Developing new product in 12 months is possible if carmakers take virtual prototyping to its potential. That means building the first digital vehicle within months of a new product program, integrating parts and systems from the suppliers onscreen, and doing final testing and signoff in this virtual world.

It means a single physical prototype, at the end of the virtual verification, does the job of six successive prototypes, says Robert R. Ryan, president and chief operating officer of Mechanical Dynamics Inc., an Ann Arbor, MI, -based virtual prototyping company.

It is the ability to “make that first prototype something the executive wants to drive.” And the executive will know that first prototype meets the targeted objectives, says Mr. Ryan.

“One of the biggest bottlenecks is the stranglehold of hardware prototyping,” says Mr. Ryan. He points to the latest BMW 3 Series that took 5 ½ years to bring to market, including the building and testing of 130 full-scale prototypes at a cost of $350,000 each. The next 3 Series is expected to take half the time and utilize one-third the number of hardware prototypes – and yield an improved product.

Traditionally, specifications are sent to suppliers who build the parts and send them back to the carmaker for assembly into a prototype. It is tested and some parts sent back to the supplier for more work and the expensive process begins again.

Integration of all the systems must occur sooner to see how they interact, says Mr. Ryan. Processes can be tested and final product review and signoff can happen virtually in a global portal that takes about 10,000 tests and pools them into one comprehensive test of the functional digital car. It would highlight issues that need to be resolved and an indication of what changes have the greatest impact on the final product. The result, Mr. Ryan says, can be as much as 40% quality improvement.