Augmenting Physical Prototype Activities in Early-Stage Product Development
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Prototyping in the early-stage of product development is widely used for exploring solutions and generating knowledge. Prototypes in the form of tangible artefacts have many advantages, including expressing and transferring tacit knowledge, creating proof of concepts, learning by doing and testing ideas. In the era of digitalization, this paper attempts to discover opportunities in engineering design research by transforming physical prototypes into digital 3D models, and methods for converting hand drawn sketches to physical parts, in addition to capturing microcontroller output. With the increasing development and robustness of computer vision and photogrammetry algorithms over the past few years, simple methods for generating digital models of real objects have surfaced. By providing pictures of a prototype, these algorithms can generate a digital 3D representation, including color and texture. A system for capturing information and knowledge from early-stage product development has been developed, and consists of a digital repository for collecting, storing and sharing data from design output (prototypes), and a physical instrument for capturing the input data. The physical instrument consists of several cameras used for taking pictures of prototypes, and a turntable to capture many angles for further processing to generate a 3D model. In addition, also a tool for producing laser cut pieces from sketches and a microcontroller logger is developed. It is aimed at advancing the discovery and understanding of causalities in the early stage of PD. As a positive side effect of enabling better research, the system can benefit its users (designers) by providing a basis for documentation and feedback. Through practical experimentation and testing, we aim to discover the potential of methods such as photogrammetry in aiding practitioners reflect through design output (i.e. prototypes) in the early-stages of product development, as well as discussing the limitations of capturing design output from product development projects. Various ways of representing the prototype repository will be discussed, where making the prototypes accessible through virtual reality is one possible concept that is discussed. The digital repository currently consists of data from various projects, including mechanical engineering student projects, a start-up developing a coreless ring motor, as well as projects from a multi-national product manufacturing company located in Norway.