Case Study - BAE Systems Submarine Solutions


BAE Systems Submarine Solutions

Virtalis has created the very first “manufacturing floor” use of Stereo VR.

Just as unusual is the fact that the cabin-based systems are being operated, not by the IT department, but by people whose main role is building the submarine.

“The VR models give you a very real sense of the boat from the inside. People can literally drop in and walk through the exact area they are building.”  Dean Brown, Dimensional Control Inspector, BAE SYSTEMS Submarine Solutions

THE CHALLENGE: Build Submarines without Physical Prototypes

BAE SYSTEMS was tasked with building three Astute Class nuclear submarines, with the first scheduled for launch in summer 2007. To meet this tight deadline, BAE determined that a factor in accelerating the process would be by using a VR system in product development instead of creating physical prototypes. The VR system had to be easily accessible both to the CAD and IT professionals, as well as to the welders and pipe fitters who build the submarine. A Virtalis customer for over a decade, BAE SYSTEMS Submarines turned to Virtalis to create, install and integrate shopfloor Virtual Reality (VR) pods for product development and manufacturing.


Virtalis has supplied BAE with two Virtual Reality (VR) enabled cabins and three VR suites, each consisting of Christie projectors driven by server PCs. When the project was at an early stage and only part completed, it won a prestigious BAE SYSTEMS Submarines Chairman’s Bronze Award.

Ian Millard, Applications Engineer responsible for the implementation of the new advanced visualisation cabins and suites at BAE SYSTEMS Submarines, said: “These new facilities can be used in future to support the Astute through its service for refits and even for training purposes.”

A VR software system, PTC DIVISION MockUp, was installed and customised by Virtalis to create animations of major events in a boat’s build, before they are shown to up to 50 people involved with a particular part of the build. Unlike other VR software packages, PTC MockUp enables viewing of large areas of the boat. The VR models highlight potential clashes and, if need be, a redesign can be performed prior to the build. To ensure the VR cabins and suites are almost always available and to maximise BAE SYSTEMS return on investment, 30 personnel have been trained how to run the software and operate the VR equipment.

“A very important aspect of these new VR facilities is that they provide real time access to the virtual model and related engineering data. The images are mainly rear projected, which not only protects the equipment from a harsh environment, but also allows our workforce to interact with the virtual models without interfering with the projected image.”  Keith Livingston, Support Manager for CAD/CAM application at BAE SYSTEMS Submarines.

generichsmall_baeastuteinaction31VR REPLACES PHYSICAL PROTOTYPES

Being able to view the 3D virtual models in accessible cabins locally positioned on gantries surrounding the boat provides a direct replacement for expensive physical models.

Chris Foote is a full-time pipe fitter, who also regularly operates one of the cabin systems. He is one member of a team of people who keep this resource open as required. He said: “People just drop in and look at the compartment they are working on. Sometimes they stay ten minutes, sometimes they stay an hour. If there is a particular problem they are wrestling with, they might pre-book a cabin. I drive the system for them, but, because I have manufacturing and boat building experience rather than an IT background, I can bring my practical experience to bear.”

Dean Brown is one of Chris Foote’s colleagues. His role is to oversee quality control. He commented: “I’ve worked with physical models and they weren’t always available when there had been design changes. Also, the physical models were just Perspex and colour-coded plastic. The VR models give you a very real sense of the boat from the inside. People can literally stop by and walk through the exact area they are building.”


BAE SYSTEMS Submarine Solutions is part of BAE SYSTEMS, the largest in the designer and ship builder in Europe. The group is also pre-eminent in the aerospace sector, as well as in communication, navigation, protection missile and torpedo systems.

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