Cinematic reality [virtual reality]

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<ul><li><p>lity When youre building an expensive process installation, the best t ime to involve the people who are actually going to use it is while you can s t i l l change the design. Virtual reality ofers a way to do just that, reports Michael Kew </p><p>ncc upon a time, the enter- tainment industiy was looked down on as rather incompatible with the </p><p>m7ork ethic. Most people in agriculture, manufacturing, education, banking or other serious industries would have sneered at the suggestion that they had anything to learn from such frivolous pursuits as pinball. </p><p>The coniputer age has seen a marked change in that attitude, pnrticularlj- with the growth iii populxity of the home computer. However niuch some users inay deplore the time wasted on computer games, there is no denying that the progranmiers of those games are among the best in the computer world, arid the techniques they have developed for their own purposes have been widely adopted for serious commercial software. </p><p>Possibly the nioct blatant example of this feeding of serious applications on games is the realm of virtual reality. As long ago as 1983, video games were offering a pilots-eye view of the ccene from an aircraft, spaceship, racing car or whatever. Not until the 1990s, however, did the same principle s t u t being applied to serious industrial and coiiiinercial uses. </p><p>Crispin Gray, founder of CALI- Centre, is not ashamed of his industrys background. What canie from enter- </p><p>tainment. Tvhich is in fact the drix-er of modern technolog?: 11-e are using for very serious purposes, he sa&gt;-s. </p><p>In fact. CADCentre \vas one of the pioneers of the sort of three-dinien- sional modelling that VK soft\vare uses. As long ago a s 1980. the company produced sofxare capable of building a virtual \vireki-anie model of an industrial plant. In the process industn; this sort of sofnvare soon began to replace the huge. coniplex and exti-emely expenrive plastic models that had been constructed to give a solid impression of t ~ o - diniensional plans. BJ- 1988 the shapes could be shon-n ai solids Tx-ith simple shading; by 1994. shadon-s. reflections, textures and scenic backgrounds had been added. </p><p>But, Gray feels. the entertainment approach to VR ha5 sei-iouc dran-hacks kom the perspectix-e of his business, which is supporting the design of process plants. The inuiiersive appi-oazli using headcets is cumbersonie and, more iniportantly. ersentially co1itai-y From his point ofviexx; it is necessary for whole teams ofxvorkerc to view a model together: not only engineers and managers, but also crafrwo rkers operators. safe? specialists and building contractors. </p><p>CADCentres m s x x w is a m-raparound cinema-like screen. onto which are combined three ~~-orkstatioi?-qualitv </p><p>images. Based on an idea used by Silicon Graphics, the world-leading graphics coinputer manufacturer, at its develop- ment site at Theale near h a d i n g , CAIXentre has adapted the screen and enlarged the viewing area to acconmiodate audiences of 20-plus viewers at a sitting. Thus several whole </p><p>I26 MANUFACTURING ENGINEERJUNE 1996 </p></li><li><p>teams of specialists can tour the virtual plant together: builders, maintenance, chemical and safety engineers can point out troublespots before a single pipe is laid. Changes made to the software model can be used to update the visual image and reviewed in a matter of minutes. </p><p>The present version of CAIlCentres A1.5 million Visual Engineering Centre, now installed at the companys base near Cambridge, was developed in conjunction with a project to build a new compressor platform for Conoco. The platform incorporated several novel </p><p>features, including a helipad situated beside the residential superstructure rather than on top of it: an innovation with enormous safety implications. Conoco estimated that the feedback from the group VR sessions, including sessions with contractors, helicopter pilots and the Health &amp; Safety Executive, saved as much as A3 d o n in re-engineering costs. </p><p>The system is based on Visuality, software developed specifically to maximise detail and accuracy above all. Movement is very jerky, but each frame is almost photorealistically detailed. Shapes are redefined at arbitrarily high levels of detail, so that curved surfaces appear curved however close they come to the viewpoint. Images are produced from data stored in CADCentres own Plant Design Management System (PDMS), although the company promises to accept images from other software modellers shortly. As .well as viewing the solid image, it is possible to pick out indwidual components and examine the data attached to them in the PDMS model. </p><p>Best of all, says Gray, the whole works is portable: the screen, projectors and computers can be transported and deployed in any suitable room at a days notice. A few of the companys customers have even expressed an interest in putting together their own, permanent in-house systems. Gray claims that this should be possible for less than $1 million: anyone using PDMS (whose users include some of the worlds largest food, chemicals, petrochemicals and nuclear power companies) should then be able to make </p><p>full use of