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Engineers use high-tech glasses to spot problems

By Ralph Kisiel, Automotive News

Nov. 03, 2004 1:50 PM

DETROIT — Wearing 3-D glasses, General Motors engineers stare intently at a floor-to-ceiling screen. They’re not watching a B-grade horror film. That’s not Godzilla popping out from the screen; it's a 3-D image of a future vehicle.

The GM engineers are wearing the high-tech glasses to view 3-D vehicle designs on a PowerWall — a 24-by-10-foot projection screen — in the automaker’s new Global Visualization Center here.

Using this technology, GM engineers found 120 problems in its GMT900 truck platform, the 2006-model replacement for the full-sized truck platform.

The problems were discovered before a physical prototype of a vehicle was built.

“I’m not easily drawn toward technologies and tricks and gizmos,” says Terry Woychowski, GM vehicle chief engineer for the full-sized truck.

But discovering problems in a virtual environment, before a physical prototype is built, eliminates delays and material waste, Woychowski says.

The center opened May 24 at the GM Technical Center in Warren. Since then, with a 90 percent utilization rate, it rarely has been dark.

Dozen programs

More than a dozen GM vehicle programs, including the full-sized truck, have benefited from virtual product development in the new center.

The Global Visualization Center takes math-based data from GM designers, who use Unigraphics NX computer-aided design software. The information is converted into a 2-D or 3-D image on the PowerWall. The PowerWall provides full-sized images for engineering and manufacturing reviews.

GM won’t reveal its investment in the center. But it says that finding engineering problems in just one vehicle program before the physical prototype is built pays for the center.

“The GVC is further revolutionizing the way GM does business,” says Bob Kruse, executive director of vehicle integration for North American engineering. “It’s good business sense. We think it allows us to more efficiently develop great products both locally and globally.”

PowerWall for evaluation

For example, exterior engineers use the PowerWall to evaluate vehicle colors and see how various trim colors interact with the body color. Others study the rear of a vehicle to determine whether the rear fascia covers enough of the spare tire and exhaust system. The 3-D model can be positioned on the screen at different distances and with any background desired.

Other engineers look at 3-D models to make sure parts and modules fit as designed.

“It looks for routings — all the spaghetti parts,” says Terry Kline, global process information officer for product development. "We can make sure that there are adequate clearances, good connections and such.”

GM has seven Global Visualization Centers around the world, which use a variety of virtual-reality tools.

In addition to the PowerWall, the newest center has a virtual-reality CAVE, short for Cave Automated Virtual Environment.

With its four projectors and a pair of 3-D eyeglasses, the CAVE offers engineers a 3-D environment in which they can examine designs — such as a truck interior — that exist only on a computer.


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