3D modelling offers greater realism

Bernard Charles, ceo, Dassault Systemes
Tom Shelley reports on some of the directions being taken by 3D modelling and the crucial role it is set to play in society.

Dassault Systèmes has continued towards its goal of making its 3D modelling software yet more realistic – stereoscopy is now standard in its main products at no extra charge, as well as acquiring a new intelligent search technology that turns up only what is wanted, almost totally free of extraneous items. At the same time, the firm is pursuing a green agenda, putting its own money behind projects, regardless of whether they are likely to succeed in the short or long term, and has come with a way to create secure online communities.

This year's European Customer Forum also showed that it is not unafraid to talk about things that have gone wrong, not least the €9 billion estimated commercial cost of the A380 fiasco at Airbus, which led EADS to adopt radical new IT policies across its business. These go well beyond the need to cure the original two version model problem that led to wiring harnesses not fitting the real world prototype. Starting in 2007, the company commenced a programme called 'PHENIX' the letters standing for Plm Harmonization EnhaNced Integration and eXcellence. The original problem, according to director methods processes and tools, Jean-Yves Mondon, was "Several mother companies each using its own tools" leading to a decision to, "Adopt a common form".

The adopted solution involved not just tools but also processes, resulting in 4,000 pages of documented methodology and processes. As well as all using the same version of Catia for CAD, PHENIX specifies using PTC tools for the Master Product Definition, IBM 'Doors' for requirement management and MSC for mechanical simulation. Management procedures include use of: conference calls, an e-room, scheduled meetings, ad-hoc meetings, online forums, email, tool workshops, peer reviews, training, and the setting up of a 'PLM Harmonization Center' to be set up at group level and PHC boards.

These will include chief information officers, engineering representatives and "Invited executives from manufacturing and elsewhere." Information is key to managing any complex project and Dassault Systèmes has recently acquired Exalead, which uses what managing director Morgan Zimmermann describes as a, "Semantic matching technique" to not only pull up entries relating to particular words, but the context in which they are used. This makes data retrieval much more accurate than when using traditional word search techniques, greatly reducing the need to wade through vast quantities of irrelevant material.

Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of this method should try the new classified ads search engine http://www.yakaz.co.uk which is based on Exalead's technology, or some of the other demonstration applications on the Exalead web site. Speed of response is guaranteed by creating an index or meta database, which provides access to individual data entries, and verbal items are indexed using a speech to text engine, demonstrated on the website as 'Voxalead News'. Dassault Systèmes is having Exalead built into Enovia, but the company's main market is specific applications written for individual companies, such as, for example, transforming customer relationship management for pharmaceutical and shipping companies.

The other big drive by DS is into a 3D and what the company prefers to call 'Immersive Reality'. Stereoscopic vision and touch are standard features of V6 products at no additional cost. The most common types of 3D viewing today are with coloured glasses (anaglyphs) and liquid crystal shutter glasses, but a possible shape of things to come was shown at ECF by demonstrations of 'Alioscopy'. These are French-developed 3D displays based on eight separate views from slightly different angles that form seven successive stereo pairs. Viewing without glasses produces the 3D effect thanks to micro lenses bonded to the LCD screens. Unlike some of the other technologies being researched, these products are already available commercially.

DS is presently sticking with pairs of images viewed with glasses, but is working closely with CLARTE, a research centre at Laval in the West of France. Clarté is the French word for clearness or clarity and the centre has been and is involved in a number of projects. A project called ERVISTA, which ran from 2006 to 2009 enabled the study of workstations with a view to reduce MSDs – muscular skeletal disorders – resulting from poorly designed work environments. Operator movements were tracked using optical markers on hands, knees, waist and shoulders.

This technology has since been transferred to a company called DidHaptik, and is now being exploited commercially. CLARTE's Alexandre Bouchet said the facility requires no training to use, and has been used in studies of around 100 workstations for ten different companies. VR4D – Virtual Reality for Design - is being used to optimise the design of confined spaces such as the insides of truck cabs, campers and yachts. It is possible to draw shapes on floors and extrude them upwards, and modify solids, and having optimised a layout, export it back into Catia. And ICE3, the letters standing for Innovative Collaborative Extension, is being used to develop remote haptic applications, such as collaboration on disassembly tasks and welding training, with sensing and reproduction of forces and efforts.

Clarte is equipped with fold up screens with horizontal and vertical areas and various kinds of cave environment. Bouchet said that to develop a particular custom application with specific hardware for 3DLive, 3DVIA Scenes or 3DVIA Pro cost 5 to €20,000 but 'Specials', such as Dassault Système's 3D virtual shopper as used by the Carrefour supermarket chain, cost anywhere from €100,000 to €1 million. 3DVIA Shape remains a free download. Another development area that DS was talking about a lot at the event was secure social networking. CEO Bernard Charlès takes the view that online collaboration in a proper environment is a lot more secure than either sending emails back and forth or transporting data on laptops. Thousands of computers go missing each week from Europe's busiest airports. Half are never retrieved.
Heathrow heads the list at 900 followed by Amsterdam Schipol at 750, Paris Charles de Gaulle at 733 and Gatwick at 385. Dassault Système's answer is '3DSwym', which the company developed and deployed to its own 9,000 employees in 2008. So far 400 communities, each with their own focus, have been created within it. DS is, however, under no illusions that 3DSwym networks could quickly come to be more popular to use than the likes of LinkedIn and Facebook, and we learned in the corridors at ECF, that the company is considering how it might create communities within these, while still maintaining security.

One of the communities that DS is seeking to accommodate and encourage is that concerned with truly radical innovations that look possibly feasible, but are in grave danger of failing to get off the ground. Referring to the scheme to tow icebergs from Greenland to the Canary Islands to provide free water. Cédric Simard, who was closely associated with the project wrote: "It is without prejudices that Dassault Systemes decided to help Mougin - this enthusiastic believer – and reassess his project in the light of the 21st century technologies. What if 3D simulation and virtual worlds brought his dream to life? No idea should be considered crazy or absurd as long as it has not been proved as such by objective, scientific analysis.

Driven by the spirit of innovation, Dassault Systèmes provided its expertise and array of technologies to put Mougin's dream to a severe test without endangering the real world. As part of our Passion for innovation program, we recognised Mougin as the typical candidate to join it, that is, a true innovator who's been giving his life for his passion. We truly believe that such individuals deserve to benefit from the power of 3D simulation technologies. Using real-life data, 3D enables us to test and shake the concepts and principles as imagined by Mougin and Mauviel without endangering the real world and using a minimalist budget and resources as compared to physical prototypes. Only then can the real debate start, based on concrete and scientific simulation results. The next step after the simulation will be to go for a real physical test and even more refined simulation scenarios."

Tom Shelley

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