With the emergence of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), it seems that product design is taking a cue from the entertainment and gaming market.

While VR has been marketed as something more suited for media markets, more companies are looking to use VR to propel a new era of product design and human-machine interaction. In product manufacturing, VR/AR can enable test scenarios and designs before the products are made, driving productivity and cutting down on the cost of wasted materials.

VR technology isn’t entirely new to industry giants – Ford and Boeing have been using it for 15-20 years. Its democratization via gaming and other consumer products might now make it more accepted for use in product design.

Though most picture headsets as the essential hardware for VR, the true power comes from the GPU (graphics processing unit). Because generating and running VR content is such a massive computing challenge, the multi-threaded nature of the GPU lends itself to such an application.

NVIDIA’s current offerings from VR include its graphics cards in its Quadro and GeForce lines, while AMD offers Radeon GPUs.

NVIDIA Quadro VR Ready-powered workstations drive a manufacturing workflow demo at Lenovo’s Interactive VR Lab.
NVIDIA Quadro VR Ready-powered workstations drive a manufacturing workflow demo at Lenovo’s Interactive VR Lab. (Source: NVIDIA.com)

BOXX Technologies, MSI and Eurocom are promoting VR-ready hardware to engineers. BOXX recently released its GO MXLvr mobile workstation, which is equipped with a desktop Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA GeForce GPUs, and the highest CPU clockspeed possible in a mobile system. MSI WT 6QN, which sports a Quadro GPU and connectivity for the HTC Vive, is certified for standard design software from Autodesk, SOLIDWORKS and PTC.

The next era of design incorporates data-rich virtual models such as digital twins. VR is the next evolution of human-machine interfaces.  With so much increasing focus on Model-Based Design an 3D engineering content, VR and AR will provide a new way of interacting with the data instead of keeping engineers limited to screens and mouse clicks.

This foundation of 3D content also sets up the future of product design for a more visual lifecycle. As interdisciplinary departments become the status quo for increasingly complex products, engineers can simply show how a product works and avoid confusion.

Currently, most engineers are finding benefits through the use of models for either large-scale projects or high-risk situations. Similar to traditional simulation, the idea is that these virtual models can help reduce costs for test prototypes and let engineers explore possible configurations and designs.

Developers will have to continue to make models more realistic through the integration of all the senses for experiences that are not strictly visual. The link between CAD and virtual reality is still somewhat disjointed. For engineering applications, users may have to wait until they can design directly on the VR model. OPTIS, CARA VR and NVIDIA’s VRWorks are some of the additional specialized software offerings on the market for generating original content.

>> Read more by Jess Lulka, Digital Engineering, December 1, 2016

A New Virtual Reality