31 July 2011
(Odometer, 1,195 miles) CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa–We often think of defense contractors as enormous companies using very expensive equipment and software to churn out expensive products that taxpayers end up paying for.
Maybe not so much these days.
Rockwell Collins is taking the concept of prototyping and turning it on its head–and, perhaps most importantly slashing its cost as a key component of design-for-assembly flows.
The company has developed Virtual Prototype Modeling (VPM) for its designs, a combination of virtual reality, augmented reality and desktop visualization. Rockwell Collins’ approach claims to cost just a fraction of what entrenched modeling software costs today (hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases) and save significant time, effort and money in avoiding engineering change orders.
In our video, Ryan Wheeler, senior materials and process engineer, walks us through stages of the process.
The virtual reality software enables design teams to visualize a physical design on a screen–from multiple locations if networked together–after importing the design from standard CAD languages, such as CATIA, Pro/E, STEP, or SolidWorks.
The augmented reality environment layers a third dimension on that reality. Using traditional 3D cameras, goggles, and software, engineers can interact with the design directly, checking fittings, screw settings, cabling routing and more. Wheeler pointed out that the software can give engineers a sense of whether a screw setting might be difficult to reach with a screwdriver and whether cables running over 90-degree edges might be rubbed through eventually.
This ability to review designs early in the process and with high detail enables a continuous improvement loop that can slash the cost of a completed design. The optimal phases for using the approach are in preliminary and critical design review stages, but the approach can have value all the way through initial product release and into full-run production, Wheeler said.
How much value?
“The avoidance of a single ECO can give us more than a 200 percent return on investment on the cost of having a VPM created and analyzed,” Wheeler said.
Building a VPM can cost around $2,000, compared with hundreds of thousands of dollars for commercial systems, he added. High school interns helped write the code for the environment.
Rockwell Collins isn’t commercializing the environment, but it has helped deploy versions of it in local high schools.
“We’re not afraid to go off and do things on our own,” Wheeler said.
Perhaps the image of a defense contractor innovating slowly and methodically is now just that: an image.