MTC inspires Siemens to use AR for new factory design
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MTC inspires Siemens to use AR for new factory design

A ‘fourth industrial revolution’ virtual reality system inspired by the Manufacturing Technology Centre’s 3D CAVE facility is saving Siemens Motion Control facility thousands of pounds in product, factory and tooling development and providing customers with greater business value.

Siemens Motion Control in Congleton, Cheshire is being challenged to respond to the demand for more product customisation, i.e. personalised product variants.

Engineers at Congleton visited the Virtual Reality (VR) CAVE at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Ansty Park, Coventry to assess the system for the design of both industrial control products and factory planning.

The CAVE uses four projector screens to create a ‘virtual cube’ where users can explore and interrogate engineering designs in a digital environment. It can also render a virtual 3D representation of a factory which users can walk around and test factory and machine fit-and-function and ergonomics.

A mature technology at the MTC for some years, the CAVE suite was developed by MTC members including ESI, Autodesk, Holovis and Siemens Software, and is used to encourage the take-up of digital manufacturing methods to save time and money. 

Scott Haberton, an MTC engineer working with virtual reality, said: “CAVE systems and headset mounted devices can make a non-existent environment seem real, allowing natural manipulation of data by non-experts and intuitive communication. This can uncover opportunities quickly and frugally, reducing the gap from digital to final product and the reliance on expensive physical prototypes.”

Carl German, Advanced Manufacturing Strategic Lead at ‎Siemens Motion Control, Digital Factory, said: “The MTC’s Virtual Reality suite gave us the confidence that VR technology was not a short-term technology gimmick and that it has real business value and benefit."

Following a business justification exercise, Congleton invested in its own system using Virtalis hardware in combination with Siemens Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) software. “Its benefits are clear all the way through the product lifecycle process, from product definition and design to the actual manufacturing processes” added German.

Congleton’s VR system has three main applications. Firstly all the company’s product concepts are now designed and reviewed, from 3D CAD data, using a 3m x 2m forward facing and floor based screen. “By bringing them into this digital environment and using 3D glasses and an interactive wand, we can strip down and interrogate product features so that engineers can validate their concepts” says Carl.

Secondly, the VR is applied to the factory floor, where users can now walk through the entire ‘virtual factory’. “The benefits are that you can change factory elements, and check that new installations can fit into the existing space before anyone commits to costly capital expenditure” Carl adds.

Finally, manufacturing workspace and equipment design can also benefit. Congleton recently proposed a 15-20 metre line of automation equipment. “Engineers from the supplier in Germany visited us and we were able to walk around this piece of equipment digitally with our manufacturing engineers, maintenance technicians and production operatives. We could perform a flow analysis on the design and feedback to the supplier before committing to the physical design” says Carl.

Siemens Congleton is now measuring the time and cost savings of VR in designing a manufacturing cell.

Previously, when considering improvements to a manufacturing production cell, stakeholders would identify and eliminate the non-productive waste and identify areas to be improved such as transportation, inventory and quality. A temporary mock-up of that cell would be made using simple materials. This was then reviewed by a wider set of company stakeholders and the senior management team to demonstrate the improvement and business case. 

“Rather than make a temporary mock-up, we develop the cell digitally and critique it in the virtual world” says Carl. “This has reduced the prototype process from several weeks by a factor of at least 25%, and reduced the ultimate snag list by an order of magnitude” he adds.

Siemens is now simulating the effects of manufacturing products using digital manikins. This activity improves health and safety with ergonomic activities to prevent work-based stress such as repetitive strain; secondly, it also provides assembly timing telemetry to feed back into the factory Industrial Engineering process.

The MTC helped Siemens Congleton to assess a business case for a practical and useable technology that saves time and money throughout the entire product lifecycle of its high value drives and controls business. “The MTC gave us the confidence that virtual reality and simulation would add real business value, this is not a here-today-gone-tomorrow technology and this is a key enabler for our Industry 4.0 journey,” Carl summarises.

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