Minimizing the time spent iterating between development and testing is crucial. Especially when developing complex machinery, where prototype building is a tedious process that requires lots of time. Use of agile methodologies and fail-fast principles in R&D help, but further improvements are needed. Use of digital prototypes can be this next step.
For a digital prototype to be useful, we need to be able to examine it from different points of view – we need both “the look” and “the feel”. 3D models and virtual landscapes offer “the look”. We can evaluate how our machine looks on the inside and outside, and to some extent the usability. The evaluation of performance is not possible with a 3D model alone. However, “The feel” can be obtained by modelling the dynamics of the machine mathematically. By connecting the dynamics model to the 3D model, we can have both the look and the feel in a realistic digital prototype that can be used for testing and evaluation prior to building the physical prototype.
The joint power of Unity and Simulink
There are many proprietary simulation systems available, and there has certainly been a need for simulation systems that are easy to use for a specific purpose. Typical example is a training simulator. However, the development possibilities with a proprietary system is always limited and/or require special knowledge.
The 3D world and the physics model of the device/machine can be combined together into a realistic simulation with commonly used and widely available tools. The 3D world with a realistic landscape is running in Unity. The physical properties of the machine are modeled in Simulink. These two models are connected together so that information flows both ways. Unity and Simulink as development tools are improving all the time and the development of a simulation system with them is already very efficient. The system is not limited in anyway to a specific purpose, and simulation can be used as a tool in various phases of the product development.
The example presented here is an imaginary Terex Fuchs material handling machine. The control system, hydraulics and mechanics of the machine is modeled in Simulink. The machine in virtual landscape is operating in Unity. There is a dashboard that shows values from the machine model such as hydraulic pressures in cylinders. In the dashboard there is a possibility to adjust parameters in the Simulink model. Collisions and other interactions with the virtual environment can flow from Unity to the Simulink model.