The Theorem Solutions approach-Digital Realities-The next frontier of collaboration
The problem statement, therefore, is one of reducing the cognitive distance, bringing engineers closer to their designs, while simultaneously addressing the realities of collaboration at a distance. All of which must be focused on the objective of improving the quality and productivity of engineering and manufacturing processes.
Theorem Solutions has taken up the challenge of ‘providing enabling technologies for engineering and manufacturing businesses to improve their design, engineering and manufacturing processes by utilizing existing digital assets to collaborate within innovative Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality Experiences’. By combining the strengths of humans and machines, we believe that XR will dramatically increase value creation. Our goal has been to produce a technology agnostic collaboration platform for businesses of all sizes – ‘Digital Realities for Everybody’.
At the center of the Theorem Solutions approach therefore we are leveraging over 25 years of product Visualization experience, placing a technology agnostic ‘Visualization Pipeline’ at the core of immersive, contextual and spatially relevant XR collaborative workspaces. Recognizing the significant investments that some businesses have already made in Commercial VR, this approach also supports and improves any existing Commercial VR or photorealistic rendering processes.
The Visualization Pipeline is a server-based technology that enables fast, efficient, flexible, and automated processing of CAD and Visualization data, while maintaining the associated metadata (retaining the essential knowledge embedded in the original source). It has been designed to optimise the output for all Visualization workflows, supporting CAVEs and Powerwalls, but also supporting photorealistic rendering (such as Alias, VRED and 3DExcite), existing lightweight viewing technologies (such as JT, Creo View and 3D XML), and preparing data for use within XR-based experiences (powered by Unity and Unreal). For collaboration to become a reality, data must be made available to all, irrespective of their toolset of choice.
The Visualization Pipeline can automatically process data in the background, or on-demand with ‘save as’ and ‘drag and drop’ functionality, removing the need for dedicated data processing teams.
However, preparing data for Visualization in the engineering context is only the first step towards the exploitation of the potential that XR represents. Theorem Solutions has invested significantly to understand how XR can be applied, not just in terms of the long term potential, but also how the technology can be exploited today to bring real business benefits to product development and manufacturing businesses. Working with early adopters in the Automotive and Aerospace industries, four key use-cases have been identified that represent an immediate benefit; we have created four ‘Digital Realities Experiences’ that get the most from the XR toolset, and further extended these experiences with a suite of targeted tools to deliver the greatest gain:
• Visualization Experience
• Design Review Experience
• Production Layout Experience
• Production Build Experience
Each use-case focused experience builds on the foundational Visualization Experience which empowers engineers to interact with data in a 3D spatial context, visualizing their models, at full scale. The Visualization Experience provides the essential tools to view, navigate, explode, section, and measure, in addition to interrogating materials and other information (including data pulled from external databases).
Design reviews are a critical part of the product development lifecycle. Across the globe, engineers meet regularly, and at key program milestones to undertake review activities such as:
• Release status and maturity (and identifying/reviewing gaps therein).
• Discussing known issues / anticipated issues.
• Detecting new issues (e.g. geometry clash issues, or manufacturing/service access problems).
• Resolving integration (interface) problems, including methodologies such as zone management/block management.
• Discussing proposed changes.
• Bringing together the necessary business functions to move decision making as far upstream in the development process as possible (avoiding costly changes late in the process).
Critically, digital design reviews enable manufacturers to:
• Reduce the expense of producing physical prototypes to aid review/issue detection.
• Enable the review process to include distributed teams.
• Improve the quality of downstream quality events by informing and sign-posting the review of focal areas, and better preparing for the effective comparison between physical output and design intent.
The Design Review Experience leverages the Visualization Experience, but further enables a group of engineers, local or in remote locations, to interactively review a design through the immersive experience of XR technologies, closing the cognitive distance for all involved, and providing a unique collaborative workspace. Importantly, the review process can be recorded in part or full, capturing comments and issues for wider cascade and use by other members of the extended team (including full management reports). The Design Review Experience can bring distributed experts and practitioners together to review, debate and resolve issues in real-time, improving access, saving time, and avoiding costly travel. The Production Layout Experience, again leveraging the enabling technologies of the Visualization Experience, provides a rich Visualization experience designed to aid production engineers in the optimization of production facilities. Using an immersive VR experience or anchoring the data in the real world through AR and MR technologies, engineers can work at full scale to create and move the components of production facilities, assessing the efficiency of workflow, human and ergonomic design. Different layout strategies can be explored and saved for wider distribution and review by the extended team.
The Production Layout Experience focuses on the needs of the planner, facilitating the optimization of equipment and plant layout, and ancillaries such as component bins and stillages, thereby maximizing productivity and efficiency, and reducing inventory. Similarly, engineers can factor in access for maintenance, cleaning, and line-side material handling. All of which can be explored and validated before committing to physical resources; reducing the potential for expensive and time-consuming late changes.
Using scanned data in a VR environment or using full-scale models viewed in the real world through AR and MR devices, production engineers can work around the realities of ever-changing factory facilities; planning around infrastructures such as building pillars, electrical and heating installations, and air ducting.
Production operatives are often hampered by late access to physical assets and typically cannot contribute their unique insight into production engineering until late in the new product introduction process. Working in totally immersive or real-world environments, staff can leverage XR to provide upstream feedback, improving the final production design, and once again reducing the potential for expensive and time-consuming late changes.
Finally, the Production Build Experience harnesses the power of Virtual, Augmented, or Mixed Reality to enable manufacturers to prepare their teams ahead of the availability of physical assets. Working in totally immersive or real-world environments, production staff can operate and handle virtual tools and equipment, leveraging XR to rehearse build processes and undertake training in readiness for the real thing.
The Production Build Experience is aimed at operators or trainers to teach and foster familiarity with new production processes, new build techniques or assembly sequences. It can also be used by experienced operators to address complex build processes and consider scenarios to overcome problems or optimize existing approaches.
Supported by the powerful viewing tools within the Visualization Experience, and recording interactions for wider cascade and action, the Production Build Experience enables a new level of understanding about digital manufacturing, interacting at full scale within familiar workspaces, optimizing the production processes, and enabling the repeated practice of assembly activities to reduce manufactured cost.
It’s common sense that product development and manufacturing engineers should work together to develop a product that performs flawlessly and is manufactured (and assembled) in the most effective way. Both the Production Layout Experience and Production Build Experiences take advantage of the same collaboration functions introduced in the Design Review Experience. The power of the Digital Realities toolset enables distributed groups of engineers to interact through the immersive experience of XR technologies, closing the cognitive distance for all involved, and providing a unique collaborative workspace.