Repeated, efficient, and extensive use of prototypes is a vital activity that can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful entry of new products into the competitive world market. In this respect, physical prototyping can prove to be very lengthy and expensive, especially if modifications resulting from design reviews involve tool redesign. The availability and affordability of advanced computer technology has paved the way for increasing utilization of prototypes that are digital and created in computer-based environments, i.e. they are virtual as opposed to being physical. The technology for using virtual prototypes was pioneered and adopted initially by large automotive and aerospace industries. Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing industry also need to take virtual prototyping (VP) technology more seriously in order to exploit the benefits. VP is becoming very advanced and may eventually dominate the product development process. However, physical prototypes will still be required for the near future, albeit less frequently. This paper presents a general survey of the available VP techniques and highlights some of the most important developments and research issues while providing sources for further reference. The purpose of the paper is to provide potential SME users with a broad picture of the field of VP and to identify issues and information relevant to the deployment and implementation of VP technology.
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