MTC inspires Siemens Digital Factory to use virtual reality for product and factory design

A “fourth industrial revolution” virtual reality system inspired by the Manufacturing Technology Centre’s 3D CAVE facility is saving Siemens Digital Factory’s Motion Control facility thousands of pounds in product, factory and tooling development and providing customers with greater business value.

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Siemens Motion Control in Congleton, Cheshire is an award-winning factory known for Lean manufacturing processes but is being challenged to respond to the demand for more roduct customisation, i.e. personalised variants to the product inventory.

Engineers at Congleton visited the Virtual Reality (VA) Computer Aided Virtual Environment (CAVE) at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Ansty Park, Coventry to assess the system for the design of both industrial control products and factory planning.

The CAVE uses four projector screens to create a “virtual cube” where users can explore and interrogate engineering designs in a digital environment. It can also render a virtual 3D representation of a factory which users can walk around and test factory and machine fit-and-function and ergonomics.

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A mature technology at the MTC for some years, the CAVE suite was developed by MTC members including ESI, Autodesk, Holovis and Siemens Software, and is used to encourage the take-up of digital manufacturing methods to save time and money.

Scott Haberton, an MTC engineer working with augmented reality, says; “CAVE systems and headset mounted devices can make a non-existent environment seem real, allowing natural manipulation of data by non-experts and intuitive communication. This can uncover opportunities quickly and frugally, reducing the gap from digital to final product and the reliance on expensive physical prototypes.”

160511n_0332Carl German, Advanced manufacturing Strategic Lead at ‎Siemens Motion Control, Digital Factory, says “The MTC’s Virtual Reality suite gave us the confidence that CAVE technology was not a short-term technology gimmick and that it had real business value and benefit”.

Following a business justification exercise, Congleton invested in its own system using Virtalis hardware in combination with Siemens Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) software. “Its benefits are clear all the way through the product lifecycle process from product definition and design all the way through to the actual manufacturing processes,” says Carl.

Congleton’s CAVE system has three main applications. Firstly all the company’s product concepts are now designed and reviewed, from 3D CAD data, using a 3m x 2m forward facing and floor based screen. “By bringing them into this digital environment and using 3D glasses and an interactive wand, we can strip down and interrogate product features so that engineers can validate their concepts” says Carl.

Secondly, the CAVE is applied to the factory floor, where users can now walk through the entire “virtual factory”. “The benefits are that you can change factory elements around, and check that new installations can fit into the existing space before anyone commits to costly capital expenditure,” Carl adds.

Finally, manufacturing workspace and equipment design can also benefit. Congleton recently proposed a 15-20 metre line of automation equipment. “Engineers from the supplier in Germany visited us and we were able to walk around this piece of equipment digitally with our manufacturing engineers, maintenance technicians and production operatives. We could perform a flow analysis on the design and feedback to the supplier before committing to the physical design” says Carl.

Siemens Congleton is now measuring the time and cost savings of the CAVE in designing a manufacturing Lean Cell.

Previously, when considering the improvements to a manufacturing production cell, all stakeholders would identify and eliminate all the non-productive Lean waste or improvements; such as transportation, inventory and quality issues. A temporary mock-up of that cell would be made using simple materials. This was then reviewed to a wider company stakeholder community and senior management team to demonstrate the improvement and business case.

 “Rather than make a temporary mock-up, we develop the cell concept digitally and critique it in the virtual world,” says Carl. This has reduced the prototype process from several weeks by a factor of at least 25%, and reduced the ultimate snag list by an order of magnitude, he adds.

Siemens is now simulating the effects of manufacturing products using digital manikins. This activity improves health and safety with ergonomic activities to prevent work-based stress such as repetitive strain; secondly, it also provides assembly timing telemetry to feed back into the factory Industrial Engineering process.

The MTC helped Siemens Congleton to assess a business case for a practical and useable technology that saves time and money throughout the entire product lifecycle of its high value drives and controls business. “We have not invested in the same CAVE platform as the MTC, but clearly MTC gave us the confidence that this technology would add real business value, that is was not a here-today-gone-tomorrow technology and that is was a key enabler for our Industry 4.0 journey,” Carl summarises.

Editor’s note:

The MTC is undertaking research projects integrating VR (Virtual) and AR (Augmented Reality) solutions to define the lines between digital information and physical production, and welcome visitors that are looking to start trial projects on visualisation, to see the numerous benefits in other applications.

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