Visualization technology boosts effective design

The Ford Motor Company has purchased and installed SGI Reality Center technology from Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) for its North American car visualization facility. SGI reported last fall that design and engineering teams at Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters are using it to compile three-dimensional, immersive representations in real time from multiple data sources and formats for critical design and assembly reviews. As a result, Ford can optimize product design and performance, thus helping to reduce time to market of products.

The SGI Reality Center system at Ford integrates an SGI Onyx 3000 series visualization system with three InfiniteReality3 graphics pipes, eight 64-bit processors and three high-brightness digital projectors, letting teams of up to 30 people collaborate on the design process in an immersive stereo viewing environment. Working closely with Ford to address its specific requirement for multi-team design reviews, SGI Professional Services designed the turnkey Reality Center solution to seamlessly generate virtual models in real time from 3D design applications, video, digital images and other data sources, SGI reported.

Ford has been an SGI customer for nearly 15 years. SGI claims that users of their Reality Center systems can conduct appearance reviews more efficiently, perform digital assembly reviews to assess parts’ fit and function, and collaborate on marketing strategy even as designs are under development, thus reducing planning time.

More than 580 SGI Reality Center facilities installed worldwide are used for real-time, highly interactive working sessions for design review and engineering, complex data analysis, critical and/or hazardous training, sales and marketing, scientific research, education and analysis, decision support and command-and-control operations, says SGI. It claims its visualization technologies are used in areas such as styling, digital mock-up and assembly, ergonomics, sales and marketing, and collaborative design review.

Fakespace adds visual impact

Fakespace Systems of Kitchener, Ont., provided an 8-foot-high by 24-foot-wide edge-blended flat wall display system for the Reality Center facility at Ford. This stereoscopic WorkWall enables three-dimensional viewing of large-scale computer-generated models.

More recently, Fakespace announced that it had delivered a reconfigurable visualization system as part of an Immersive Environment Simulator, to be used to study how soldiers use equipment in combat zones, at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The RAVE II visualization system consists of three detachable, large-scale stereoscopic display units that ARL uses to project realistic imagery of simulated hostile environments. It is the first system of its type to ever include an omni-directional treadmill, and it also has an extremely accurate inertial acoustic position measuring system, which enables visualizations to track in real time with the user’s changing point of view.

Fakespace reported that SGI was prime contractor for the $2.5 million project. The Immersive Environment Simulator is driven by an SGI Onyx supercomputer.

A second RAVE II system with a 20-foot edge-blended centre wall module will be installed at ARL in early 2003, Fakespace noted.

Embracing virtual technology

Fakespace Systems is a founding member, along with National Research Council (NRC), of the Virtual Environment Technologies Centre (VETC). This research and demonstration facility under the auspices of the NRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Technologies Institute (IMTI) was created to help Canadian companies more competitively design, simulate, plan, educate, research and market.

The London, Ont., facility claims to have the world’s latest immersive technologies, the most complete set of business display technologies available and knowledgeable staff. It is further supported by companies committed to advance virtual reality technologies, and the IMTI’s own research program on virtual manufacturing.

VETC staff work with small, medium and large companies, and academic institutions, to help them adopt virtual environment technologies. The environment can range from a virtual city, to a virtual machine, to the interior of a virtual artery, or can be used to illustrate a virtual manufacturing process. The centre may be accessed through R&D collaborations, company specific projects or scheduled visits and tours.

For example, the Diesel Division of General Motors of Canada Ltd (DDGM) has used its large-scale immersive display systems to significantly reduce the time it takes to develop and deliver new Light Armored Vehicles (LAV), according to VETC. The display systems enable designers, engineers, management and customers to visualize the data produced by the company’s integrated computer-aided design and engineering processes, contributing to faster design reviews and optimized designs.

The VETC claims to enable DDGM to review two or three different design concepts in the time that it previously took the company to review one concept. Further, the increased ability to collaborate, and the accessibility of full-scale models can promote better design decisions. As well, service, quality assurance, procurement and human factors groups can get involved earlier in the development process, with a better understanding of new product design.

Customer presentations are also said to be compelling with immersive visualization.

VETC can be found on the Web at: