Experience proposed production & service processes first-hand

Just as you would in real-life

by Eric Kam
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In my previous posts dedicated to Heavy Machinery & Equipment, I touched on how digitalization can sustain environmental goals, and how Virtual Reality can support successful product integration. Today, I will show you how VR can provide an experiential, immersive experience, that is key to validate assembly, maintenance, and services processes early and with confidence.

Validating new agricultural, construction, mining, or other off-highway commercial vehicles extends beyond requirements tested in deterministic computer simulations or product analyses. It doesn’t prove much if a new electric-powered excavator or harvester variant meets performance requirements if that machine cannot be constructed or maintained safely by the people working on them. The processes, methods, and resources needed to produce and maintain products also require validation. Production and service procedures are performed by people, with near-infinite variability in how individuals might do the job; as a result, many find deterministic simulations and computer models fall short of identifying inherent risks in those human-centric processes.

Evaluating the experience of human-centric — human-operated or human-performed — processes of replacing a component from a machine during service is not easily modeled using deterministic computer simulations or analysis solutions. Digital Human Modelling is often an exercise in puppeteering, and resulting analyses are often more an indictment of craftsmanship than of the feasibility of the process for the new products. A scenario modeled and animated as safe might prove unacceptable the first time a real person stands in a real assembly or service environment with the real product to perform the procedure. Even after spending hours or days modeling scenarios to cover a wide population of operators, a real person can recognize immediately if a procedure is practical or comfortable for the human operators when experiencing a new process. 

Using conventional simulation to analyze human performed operations can be very time-consuming (a 30-second assembly operation might take a full day to model and animate) or have limited value when considering the infinite ways people might approach a physical task. To this end, using virtual reality to power “experiential” reviews of Human-Centric Processes, like the final assembly of construction equipment on the line, or maintenance of agricultural machines on the farm, gives enterprises a way to allow their teams to EXPERIENCE the Products of Tomorrow, Today. 

Reducing the risk related to product innovation

Throughout product development and engineering, decisions are made regarding products’ “Design for Manufacturing” (DFM), “Design for Manufacturability Assembly” (DFMA), or “Design for Serviceability” (DFS). Design requirements for such simultaneous or synchronous engineering workflows are not unique to product electrification nor digital transformation issues for the heavy machinery industry.  Regardless of product verticals, most DFM or DFS criteria are based on experience collected throughout an organization’s history and might not apply when an enterprise pivots into making entirely new or novel variants of previous products.

Design for Assembly and Design for Service are often expressed as a set of rules to be followed by designers and engineers as they develop product geometry: “Don’t design product radii smaller than what tools can form. Don’t design products larger than shipping racks" are geometry rules that can be easily checked, but "Design products so that we can install them in THAT plant with THESE people" is something that is less easily determinedStandards and criteria for assembly order and service procedures go straight out the window when enterprises bring to build and maintain something they have not made before.

Often, until people can walk among, interact with, and experience their products in true-to-life experiences with proposed manufacturing lines or cells, there remains a latent risk that an unobserved design issue might emerge during production ramp-up or later. By the time production workers recognize that the process of building a new electric wheel loader is not safe, it could be too late to prevent injury.

Once service technicians realize that the removal/replacement of hydraulic lines for a recently produced harvester or combine is complicated by poor planning of the hoses and cables to the power distribution unit or controls system, we might be too far along to mitigate the risk or design our way out of the issue. This is where we have seen the greatest impact of our Virtual Reality powered Human Centric Process Validation and Immersive Product Integration software IC.IDO. By empowering our subscribers with the ability to traverse time and space to experience their products in the context of the processes employed to assemble and service them.

Process Piloting in Immersive Virtual Reality Experiences

Without Virtual Reality powered Human Centric Process reviews, OEMs are left to rely on a variety of methods to use in physical testing with constructed mock-ups, prototype parts and production-intent tooling, or be surprised by discoveries once production is launched and the products are in-service; too late to make cost-effective changes.

Among the methods used to evaluate manufacturing or maintenance procedures are:

  • Simulated sequences with CAD data and digital human models
  • On-screen reviews of CAD, CAE, FEA, or DMU outputs
  • Process validation with physically constructed mock-ups (cardboard cities or carpentry cells)
  • Tooling construction reviews and buy-off at construction source
  • Line and cell installation and ramp-up at the production plant
  • Maintenance and service reviews with pre-production parts
  • Teardown and reconstruction of products taken from production
  • Experience from production and maintenance of end-product

Lessons learned in the production and maintenance of in-service products — real people experiencing real challenges with performing processes — are reliable and accurate, but arrive too late. Digital on-screen reviews and animations of procedures are very powerful to model or document engineering intent, but animated sequences can be convincing enough on-screen to seemingly prove impractical or impossible procedures. There must be a way that people can have true-to-life experiences with new products in the requisite human performed processes.

We provide IC.IDO Build & Maintain to our subscribers as the solution to validate human-centric processes for new products; with it, stakeholders physically interact with virtual products in the context of the future production cells, proposed assembly line stations, maintenance hangars, and service environments. With true-to-life physics simulated in real-time, review participants can interact with new products weeks, months, and years prior to realization. An engineer can directly step into their own product designs and experience their product at 1:1 true size. With minimal effort, they can walk up to their product in virtuality and take it apart, relying on geometry and realistic physics to realistically take it apart. With the automatic bill of material functionality, components or parts that are free to move without collision can be removed, if components are blocked from removal, then the physics constrains the part until obstruction is removed, just like disassembling things in real life.

Collaborative Virtual Assembly or Service Reviews

Engineers can collaborate with their peers, participating in and adding to each other’s datasets to collectively review their own components alongside adjacent parts or in the context of production resources. Collaboration in virtuality can be conducted remotely by connecting individual workstations, or while co-located in a spacious office environment or a common VR center. Each installation of ESI Group’s Human Centric Process Validation solution IC.IDO Build & Maintain can be connected to each other installation (provided appropriate network connectivity and security). Collaborative virtual reviews that involve product engineers, ergonomists, health & safety stewards, production workers, and other stakeholders let subscribers check most of the things that would be verified in a physical review at tooling & cell suppliers or as production-intent tools are staged on the home line.

No longer hindered by the need to wait for the production of prototype parts or construction of proposed tooling resources or plausible workspaces for assembly or maintenance, enterprise teams can work together in collaborative virtual workspaces. Recently, subscribers from Volvo Group Truck Technology shared with the world how they are leveraging IC.IDO in a currently unique deployment. In their Swedish product engineering center, multiple workstations are used to stream virtual reality experiences to virtual reality headsets or Head Mounted Displays (HMD) using NVIDIA CloudXR enabled technology. With their deployment, they can immerse up to 8 individuals on HMDs that should not normally load large, un-optimized, datasets to conduct immersive engineering reviews all together in a common physical/virtual environment.

Learn from the experts!

To learn more watch a demonstration from Volvo Group Trucks Technology, which was part of our last digital XR event. The recording is accessible here on demand.

And don't miss our On-Demand Webinar on Human Centric Process Validation & Immersive Product Integration to learn more on how you too could use IC.IDO to accelerate your product development.


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