Beyond advances on the software front, hardware like lower-cost 3D printers and new kinds of immersive devices are shaking up what has traditionally been thought of as 3D visualization.
Consider Infinite Z (another previous subject), which makes the zSpace immersive, interactive 3D environment that uses virtual-holographic 3D imagery to bring product designs to life. The zSpace platform, which comprises a proprietary stereoscopic display, trackable eyewear, and a new type of direct interaction stylus, works in concert with the company's software to display objects that appear solid in open spaces, allowing the engineer or designer to manipulate them directly as if they were physical objects.
Because the zSpace virtual-holographic objects look remarkably similar to real objects, engineers can explore 3D models in ways that were not possible using traditional input devices, according to Veejay Gahir, Infinite Z's director of global manufacturing.
"A 3D image in zSpace gives you an extra level of detail and an environment so realistic that you can set a product up in a perspective as a user would see it. You can't do that in CAD," Gahir told us. Engineers can also employ the technology as part of early design reviews to visualize if there are potential tooling issues or if a particular gap in the design causes problems with usability. "Things can surface downstream in the design process, and you spend a lot of money reworking. The net result here is early visualization of potential problems resulting in savings."
Morgan Motor Co. has also cut development costs through its aggressive use of 3D visualization technology. Its traditional process involved interpreting 2D sketches by eye into panel-beaten aluminum bodies -- a labor-intensive technique that required skilled craftsmen and had little margin for in-process design changes. Today the combination of Autodesk's Alias, Autodesk Showcase, and Autodesk 3ds Max enables the British automaker to transform ideas rapidly into 3D digital prototypes and then into actual concept cars.
The 3D visualization suite allows the engineering team to put a variety of concept designs out there for evaulation and feedback by employees and potential customers. "More 3D visualization capabilities means we can do a variety of different options very fast and go through five or six different design proposals without going through the traditional process of carving clay," Humphries said.
Morgan has been steadily expanding its use of 3D visualization tools over the years, and the technology is really starting to come into its own, he said. "When we first started using it five years ago, you could capture the general look and feel. Today, we’re getting to the point where some people question whether what they’re seeing is real or not."