For some years now, mainstream industries, such as automotive or aerospace, have invested many millions in visualising their CAD in 3D. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools and techniques, incorporating 3D stereoscopic visualisation or Virtual Reality (VR) are the norm in these sectors. Initially just used by designers for real-time design reviews, VR technology soon spread to training and assembly.
VR specialists, Virtalis, first entered this arena over twenty years ago when Vickers (now part of BAE) sought to replace the physical prototype for its submarine designs and ICI decided to attempt to design an entire chemical plant in 3D. These companies were pioneers and the technology at that time was groundbreaking.
At that time, the demands placed on computers by models of this size meant that the 3D visualisation had to be hosted on costly mainframes or supercomputers and operated by IT experts. VR technology was only the preserve of large blue chip organisations and it was confined to design and entertainment only.
Five years ago, BAE SYSTEMS Submarines, aware of the technological advances in visualisation, approached Virtalis to design and install a network of assembly-only VR pods. These revolutionary, self contained pods were strapped to the side of the submarine fabrication building and were manned, almost round the clock, not by computer specialists but by welders, electricians, fitters and representatives from other manufacturing trades.
The roll-out and ever-broadening use of VR systems has created more cost-effective solutions and means that VR is no longer the preserve of multinationals, as all types of companies seek to get the most from their digital CAD data.
CAD to VR
The Virtalis Development Team has worked with numerous massive data sets over the years, from the Type 45 Frigate for the Royal Navy to the Mir Space Station and geospatial terrains such as the whole of the UK (above and below ground) and the Martian landscape. This has given the team expertise in dealing with not only enormous virtual models, but also a wide range of different CAD software providers.
Uniquely, Virtalis has development agreements in place with all the industry leaders. This gives Virtalis access to the native code of the leading, global CAD providers and the Company has developed a library of immersive adaptors and drivers specifically for use with DS’s 3DVIA, CATIA and Virtools, Siemens JT and Teamcenter and PTC’s DIVISION MockUp & Reality. This library interfaces directly with Virtalis' own visualisation software - Virtalis Visionary Render.
Data Visualisation in Engineering Design
Mini case study: Virtual Interactive Design Reviews at Case New Holland (CNH)
CNH, a manufacturer of agricultural and construction equipment Company, has four integrated Virtual Reality (VR) ActiveWall systems. They are situated at Zedelgem in Belgium, Modena in Italy and Lancaster, PA and Burr Ridge, IL in the US. CNH is part of the Fiat Group and wanted a series of near identical VR systems featuring both projected VR and Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) for international, real-time, collaborative design reviews.
Since their installation, international travel has been slashed and the product design cycle has been shortened. Unexpectedly, they are now finding the VR systems are ideal for presenting new product ranges to CNH’s customer base, both for market research and marketing purposes.
“We are proud to report that we are using our new system to its fullest extent. We are using the tracking system for interactive design reviews and design concept evaluations. Our ActiveSpace is proving invaluable for cab visibility tests, while we are using our Cyberglove for reachability studies. All three pieces of kit work together reliably and in many combinations," says Kezhun Li of the CNH company.
“We use our virtual reality systems on a daily basis to conduct collaborative design reviews. The fact that we’ve now managed to link up our teams with their international colleagues has led to a great deal less international travel and accelerated development schedules," Li points out.
Kezhun Li, CNH Head of Digital Prototyping and Simulation (DP&S)
All four Virtalis ActiveWall systems have very similar specifications that enable efficient collaborative working between them. The ActiveWall HD configuration boasts a massive 25ft by 14ft screen which has been slightly sunken into the floor so that the combine harvesters and balers can drive out of the wall in full stereoscopic 3D, powered by a Christie Mirage HD18 projector. The standard ActiveWall has an 18ft by 14ft screen and uses a Mirage S+14k projector.
There is also a tailored Intersense IS900 Wired VETracker system, which enables natural movement around the virtual models. The ActiveSpace systems use nVisor SX Head-Mounted Displays from NVIS. Since the virtual models CNH creates have more than 20,000 parts, compute power and graphics rendering capability are vital. The latest systems at CNH feature 64-bit, quad-core, Dell workstations coupled with NVIDIA FX5600 graphics cards.
“We are proud to report that we are using our new system to its fullest extent. We are using the tracking system for interactive design reviews and design concept evaluations. Our ActiveSpace is proving invaluable for cab visibility tests, while we are using our Cyberglove for reachability studies. All three pieces of kit work together reliably and in many combinations." - Kezhun Li, CNH Head of DP&S
GeoVisionary – data visualisation for maps and geology
Historically, geological mapping has involved the generation of 2-D maps depicting the distribution of geologic units at land surface. While there is a wide variation in what kind of units individual maps show, the standard is still the production of a map sheet, or a 2-D layer of information.
With the computerisation of geology about 25 years ago, there has been a continual push to expand what can be done with computer technology.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have brought sophisticated capabilities for creating and managing 2-D geospatial map information. While recent years have seen the development of high-resolution 3-D visualisation within GIS applications, these packages still work primarily with 2-D spatial data types. GIS applications largely haven’t evolved into tools for creating and managing complex 3-D geospatial data effectively or efficiently.
