reach the point where we go straight from models to production without a cost increase. Wouldn't it be nice to have a test environment where the only money you're spending is on electricity?

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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