I have used virtual reality systems in Design and I can attest to the fact that they save a lot of time effort and money in the design and construction of various systems.
I spent a few years in submarine design and we used 3-D Simulation and Virtual Reality for the SEAWOLF attack submarine design. Previous ship designs involved a full size mockup of steel, wood and ropes (ropes simulated cables) and the customer would go through the mockup and observe various layouts and arrangements of equipment. For the new design, we eventually replaced the more limited physical mockup with a virtual walk through and simulations.
One goal we had was to dynamically change the size and shapes of a component based on the engineering loads imposed on it. I was tasked with creating a software routine to resize a seawater heat exchanger based on the requirements for the ships' speed. The idea was to be able to resize the engineering plant dynamically to suit various operational scenarios.
I think most engineers and designers realize that for a construction project as big as a ship and one that takes so long to build that the construction has to start before the design is completely finished. Long lead time materials and manufacturing times contribute to make this a very difficult problem in logistics and management.
By applying the 3-D virtual reality early and effectively some of these problems can be resolved sooner and in a more cost effective manner. I can see a point in time when a component manufacturer is required to supply not only the physical hardware but appropriate 3-D models for use in the simulations as well. Eventually we would like to be able to test in a 3-D simulation alternative components and evaluate them for the various characteristics of interest. These might be power consumption, EM radiation interference, physical size, quietness of operation and maintainability.
The new (and not so new) simulation and 3D virtual visulation tools are absolutely amazing. The ability to do comprehensive design work in a virtual environment is such an aid to reducing design time and, perhaps more importantly, reducing errors.
In one case I was involved in a number of years ago, our design people were able to integrate our pcb designs (with all the parts installed) into the actual mechical designs and then do a 'walk around' to look for interference fits, ability to install and remove the various parts, etc. A huge aid to everyone on the design team. And a huge help in cutting down the number of design iterations.
@BobGroh: It's always helpful to hear about these on-going, real-world examples of how 3D virtual simulation is helping to drastically reduce iterations in the design cycle. I hear over and over again how critical early-on simulation is helping companies pinpoint potential design problems far earlier in the process.
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