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Magazine7 Min

"Virtual Reality promotes creativity in engineering"

Jan Buchner (Head of Project and Assembly Planning and Management of SMS group) on the reasons why SMS group uses VR technology and how it helps to come to a more intuitive approach in engineering

Why do you use VR – and what VR solutions do you favor?

Jan Buchner: Meanwhile, we have been using Virtual Reality in all project phases – from sales and engineering to manufacturing and logistics planning and from assembly and installation to the optimization of equipment under operating conditions. The VR system we use was originally developed for gaming. The key to smooth and productive cooperation across departments – and borders – is a simple and intuitive software. VR technologies give engineers realistic insights into the machines, equipment and systems they are working on. It even happens to me after all those years in the engineering business that I may be involved in the planning of a plant for months – but only get a real feel for the dimensions of the project when I am doing the first virtual tour of it. In our globalized world, engineering has become an increasingly abstract activity because nowadays production facilities very often are not engineered where they operated or even manufactured. But thanks to VR we can still get a realistic impression of the plants and machines no matter where in the world we or they are physically located.

What possibilities does VR technology open up?

Jan Buchner: It promotes creativity in engineering, allowing engineers to take again a more intuitive approach to designing. By means of VR, they can experience the machine in its actual size – and, to start with, simply sketch in their ideas and proposals. It’s like children standing in front of a tree and knowing from their gut instinct whether it is too high to climb or not. Listening to our gut feelings again can give us an inestimable gain in efficiency. In addition, VR makes communication easier. We can immerse into the virtual plant together with our colleagues or customers at the other end of the world and not only discuss the various design options but even show each other where and what we think should possibly be done in another way. Instead of long explanations, you can just point with your finger at the area or component of interest and everybody else in the VR room will see your gesture.  In addition, the technology helps avoid errors. Within VR plants, designers get a precise impression of the plant in 3D and can avoid interfering installation space from the outset.

Listening to our gut feelings again can give us an inestimable gain in efficiency.

In your opinion, what will mechanical engineering be like in the future?

Jan Buchner: We will be using an increasing number of digital tools. These tools, as in the case of Virtual and Augmented Reality, will allow us to adopt a more creative and intuitive approach to engineering. Combined with the possibilities opened up by Artificial Intelligence (AI), we can work within a design environment in which the necessary calculations are performed automatically and compliance with design rules are checked in an automated process, similar to computer games where the players can create complete worlds – following exclusively their own creativity. All related computation is performed in the background by AI. It may sound paradoxical, but I am convinced that our working worlds will become more human as digitalization advances. Digital tools will relieve us from monotonous and risky work, in other words, many of the activities we simply prefer not to perform. Instead, our creativeness will be able to prosper within collaborative processes to which colleagues from other disciplines, departments and locations can contribute their creative ideas and their knowledge.

This interview is courtesy of VDMA (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau) and was first published in the VDMA-Magazine #3/2021

Virtual Reality

Whether in product development, process optimization, sales or service: in a recent study PwC forecasts a boom in the demand for technology enabling Virtual and Augmented Reality. According to the study, this boom is going to last until 2030.

Listening to our gut feelings again can give us an inestimable gain in efficiency.

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