Virtual Reality and the Future of Manufacturing
- Virtual reality is a fast-developing technology
- VR has many applications in today's manufacturing environment
- With large companies investing heavily in this area, VR is sure to be a tool that manufacturers will rely on
Will manufacturers embrace virtual reality to transform product development, testing, layout, and assembly? It was hard to imagine just a few years ago that the advancements in hardware and software would allow for far greater use of virtual reality in manufacturing. Allowing designers, engineers, and customers to see and evaluate a design in real time will shorten product design cycles. Being able to walk through assembly line layout will reduce setup time. And providing customers with a view of the product in use will decrease the time spent on redesign and marketing material development.
How it Works
Virtual reality is an immersion into an environment that allows the user to see, hear, and sometimes feel what is going on. The user can interact with that environment in many different ways. This requires the user to wear a helmet-type device that includes a facemask with a high-resolution stereoscopic display, headphones for sound, and a feedback device, usually worn on the hands. These devices provide the 3-D image and track eye and head movement. The 3-D images are created using multi-headed cameras or in 3-D animation or engineering modeling software.
When all of these are put together, the user can walk through an environment and experience the product, assembly line, or factory layout. When the user moves his head, hands, or body, the environment in the display device changes to reflect the new position.
Training programs can simulate hazardous situations on the manufacturing floor, such as harsh chemicals, high-speed machinery, and loud environments. A machine operator and maintenance technician can learn all about a new piece of equipment before it is installed. Also, an OEM technician can walk a maintenance worker through the process of setting up the new machine or making repairs.
Product development entails using imported CAD data to visualize designs and thus cut down on costly redesign and improve manufacturability and maintenance. In the virtual environment, designers and engineers from around the world can see and interact with the same model. Sales and marketing are also getting involved early by ensuring products meet customers' needs and presenting options to customers.
Manufacturers of cars, trucks, off-highway equipment, and airplanes build virtual prototypes of their vehicles to test and evaluate features, quality, design, and function. They are also using VR to lay out and walk through assembly processes to maximize efficiency.
What are the chances this will become a mainstay with manufacturers? The likelihood is high, based on who is moving into this space. Players such as Facebook and Oculus VR, Sony with Project Morpheus, Microsoft HoloLens, Google with Google Cardboard, ESI Group, and Autodesk will ensure that this technology will be well funded and available to a large audience. Ford and BAE Systems are using this technology to reduce costs and decrease time spent on product development and manufacturing.
The future looks bright for virtual reality in manufacturing as the sector's continuous improvement culture drives cost reductions, cycle time reduction, and resource maximization—the perfect environment for an evolving VR world.
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