Big Data is enabling car-part designers to create and test prototypes in record time, reports Mike Ramsey in The Wall Street Journal (10/21/13). "Today, a vehicle can be built, run through snow banks, started in frozen or hellishly hot conditions and crashed repeatedly – all inside a vast network of computers." This means that far "more design ideas are being conceived and tested than ever before, and the best are being adopted quickly, helping manufacturers improve the fuel efficiency and the performance of cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles."
Such capabilities have "accelerated in the past four or five years," with the digitization of "decades of data on the costs, performance and safety of various materials and designs." Previously, the "time and expense involved in developing new parts discouraged vehicle makers from looking at many daring or innovative designs that could yield small gains in fuel economy, because a failure could be so costly." Today, data-driven computer simulations enable tests to be completed in "days instead of months" and cost "thousands of dollars instead of millions."
Naturally, automakers have invested heavily in the requisite computing power: "In Dearborn, Michigan, where Ford is based, there are several multistory buildings stacked floor to ceiling with computers to run the company’s engineering programs around the world." The carmaker has "increased its computing power by about 50 percent every year for at least eight years." Ford and others also use software via Altair Engineering to churn out "massive amounts of data" and turn out "shapes human engineers would be unlikely to imagine," serving up new design possibilities for further development.