Wednesday, June 8, 2016

University of Iowa spinout company Virtual Systems Engineering (VSE) will soon be working with the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) and the Electric Power and Research Institute (EPRI). 

VSE officials say they hope the partnership will help the company play a larger role on the national stage as advanced manufacturing and interconnectivity become more central to the world of emerging technology. 

DMDII is a federally funded research lab that focuses on digital manufacturing to help factories become more efficient and cost-competitive, and VSE is now a member of this organization. EPRI is an independent, nonprofit organization which brings together scientists, engineers, and industry experts to conduct research and development relating to the generation, delivery, and use of electricity for the benefit of the public.

VSE’s main product is PREVIEW, a program that allows users to virtually expand a circuit board to visualize its inner workings and any potential problems that might occur, such as overheating or misalignment. Users can also import data about the circuit board from different places and departments, including the cost of each part and information about its reliability. PREVIEW stores all this data and provides a platform for system integration.

Additionally, PREVIEW allows for virtual testing of the circuit boards so manufacturers can analyze the effects of impact, thermal, and electromagnetic properties without the need for a physical prototype.

Physical testing accounts for as much as 60 percent of labor costs for manufacturers, and when a circuit board fails a test, it’s difficult to determine precisely which component caused the failure. Several parts may be replaced, and the prototype must undergo even more testing, which can ultimately cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We’ll never get rid of physical prototypes,” VSE co-founder and president Tim Marler said, “but if we can reduce them, we’ll save a tremendous amount of time and money.”

Marler is a former UI research scientist and current research engineer at RAND Corporation in addition to his work with VSE.

He said that PREVIEW’s connectivity is a unique feature in the world of circuit boards. At any large manufacturing company, one person is responsible for mechanical design, another is responsible for electrical design, and someone else works on thermal analysis—with minimal communication between departments.

“They may all use different software and different file formats—it’s all disconnected,” Marler said. “It amazes me that this is still a problem. One central system to connect all these processes would save a huge amount of time and money.  Linking models together and ensuring efficient connectivity and communication is an increasingly critical aspect of new technology.”

Defense contracting is a current focus for VSE, given its use of low-volume, high-complexity products for which testing is especially crucial. The power industry is another area where VSE can add significant value, Marler said, given the use of old circuit cards and the need for reliability.

In the future, the company hopes to expand into medical equipment, the auto market, aerospace, and eventually GPS and cell phones.

“Anything with electricity running through it has a circuit card in it,” Marler said. “The potential applications for this are massive.”

Marler says the company has a solid foundation through its early partnerships with the University of Iowa and Penn State University, both of which essentially provide research departments—something he said few startup companies have.

Given the increasing focus within the United States on advanced manufacturing, interoperability, and modeling and simulation, Marler says it is an exciting time to be working at VSE. 

“We are poised to address a variety of relevant and critical challenges,” he said.

Marler and his co-founders Ross Johnson, Herman Reininga, and Ibrahim Ozbolat received support from the State of Iowa and from UI Ventures and the UI Research Foundation, within the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, as they started their company in 2013, conducting research at the University of Iowa.

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover