Siemens’ Digital Factory in Congleton, Cheshire, designs and manufactures variable speed drives for motors.
Its customers come mainly from the automotive sector, machine building (OEMs), pumps and fans and the airport industry. The drives control the speed of the motor, increasing efficiency of operation and decreasing power use. Although there are only five decentralised product ranges and four cabinet based systems, the inherent modularity of these drives, plus the many different frame sizes, mean that there are thousands of potential product configurations.
Siemens embarked on its VR journey with a clear vision of what it wanted to achieve:
• Simulating and optimising assembly processes
• Effective factory planning
• Efficient design concepts and reviews
• Lean work-cell design
Simon Charlson, mechanical team leader at Siemens, was heavily involved in researching the kind of system and software that could fulfil the company’s needs.
“Our first thought was a multi-walled Cube, but the product review and Lean Cell Design teams are up to 10 strong, so we went for a bigger Virtalis ActiveWall with a projected wall and floor combined with optical tracking for group and collaborative activities and a Head Mounted Display-based Virtalis ActiveSpace for additional levels of immersion.”
ActiveWall is an installed, immersive, interactive 3D visualisation system that draws on active stereo technology and features a custom screen, specialist computer, Virtalis custom software and powerful projectors.
Siemens’ variant included a VR floor too, combining a very useful feature of the ActiveCube, but at a fraction of the cost. The VR floor means that for the users, whether they look up or down, most or all of their vision is taken up with the virtual world.
ActiveSpace combines best in class technology a Head Mounted Display (HMD) interactive 3D visualisation system. ActiveSpace is more than an HMD, it’s an HMD-based system that can draw on different HMDs at its heart.
ActiveSpace can be fused with an ActiveWall projection system to allow remote, collaborative design reviews. The principal advantage of ActiveSpace is that its users have the freedom and flexibility to move around in their virtual environment, totally unencumbered.
Visionary Render software allows users to access and experience a real-time, interactive and immersive VR environment created from huge 3D datasets. Users can work alone, in small groups, or collaborate with distant colleagues in a common virtual environment to perform detailed design reviews, rehearse in-depth training tasks, validate maintenance procedures or verify assembly and manufacturing processes.
Visionary Render delivers advanced rendering of huge models in real-time with ease of importing from a range of data sources, maintaining naming, hierarchies and the all-important metadata. In this way, Visionary Render enhances working practices and builds on investments already made in digital design assets and people.
Transforming Working Practices
Carl German, a Siemens’ transformation manager, explained: “Our VR has been a game-changer for us and how we work. It’s no exaggeration to say it has changed the way we think and act. Every single production operative in the factory has either seen or experienced it. It’s key that the technology is not seen as something for a privileged few. As a result, we now bring VR into every facet of what we do.”
Adrian Webster, Siemens’ layout planning engineer, commented: “VR removes the big issues early on and lets us concentrate on simple refinements. Typically, we build a mock-up of a new cell on the factory floor. Previously, we would need to leave it there for four weeks to resolve all the issues. Now, we are finding two days’ digital review plus just one week on the factory floor solves all the issues. VR is excellent at fostering multi-disciplinary communication. The people who have input into new designs are diverse: production engineers, test engineers, production operatives and production leadership. Sometimes they obtain extra expertise from R&D or from mechanical and electrical engineers too, or even logistics and facilities people and contractors. All these stakeholders work together in the VR environment to perfect the design and get the requisite buy-in.”
Siemens has also diversified its use of the VR technology and is using VR for everyday uses, such as office moves. Here, Adrian finds that Virtalis’ Visionary Render software is ideal. “It is intuitive and anyone can get the hang of it quickly to navigate round the model, so I can help people visualise their new working environments. I am also finding Visionary Render is superb for setting up animation sequences and for demos.”
The Siemens team is finding that the Virtalis VR is saving them money by enabling the virtual interrogation of belts and driving mechanisms, for example, as part of OEM production equipment specification, resulting in demonstrably fewer mistakes. A recent VR design review picked up a clash within two minutes that had not been clear on a CAD workstation.
“It is costly to create the tooling to manufacture a new product”, explained Simon, “and mistakes tend to be expensive. We are now working with our suppliers to bring their virtual tooling into our design reviews. We are finding that this agile development is resulting in great communication between mechanical, electrical and design engineers and is shortening lead times.”
Anil Thomas, a transformation manager at Siemens, commented: “Typically, we’re finding that we are reducing the snagging list of a new cell design by 90%. We are even finding more and different snags virtually and solving them in VR. This will certainly have a positive impact on our product lifecycle. We are not resting on our laurels, as it is apparent there is much more we can do with this technology. We’d like to work with Virtalis to create a roadmap to incorporate real-time collaboration with other Siemens factories around the world as well as haptics and motion capture.”