Visualization of a design and data sharing are two major concerns that must be addressed throughout the design cycle. Before the availability of solid modeling and assembly modeling tools, sharing design information in a format that all participants could understand and visualize easily was a challenging problem. Two-dimensional CAD drawings do not provide sufficient information for fully visualizing the final product. Fortunately, this has changed with graphics technologies such as solid modeling, assembly modeling, photo-realistic rendering, ray-tracing, and virtual reality immersion.
With the advancement of 3D CAD modeling, rendering, and data sharing techniques, an engineer can now share initial photo-realistic designs with other departments such as manufacturing, marketing, and sales to obtain feedback on designs early in the design process, saving both time and money. By generating an image from a 3D model, the engineer has a representation of his design anyone can view easily and comment on, even if they do not have access to CAD software. For example, during the analysis stage, engineers can create images of their finite element analysis meshes and share the data with other engineers to aid in the interpretation of analyses results.
Visualization can be taken a step further with animation. Using the 3D CAD model, an engineer can make a photo-realistic video of the product in motion, which can be shared by video or via the Internet. Virtual reality modeling and immersion is another tool to aid in visualization and understanding of the product particularly with larger products or systems.
Of course, even 3D animation is sometimes not sufficient to generate a complete understanding of a product. Sometimes it is necessary to create a physical representation of a model for a final check. Thus, rapid prototyping is quickly advancing as a visualization tool, allowing engineers and others involved in the design process to quickly obtain a physical part to check form, fit, and function.