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VR takes digital prototyping to the next level

06 October 2010

The Belgium based manufacturer of agricultural and construction equipment, CNH is using a top-of-the-range suite of virtual reality tools to further its digital prototyping activities and embrace a whole range of product lifecycle issues such as collaborative design review, focus groups and marketing

Agricultural and construction equipment manufacturer, CNH has installed a Virtalis ActiveWall HD immersive visualisation suite at its facility in Zedelgem, Belgium. The configuration in this custom-built building boasts a large 7.6m by 4.3m PowerWall which has been slightly sunken into the floor so that the design concepts projected by a Christie Mirage HD 18 projector system appear to drive out of the wall in full stereoscopic 3D.

Virtalis implemented a tailored Intersense IS900 Wired VETracker system, so that natural movement around the virtual models is maximised. The head mounted displays chosen for the installation are nVisor SX units from NVIS. Since the virtual models CNH creates have more than 20,000 parts, computing power and graphics rendering capability are vital. The systems at Zedelgem feature a 64-bit, quad-core workstation coupled with an NVIDIA FX5600 graphics card.

“We use our virtual reality systems on a daily basis to conduct collaborative design reviews,” says Kezhun Li, head of digital prototyping and simulation at CNH. “In Belgium, the focus is on the development of forage harvesters, large hay-balers and European combines. The fact that we’ve now managed to link up our team in Belgium with their international colleagues, especially those in Lancaster where similar product lines are developed, has led to a great deal less international travel and accelerated development schedules.” CNH simulation engineer, Jeroen De Neve concurs:

“With the ability to adjust everything on screen, we’ve quickly become less forgiving of rework and have already had great success with our safety reviews for our new combines. The fact that we were able to hold these safety reviews at three locations simultaneously undoubtedly saved a great deal of time. We were concerned about the position of service steps and whether they were sufficiently far from hot components and rails. We were able to measure the actual distance on the virtual model, so what would have become an ‘action item’ on an agenda, was actually addressed straight away. In the span of only two or three hours, we completed the whole collaborative process, without anyone travelling and with answers nine months before the launch.”

The CNH team has also used its ActiveWall to develop new cabs and to carry out styling reviews for the products designed in Zedelgem. Virtual reality is used all over the world for design and milestone reviews, but CNH is also using its Virtalis systems for market research. Each new programme hosts a couple of day-long focus groups where the interior and exterior styling, initial impressions and control positions and visibility are all monitored.

The installation is also intuitive to use, so there is no need for a dedicated VR expert to run it. This easy accessibility to the technology allows CNH’s users to work hands-on and dedicate more of their time to key tasks such as getting the design details right at the earliest possible stages of a project, and making the whole design process more productive.

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