However, to Virtalis, geospatial data is really just like any other data, such as CAD data or even Computational Fluid Dynamics data or molecular/bio chemistry data when it comes to visualisation. Virtalis has successfully tackled all these data visualisation challenges over the last five years and its specialist software for geospatial visualisation, GeoVisionary, is now the Company’s most successful product, owing to the vast number of uses it can be put to.
What is GeoVisionary?
GeoVisionary was developed in collaboration with the British Geological Survey to initially allow high-resolution visualisation of the kinds of spatial data that are generally used in geological mapping projects. One of the design goals was to ensure that data sets for large regions, national to sub-continental, could be loaded simultaneously and at full resolution, while allowing real-time interaction with the data.
One of the major advantages GeoVisionary offers over current visualisation software (3&4D GIS) is its ability to integrate very large volumes of data from multiple sources, allowing a greater understanding of diverse spatial datasets.
“Our approach to GeoVisionary is different from any other company involved in GIS mapping. Our starting point was that we want to be able to view all of the data all of the time and we wanted to view it in 3D at the highest level of detail and in real-time.” - Richard Davis, Head of the Virtalis Development Team.
GeoVisionary provides high-resolution 3D and stereoscopic 3D visualisation that is limited only by the resolution of the data. It is highly scalable and is able to provide “fly-through” viewing of mid-continent-scale data sets in real-time at full speed. Although primarily a visualisation software package, it does have useful landscape feature interpretation tools. For example, it allows for digitisation in 3D space, enabling geologists to digitise geological features directly on the 3-D elevation model and orthophotography.
GeoVisionary has created a culture change in the way geoscientists visualise and interpret data and communicate their results by creating an intuitive virtual environment for them to operate in Virtalis Exchange.
The driver for the creation of Virtalis’ first VR software adaptor that seamlessly exports data created in AVEVA’s Tribon into PTC’s DIVISION MockUp and Virtalis’ Visionary Render came in the form of Virtalis’ Chinese agents, the Shanghai-based, RBD Computer Technology Company, who understood the potential of 3D visualisation within global shipbuilding.
“Most companies have their own VR facilities and the two most commonly used software packages are Tribon and MockUp. However, we identified that moving data between these packages was no simple matter. Everyone seemed to have the same headache. Thankfully, we discussed this with Virtalis technical director, Andrew Connell, and he and his team have created the ultimate solution to this previously intractable problem.” - Jacky Zheng, RBD’s sales and marketing manager.
The first installation of the Virtalis Tribon Adaptor was at Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company Limited, a leading Chinese shipbuilder. They reported that, not only is the Tribon Adaptor faster than any other package that purports to do the same thing, the quality of the translated data is unsurpassed, especially in the sphere of pipe data translation. Virtalis’ breakthrough allowed models created in Tribon to be easily translated into PTC’s DIVISION MockUp without any loss of data or formatting. Similarly, the VR models could move in the opposite direction and be translated into Tribon.
This led to calls for Virtalis to work with SENER to create a solution for FORAN, another market-leading software package within shipbuilding. This broadened the suite of adaptors, drivers and VR enablers which collectively are known as Virtalis Exchange. These tools promote the seamless reuse of 3D engineering and manufacturing data in VR environments. The Virtalis Exchange portfolio includes translators to Virtalis’ own visualisation software, Visionary Render, as well as PTC software, from 3ds Max, PDMS, FORAN and Tribon. Models, created in various packages, can now be exported to a file format ready for use in VR, including materials, polygons, vertices, metadata and some animations.
The Virtalis Exchange adaptors for Tribon, Foran and PDMS are available in two parts, the Object Adaptor and the Metadata module. The object adaptor provides the geometry, whilst the metadata module gives access to the additional data contained within the files. Using the files that are generated from the host CAD package, Virtalis Exchange adaptors generate a series of files that can be read by PTC’s ProductView, PTC’s Division MockUp or Virtalis’ Visionary Render, complete with all the geometry and tree structure of the original CAD package.
The Metadata Module accesses the XML file and adds detail to the structure. It provides all the part names and any other data that is associated with the CAD. For example, it conveys detail like the material type, its weight, thickness, the part type etc.
In fact, it transfers across any data that is embedded in the CAD file. The next stage is to fuse a wider range of data sources, so that, like GeoVisionary, information can be seen, analysed and interpreted in its relevant setting, for example maintenance schedules and instructions can be attached to parts and sub-systems whilst failure rate information normally kept in databases can be highlighted as visual cues.
Virtalis Exchange enables the fast creation of high visual quality content for VR installations across the world, so that design reviews can be more insightful and manufacturing and training processes made more efficient.
Only a few years ago, the application for VR was struggling to find its best home in commercial worlds. Perhaps its hype came before the technology was mature enough to be anything other than an expensive play thing for Board Rooms and glossy company HQs. Virtalis has kept the faith and the focus, working with a series of visionary customers and partners, and is delighted to see that more people than ever before in more industries than ever before recognise the power and the flexibility of VR. The ubiquity of 3D films and the widespread use of interactive leisure games are, in no small measure, responsible for the increase in acceptance of the technology. Companies and universities have usually invested a great deal of time and money into creating their data and there is no more advanced, intuitive or valuable way of experiencing it and understanding it than by deploying the VR techniques that have taken so many years to refine.
Virtalis Web Sites: www.virtalis.com and www.geovisionary.com
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