Following part 1 of this webinar series, “Virtual Reality Technology for SMART Manufacturing Part One,” were requests for more detailed insights on virtual reality (VR) technology display options, areas of application in manufacturing digital workflows, and return on investment (ROI) opportunities. We listened to this feedback and started developing the content for part 2, “A Deeper Dive into VR Technology for SMART Manufacturing.”

Given the feedback received from those who attended part 1, we presented a live webinar on September 19th, to provide a more technical discussion on the following topics:

  • VR display options
  • Motion tracking
  • Converting CAD into VR
  • Use cases
  • ROI opportunities

Range of VR Displays

To show what is possible beyond head-mounted displays (HMDs) we reviewed a spectrum of display options ranging all the way up to fully immersive displays like the CAVE and CAVE2. Each display type has its own considerations about use case applicability, content, computing requirements, and software.

One thing to keep in mind is display fidelity, which is a key factor in making the virtual environment as close to the real data/model as you need it to be for confident analysis and decision making. Fidelity can be scaled by increasing the resolution of the display elements, blending or tiling together multiple display elements, surrounding the user(s) with displays, and/or increasing the photorealism of the virtual environment through software.

The Value of Motion Tracking

Motion tracking monitors your head, body, hand positions, and orientations so you can naturally look at and reach for objects in a virtual space. Want to look under a component on the VR display? Simply bend down and look under. Interactions are enhanced by intuitive navigation techniques, using devices like wands or gamepads, to enable both navigation and manipulation of objects.

Motion tracking and natural interaction can reduce the time it takes to realize a goal (we call it time to insight) by as much as 50%. Accuracy and confidence in assessing the data can increase as well. These capabilities are fairly standard with HMDs like Oculus and VIVE but are optional for most large-scale displays. The extent of your abilities while in VR is a factor of the software used.

Displaying CAD Models in VR

One question that we are asked quite often involves getting CAD data into a VR system. There are three main methods for this:

  • Native software capability
  • CAD to VR plug-in
  • CAD to game engine to VR

Some CAD programs, such as Siemens Teamcenter and Dassault’s 3D Experience, or styling apps like Autodesk VRED, have native VR capabilities. Users can move directly from their desktop work into reviews in VR spaces, even up to fully immersive CAVEs. More CAD applications are integrating the ability to display directly to HMDs.

Geometry interception is as it sounds. The geometry of your CAD data is intercepted by a plug-in program before going to the VR system, but some plug-ins are limited to working with HMDs. The plug-in adds 3D stereoscopic display if needed, and motion tracking to enable VR capabilities. While in the VR space, you will work with a geometrical representation of your data, not your actual data, so any required changes must be made back at the desktop.

Coming on fast and strong is the conversion of CAD into game engines. Game engine software enables an extension of your CAD design into other uses for your organization. What starts out as CAD can be transformed into photorealistic, interactive, animated models and environments that can be used for executive briefings, marketing, and sales applications.

Computing Considerations

When assessing computing requirements for specific displays and use cases, we look at the entire video topology. This is not just about the display being used and the number of inputs it needs. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How many graphics cards are required and which one is best for the complexity of your data?
  • How extensive are the capabilities of your software suite?
  • Do you use a single CAD program, or do you also have photo-realistic rendering software as part of your suite?
  • How fast is your network if you will be holding remote collaboration sessions in VR?

Bandwidth, motion tracking (or not), and other interactions will affect latency; whether or not the on-screen images work in real-time with your body and hand motions. HMDs may require only a “VR-ready” graphics card, depending upon your model complexity and display fidelity. Professional graphics cards, like NVIDIA Quadro, are typically used for larger-scale displays like video walls and fully immersive systems. As more display elements and/or interaction capabilities are integrated, additional cards or a graphics cluster may be required.

Application Examples and ROI

VR use cases and ROI are of particular interest to many who attended part 1. Organizational champions for such initiatives need information for internal discussions and business cases.

To give a little variety outside of Mechdyne, we reviewed a few published case studies:

One Mechdyne client experienced ROI with their VR system, specifically in their “design to manufacturing workflow” by:

  • Reducing a design project from an expected 18-months to 10-months
  • Being under budget by 40% on the final design
  • Avoiding an estimated $1.5M in construction rework on a new factory by reviewing the factory model at 1:1 scale before construction begins

VR displays offer tremendous potential but will only add value if suited to your use case and organizational goals. Larger-scale immersive and interactive systems, especially, require consultation and planning to ensure the right display is specified for the use case(s) and will enable the desired insights and results.

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