IT-driven rapid prototyping a hit in defence


New armoured vehicle goes from design to demonstrator in two monthsDefence company Land Systems OMC, part of the Anglo-US BAE Systems group, late last year designed and developed a new armoured vehicle in just over 60 days using collaborative IT tools and rapid prototyping techniques.

Programme manager Jacques Naude says engineers used standard off the shelf software to simultaneously design and develop their new RG33 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle in Boksburg as well as in San Diego, California.

Naude says the decision to progress with the RG33 project was taken on 8 August and was unveiled virtually two months later at the AUSA show in Washington.” Between the latter date and mid-February 2007, Land Systems OMC has supplied a number of test vehicles and "blast hulls" for qualification tests in the US.

“We had no option but rapid prototyping since time to market was crucial,” adds Naude. “Unveiling the product at AUSA, subsequent demonstrations to would-be users and of course the blast tests done by the official US Government test centre were critical elements of the marketing strategy to get the company (in this case BAE Systems Ground Systems in the US) as well as the product in the spot light before the contracting process would start in November 2006,” he explains.

Naude says designing armoured vehicles this way does carry higher technical risk. “The conventional design process would provide for a formal test phase, during which each and every product performance parameter would be formally evaluated. For rapid prototyping, we would only test those parameters which, according to our judgement, would be influenced by the design changes – which could impose risks”. These were apparently justified – the US Marines have already ordered an initial 94 vehicles.

Explaining the design software used, Naude says all design software used by Land Systems OMC are standard off the shelf packages. Computer modelling of aspects such as protection, automotive capability and stability is applied as extensively as possible. “We have, however, with time, calibrated our computer models by using the results from physical testing over the years, thus increasing our confidence level in the results obtained through modelling – particularly in the field of protection and mobility,” he adds. “This advantage, in some instances, can speed up our internal process, since we are better able and prepared to make decisions early in the process on the basis of our modelling results.”

Naude says collaborative prototyping across continents is probably here to stay. “For the lighter class of armoured vehicles (less than about 20 tonnes) the competition is mostly so fierce that we have to get the exact product required to the market, first. Rapid prototyping is ideal for this and the risks mostly manageable,” Naude says.

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