We’ve had the hype around augmented and virtual reality in the consumer space. These technologies are now also available and affordable for industrial applications. Now it is a question of deriving concrete benefits from this in the Industrial services area. Basically, 3D data has been used in industry for a long time – mostly in product development and design, where it is generated and processed with expert tools.
But there is a great demand for use cases that go much further: For example, the live visualization of products for customers or product specialists, if possible even on site with the help of augmented reality devices. Or collaboration on a common 3D model by different users across the process chain. And finally, in after sales, the possibility of using 3D data for guided repairs or training.
Siemens LDA (for Large Drive Applications) is the leading manufacturer of motors and converters for a wide range of industries and applications. These products are customized systems with a high product variance. An essential success factor in each individual project is intensive coordination and collaboration with the respective customer.
The collaboration includes, in particular, the discussion and exchange of 3D perspectives, with experts from different Siemens departments involved in each case in addition to customer employees: Ideally, they all work with a 3D model in the necessary depth of detail, which they can view on their screens, manipulate interactively and annotate. This model comes as a draft from an engineering construction kit and already contains, among other things, the interfaces and connection points to be coordinated as well as the required information on materials and other properties.
Such visualizations have so far required workstation PCs made specifically for 3D applications. The challenge here is the extreme amount of data that must be brought to the screen at a high throughput and displayed in real time. Visualizations that are not performant enough cannot be used sensibly: Everything stutters when you want to rotate the model. Complex 3D models with a high level of detail cannot therefore be easily brought to every device and rendered there because of the amount of data.
Another important task is the integration of the 3D data and the required additional data into the process chain, so that the various process participants can work with the appropriate model and have all the necessary information available.
The solution for Siemens was developed in a joint project by 4Soft as project company based on Threedy’s instant3Dhub platform.
instant3Dhub makes 3D models of any size and complexity interactively accessible to all users in the process chain – and with high performance on any web-enabled device: from smartphone to tablet and “normal” notebook to HoloLens.
For this purpose, 3D data is collected from the many expert tools available in the companies. This involves around 40 of the most common industry formats, including classic CAD formats such as NX, Catia, STEP or JT. Data types can also be mixed, which means that machines in a building can also be visualized, for example.
The source data does not have to be changed or compressed for this purpose, but can remain as it is produced in the existing processes. For streaming the data, the research institute Fraunhofer IGD (of which Threedy is a spin-off) has developed a sophisticated acceleration technology over 20 years of research: The triangles in each geometry element are completely recalculated and accelerated for visualization. In this way, Threedy speeds up the visualization by 95%. For example, a complete model of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle can be loaded onto any device in 30 seconds. In the Siemens use case, the data of complete motors and converters, together with the assemblies they contain, are available with almost no delay.
However, a pure visualization of 3D data is in most cases not sufficient to meet the requirements of the users and to support them optimally in their work. They need an application that is customized to them and that offers them suitable interaction options and functions for their particular use cases in the process. The greatest benefit for the customer regularly results when the 3D data is linked with data from other systems.
Therefore, process and data analysis as well as application development and integration are essential topics in the project. 4Soft GmbH is on board for this part. Based on their extensive instant3Dhub expertise, they support the customer in analyzing the requirements for the system and jointly developing a system vision. One of the first steps is usually the development of a proof-of-concept to show the customer in a short time how an application can be designed. Subsequently, the application is then implemented step by step in an agile process and integrated into the customer’s existing IT infrastructure.
In addition to the design of the process chain, data integration and data preparation are subsequently regularly central project topics, accompanying the specification and implementation of interfaces to other systems. Often, for example, 3D data is mainly intended and made for production. If additional participants and process steps are to be integrated on the way to a “digital twin,” it is necessary to consider which data belong together and what quality they must have so that they are also suitable for maintenance in the aftersales area, for example.
In the project with Siemens, the initial focus was on improving and accelerating collaboration between the various process participants at the customer and at Siemens. In the future, much more is possible with i3Dhub as part of Siemens’ own IIoT architecture “SIDRIVE IQ X-Ray”: The 3D data provided and distributed by i3Dhub is ideally suited as the core component and focal point of a digital twin. Converters and motors, for example, are already connected via a connectivity box and send their time series data to the cloud. A plant engineer could then display this data directly on site in the control room at the respective machine as an overlay in the AR glasses.
Already during design and layout, instant3Dhub is a valuable tool for Siemens today: Direct communication between the design engineers and the maintenance and operation experts at Siemens and at the customer’s site avoids time-consuming coordination rounds. This allows errors to be avoided at an early stage that would have remained undetected for a long time when working sequentially.
There are also many advantages during commissioning. When commissioning converters, for example, Siemens can present the connection points and cable ducts as well as other product features to the customer in a much clearer way than in the past. This makes it clear to the customer at an early stage how the product works, and commissioning runs smoothly.
These fundamental advantages are also used by other companies: For example, BMW has developed a visualization-as-a-service platform based on instant3Dhub with over 25 use cases – ranging from pure visualization of PDM data to support for supplier/vendor collaboration and DMU applications. Porsche is using it to visualize 3D animated repair and service guides in the aftersales area, which can be called up in workshops worldwide on a vehicle-specific basis using AR/VR applications.
As a result, something like a “democratization of 3D data” regularly takes place along the process chain, because now also involved parties and stakeholders without expert tools can participate in an uncomplicated way.