Errors made in product design can easily be replicated in the design of manufacturing processes. Virtual reality (VR) helps to find them before manufacturing begins and production.
Manufacturing has two critical phases – planning how to manufacture a product, and then executing that plan. Leading manufacturers are applying immersive virtuality (iV) technologies at both points.
“Beyond product design, the second area where automotive and aerospace companies have used their CAVEs is in designing the processes for the factory and the workshop,” said David Nahon, director of Immersive Virtuality at 3DEXPERIENCE Lab at Dassault Systèmes (publisher of Compass). “iV is even more critical to manufacturing because you must know at the design stage how easy it is to manufacture a product, or if it is even possible. By discovering this early in the design process you eliminate a lot of expensive mistakes.”
Companies that use 3D design software and product lifecycle management (PLM) design the tooling, assembly line and other processes for manufacturing in parallel with designing the product. While this is efficient, any errors in design can be replicated in the manufacturing process, where they may not be discovered until production begins.
“Imagine if you make a mistake in your design that is copied in your manufacturing and you cannot fit the seats into the car,” Nahon said. “This is the most expensive time to discover it. You may need to redesign the manufacturing or you may need to redesign the product by building the seat in two pieces. All the time you are resolving this problem you are losing production, which drives up your costs, and your product is not on the market, which drives down your revenues.”
Because iV allows 3D models to be examined at life-size scale, problems in the product design and its related manufacturing processes can be spotted more readily. That’s why Brazil-based Embraer, the world’s third largest aircraft manufacturer for the commercial, defense and security, and executive jet markets, subjects it manufacturing plans to the same immersive reviews as its product designs.
Embraer’s new mixed reality (MR) process allows up to a dozen people to view and comment on models simultaneously, making it easier for manufacturing experts to join their design and engineering colleagues to review models, identify issues and agree on fixes long before production begins.
Once manufacturing begins, augmented reality (AR) is helping workers on the factory floor to complete tasks faster and more accurately. France-based Diota, which provides AR solutions for the automotive, aerospace, petroleum and chemical industries, has been working with manufacturers since 2010.
“Today, in many factories, human workers use a lot of print job cards to explain each task they must do,” said Lionnel Joussemet, Diota’s co-founder. “In aerospace, for example, they must search for the right card, understand the information and then picture in their minds all of the processes printed on the job cards. This is not easy to do.”
Diota’s software taps the manufacturer’s industrial information systems, including its PLM system, then applies the same data created during the design of a product to guide workers in how to assemble it.
“To assemble a panel, the workers must keep their hands free,” Joussemet said. “They can’t be holding a paper with instructions, so it was typical in the past for them copy the instructions from the paper to the assembly with a marker. It took a lot of time and resulted in many mistakes.
“With the Diota AR solution, the worker can wear AR glasses that display the instructions in front of him as he looks at the assembly, or the actions can be projected directly onto the assembly. He understands immediately what to do and reduces the time to do the task.” As each task is completed, the next one in the sequence comes into view.
When the work is done, inspectors check the work armed with tablets, not paper.
“With augmented reality, a quality control inspector can observe the assembly directly through the tablet, comparing the built object against the as-designed digital mockup,” Jossemet said. “It’s very quick to spot the variations with such a system.”
Recognizing that its users are assembly workers, not designers or engineers, Diota has focused on making its solutions easy to use and understand. “VR is for experts,” Joussemet said. “AR is for everyone.” The company also has standardized its solutions to make them applicable to a wide range of industrial settings.
“With AR, we’ve seen a reduction of human errors, as well as mistakes in monitoring data,” Joussemet said. “It’s a validation of the reliability of augmented reality. It’s a changed business model.”