Collaborative Engineering and Virtual Prototyping Within Virtual Reality
Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) are now benefiting from advantages of virtual reality systems in terms of visual collaboration between engineers, designers, and customers, reducing prototyping costs and minimizing required design and development time.
Virtual prototyping is a method in the process of product development. It uses outputs of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) software to validate the design before making a physical prototype. Traditionally, it is done by using one or combination of more than one 3D computer software to generate geometrical shapes and combining them in order to test mechanical motions, functions, and fit. These geometrical shapes represent parts of the project and they could be manipulated by CAE software to simulate the behavior of the part in the real world.
With the introduction of affordable consumer and enterprise head-mounted displays (HMD), engineering groups started to study about implementation of virtual reality technology in order to provide new pathways for engineers, designers, and their customers to experience new products and development processes, without the need of making physical prototypes and mock-ups. Virtual reality can provide any HMD equipped engineer, designer, or customer to have realistic digital prototypes accessible in any place with instant manipulation and assembly/disassembly capabilities.
The product design and development process was used to rely primarily on engineers’ experience and judgement in producing an initial concept design. Engineers were using CAD software for designing parts in basic geometrical shapes in a 3D environment; then designed parts were converted to 2D engineering drawings in order to produce them in Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines without any way to evaluate its performance in advance. The initial prototype was highly unlikely to meet expectations. Engineers usually had to redesign the part multiple times and weaknesses were revealed only in physical testing.
Nowadays, customers are requesting more customized products in high-quality standards with affordable costs and shorter lead time. This understanding causes a significant increase in product variety and competition in the market. Manufacturers are under pressure to reduce the production time, cost and optimize products to higher standards of performance and reliability. Manufacturers are changing their design and manufacturing processes in order to keep up with the customer demands. Latest progresses revealed that having feedbacks from customers in every step of design and manufacturing process is highly important, even if the product is in the idea phase (Tseng et al. 1998). This approach enabled the utilization of concurrent engineering in design and manufacturing processes. Today, with the help of immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, engineers, designers, and customers are constantly able to evaluate the product in functionality, reliability, and aesthetic dimensions and give their feedback in order to change the product design in the design phase without the need of creating physical prototypes (Vosniakos 1998).
Utilizing Virtual Reality
Using an HMD-based virtual reality device is also cost-effective over 3D projection systems such as spherical or CAVE-type virtual environments. These environments require special 3D projectors, projection screens, and a significant physical space. Devices such as 3D projectors are very expensive for utilizing, operating, and maintaining. Also, projection environments need a dedicated space, and it is not possible to use it as a mobile system. Today, HMDs are in the consumer market with affordable prices and they only require a gaming PC and no dedicated space at all. Manufacturers can use HMD-based virtual reality systems for off-site demonstrations or collaborated projects.
In order to use a virtual reality system for collaboration and virtual prototyping, required virtual world must be created with the help of special software. Most of the features for a development of such a virtual prototyping platform are available in game engines supported by the game development industry, which has a value of 25.1 billion USD according to 2010 ESA reports. However, since game engines are developed for making games, some of the specific features are not available and some features do not meet requirements of virtual prototyping standards. As a solution to that problem, some virtual reality and simulation companies started to develop virtual prototyping platforms. One of them is Augmea Immersive Platform (AIP), which is developed by Augmea Simulation Technologies A.S. and it uses the power of state-of-the-art game engine, CryEngine (Altundag et al. 2017). Software products like AIP gives an opportunity to manufacturers for creating virtual worlds in order to use the best features of virtual prototyping technologies in industry standards with cost- and time-effective approach.
Utilization of the virtual reality technology for virtual prototyping gives an important opportunity to manufacturers for experiencing the design, assembling, and disassembling them in order to evaluate the performance of parts or the whole product without the need of creating physical prototypes. Designers and engineers can work together for evaluation and collaborative design, even in different physical locations. They are able to use full body movement, controllers, and sensors in the virtual environment with the photorealistic visuals, dynamic lights, shadows, and simulated physics. HMD-based virtual reality devices are cost-effective over 3D projection systems, and they do not need dedicated installation spaces. With the introduction of affordable HMD devices and special virtual prototyping software, virtual reality can provide any HMD equipped engineer, designer, or customer to have realistic digital prototypes and collaboration space.
- Altundag, A.M., Edwards, L., Demirkan, C., Aksoy, O.: “Oyun Motoru Kullanilarak Sanal Prototipleme Altyapisi: Augmea Immersive Platform TM.” EEMKON (2017)Google Scholar