the system easily. Grays approach to software innova- </p><p>tion is simple: find the best hardware available, then stretch it to its limits. The next step for Visuality software is adding World Wide Web technology. Hyperplant displays a Netscape page of text, data and/or graphics beside the main image, allowing users to examine each component in as much detail as they like. </p><p>Using Hyperplant, the user can pick out a component and view it in isolation beside the main image, including details of whatever other components are attached to it and what part it plays in the flow process. In theory, standard components (valves, pumps, instru- ments etc.) can be linked by hypertext to the Web pages of the companies that supply them, so the attached data wdl automatically be kept up to date. On demand, the software will also translate components to other views, such as isometric or old-fashioned two- dmensional drawings, using a Java application. </p><p>Hyperplant is now in the develop- ment stage, in conjunction with DuPont, with Sun and Silicon Graphics providing support on software and hardware. But, Gray thinks, the time for such products to reach commercial maturity is now very short. Visuality made the leap from our RikD labs into an accepted practice for assessing oil platform design in less than 12 months, he says. Hyperplant represents the next step on the design technology curve. </p><p>For more information on CADCentre, enter 214 </p><p>Silicon Graphics, enter 215 </p><p>MANUFACTURING ENGINEERJIJNE 1996 I27 </p></li><li><p>Virtual machine simulation has radically overhauled operations for one lea lng company in a competitive niche market. USM Texon, which trades in the UK as British United Shoe Machinery, have changed their production approach to allow them to keep up with a constantly changing market. </p><p>Shoe manufacture is a multi-stage process requiring different autoniation tcdniiqucs lor each siage. Following tlic initial CAD model of the shoe, there is cutting out, folding and skwing, sewing, lasting, roughing, glueing, drying and heat setting, before the sole is finally pressed on. Each stage requires a different machine, and USM Texons range tackles them all. </p><p>The demands of shoe manufacturers changes as fast as footwear fashions, which means almost constant intro- duction of new features in their machinery. The manufacturing burden of this innovation falls on Barry Patel, production engineer at Texon. </p><p>rove-out gets the boot The bulk of Texons machining uses </p><p>s i x identical KTM FMlOO machmes, each of w h c h has a cube mounting between 10 and 20 parts from a common sub-assembly. There are 180 pallets, each with several parts varylng from 2 mnm to 2 In in size. Although machining this way complicates matters somewhat, concedes Patel, we do not make the lund of volume that would make it worth our \vide inahrig the same part over and over again. </p><p>However, this sort of manufacturing involves a large potential for error. We have always put our faith in manual programming, becaue, with identical machines, it is quicker than any other method, says Patel. Through being cautious, we have suffered very few crashes, but we have wasted a con- siderable amount of time watching the prove-out, ready to iiitei-vene. </p><p>When the design team invested in the ProEngineer CAD system, it make sense to link the design and manufac- </p><p>turing processes. Deneb Solutions Virtual NC imports data from ProEngineer via direct translators, then emulates each specific machine tool and its controller, interpreting the NC program in exactly the same way. Thus the prove-out process is made on screen. </p><p>Although the process can be watched from various viewpoints, this is not normally necessary because the simula- tion will tell you afterwards if a colhion has occurred. Engineers build in a margin of error of a few &amp;metres, then replay any step that falls within that margin and analyse it in slow motion. </p><p>Not only does the simulation dramatically reduce the machining centres downtime, but it also frees the technical staff allowing better use of production time. Because there is no risk of actual damage, the prove-out is now run at night to check part designs. </p><p>For more information on Deneb Virtual NC, enter 220 </p><p>Many of the worlds most successful businesses already do. They use WITNESS routinely to measure performance and evaluate the alternatives before making any process design change or investment proposal. </p><p>WITNESS displays an animated simulation of throughput. activities, and resource requirements. recording statistics on each event as it happens. It can even include video and sound for added realism. So you can watch the process in action, make a critical evaluation of its effectiveness. and assess performance against your chosen criteria. </p><p>options before committing to the cobt, risk, and upliea\ a1 of change </p><p>Because WITNESS 15 fully integrated with Microsoft Windows, youll be on familiar ground when using it5 powerful facilities And its </p><p>Highfield House Headless Cross Drive Redditch, Worcs 897 5EQ Tel 01527 518181 Fax 01527 402408 E mail witness@aivis demon CO uk </p><p>I28 </p><p>Enter 006 MANUFACTURING ENGINEERJUNE 1996 </p></li></ul>

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