David Phillips
David Phillips
Automotive News Online Managing Editor

Honda aims to take 3D leap forward with advanced crash-test simulation software

A closeup image of the Acura MDX after a virtual side-impact crash test captured by the new 3D software.

Photo credit: HONDA
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It takes roughly five years, on average, to develop and launch an all-new vehicle these days. A redesigned crossover or sedan can require less time from drawing board to showroom.

Numerous automakers have tried to shorten product development cycles over the past 20 years but often with little success.

Too many complex facets in r&d, product planning, and manufacturing often get in the way, IHS Automotive senior analyst Eric Fedewa says.

But Honda Motor Co. believes it’s poised to take a major chunk of time out of the process.

The company, aiming to advance digital crash-test simulations, will soon begin using three-dimensional, visualization technology using software created by 3DXCITE, a small technology developer in Royal Oak, Mich.

Dassault Systems, a familiar name to auto engineers and designers using computer-aided design, acquired a controlling stake in Realtime Technology AG in December and changed the company’s name to 3DXCITE in May.

Using 3DXCITE’s visualization technology created first for the animation and film industry, Honda says its engineers can more easily review results of a crash simulation, evaluate different design approaches and approve engineering changes with more speed and efficiency.

Honda engineers conduct some 6,000 crash simulations a year and the process of evaluating all of those virtual images can quickly bog down product development.

A rendering of what Honda engineers now study to evaluate crash tests.

Photo credit: HONDA

“We have gained the potential to improve the quality of decision making and reduce the time required for finalizing a vehicle design by greatly increasing the ease of communicating and understanding the results of a crash test simulation,” said Eric DeHoff, technical leader for computer-aided engineering in the crash safety group at Honda R&D Americas.

The software, he added, will give Honda engineers “a more complete understanding of vehicle safety design” throughout the vehicle development process.

In the past, it took weeks to create realistic renderings of a single crash simulation with fixed viewing parameters.

With the new technology, engineers can create and manipulate the simulation at the push of a button, and complete it in hours instead of weeks.

During a demonstration of the technology Tuesday at 3DEXCITE’s offices, the detail, flexibility, and imagery the software generated was remarkable -- right down to flying shards of metal.

Engineers can manipulate the crash rendering, rotate the view in any direction, zero in on a crush zone and strip away parts of the vehicle to isolate a section or component for more detailed analysis.

Even the barrier used in crash testing can be made transparent so the immediate effects of a crash can be viewed from multiple points of view, including the driver’s seat.

The visualization software was co-developed and customized for Honda’s use by Honda R&D Americas and 3DXCITE in about six months.

It was first used on the 2014 Acura MDX crossover and the new 2015 Acura TLX sport sedan. And starting this fall, it will be adopted across the board on Honda’s product programs, DeHoff said.

Ultimately, Honda hopes to accurately predict with 100 percent accuracy the physical results of all crash tests using a virtual tool first. It means Honda -- already a standout on safety -- could ace more third-party and government crash tests.

And it will mean even fewer prototypes needed for real crash tests, resulting in more savings.

You can reach David Phillips at dphillips@crain.com.

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