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Journal of Materials Processing Technology 155–156 (2004) 1834–1838

Virtual reality applications in manufacturing process simulation
T.S. Mujber∗ , T. Szecsi, M.S.J. Hashmi
School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Dublin City University, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Ireland

Abstract
Virtual reality (VR) is a rapidly developing computer interface that strives to immerse the user completely within an experimental
simulation, thereby greatly enhancing the overall impact and providing a much more intuitive link between the computer and the human
participants. Virtual reality has been applied successfully to hundreds if not thousands of scenarios in diverse areas including rapid prototyping, manufacturing, scientific visualisation, engineering, and education. This paper gives an overview on the virtual reality applications
in manufacturing processes.
© 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Virtual reality; Virtual manufacturing; Virtual environment

1. Introduction
The current demand to reduce the time and cost involved
in taking a product from conceptualisation to production has
forced companies to turn to new and emerging technologies
in the area of manufacturing. One such technology is virtual
reality (VR). The origins of virtual reality can be traced as
far back at least as “the ultimate display” [1]. Virtual reality
allows a user to step through the computer screen into a
three-dimensional (3D) world. The user can look at, move
around, and interact with these worlds as if they were real.
The primary concept behind VR is that of illusion. It focuses on the manifestation of the fantasy world of the mind
in computer graphics. It is also a new media for information
and knowledge acquisition, and representing concepts of
ideas in ways not previously possible [2]. With the advance
of computer technology, VR systems could contribute efficiently in various applications. Virtual manufacturing (VM)
is one of the applications of applying VR technology in
manufacturing applications. Researchers at the University of
Maryland have introduced the concept of virtual manufacturing in 1995 [3], while the contribution and achievements
of VM have been reviewed by Shukla et al. [4] Virtual manufacturing is defined as a computer system which is capable
of generating information about the structure, status, and
behaviour of a manufacturing system as can be observed in
a real manufacturing environment [5]. The vision of virtual
manufacturing is to provide a capability to “manufacture in
the computer”. That means VM will provide a modelling
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +353 85 1420534.
E-mail address: tariq.mujber2@mail.dcu.ie (T.S. Mujber).

0924-0136/$ – see front matter © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2004.04.401

and simulation environment so powerful that the fabrication/assembly of any product, including the associated manufacturing processes, can be simulated in the computer [6].
1.1. Types of VR systems
Ivan Sutherland has introduced in a seminal paper the
key concepts of immersion in a simulated world, and of
complete sensory input and output, which are the basis of
current virtual reality research. His challenge was to set
the screen is a window through which one sees a virtual
world to make it looks real, acts real, sounds real, and
feels real [1]. Although it is difficult to categorize all VR
systems, most configurations fall into three main categories
and each category can be ranked by the sense of immersion, or degree of presence it provides. These categories
include non-immersive (Desktop) systems, semi-immersive
projection systems and fully immersive systems as shown
in Table 1. Vast amount of VR software packages available
on the market, which can be used to develop virtual environments for different applications (e.g. Superscape VRT
and SENSE8). Moreover, software packages have been
developed for virtual applications in manufacturing (e.g.
DELMIA). DELMIA package [7] provides authoring applications that can be used to develop and create virtual manufacturing environment to address process planning, cost
estimation, factory layout, ergonomics, robotics, machining,
inspection, factory simulation, and production management.
1.2. Virtual reality applications in manufacturing
Manufacturing industries are the most important contributors to prosperity in the industrialised countries. However,

manufacturing planning. The goal of the project was to develop a simulated workshop for designers to do conceptual design work while having to take into account manufacturing processes. a simplified method of designing complex mechanical parts through the use of virtual reality techniques [10]. simulation and training.1. evaluate alternate designs. a radial arm saw and a table saw. VR provides a virtual environment for the designers in the conceptual design stage of designing a new product. inspection. functional experimentation of mechanical features such as hinges. shop floor controls. 1. keyboards. CAVE Resolution Sense of immersion Interaction Price High Non-low Low Lowest cost VR system Joystick. The advances in virtual reality technology in the last decade have provided the impetus for applying VR to different engineering applications such as product design. In the product development process. the designer could produce 3D “sketch” of a Low–medium High High Very expensive product in the virtual environment. Operations management Operations management has been classified into three categories. Large screen monitor. testing and verification.2. (c) Environment: an offline computer simulation of the functions can be carried out. large screen projector system. assembly. Prototyping Example A virtual workshop for mechanical design was developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. machining. Prototypes represent important features of a product. The following section discusses the use of virtual reality in manufacturing applications. VR technology has been applied into two different applications in design. and to get feedback on a new product from prospective customers. which include. design.2. Head mounted display (HMD). Mujber et al. [9] Virtual prototyping means the process of using virtual prototypes University of Illinois. Chicago. assembly. Once the designers are satisfied with their design. At this stage. testing and evaluating of specific characteristics of a computer aided design system. The focus of this work is to allow candidate design. planning. training. which are to be investigated. joysticks and trackballs. . could be performed to evaluate the conceptual design and modifications could be made as required. manufacturing planning. Standard high-resolution monitor Gloves and voice commands. The virtual environment for prototyping should include [6]. training and simulation. design and prototyping as shown in Table 2. Virtual reality not only provides an environment for visualisation in the three-dimensional environment but also to interact with the objects to improve decision making from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives [8]. and improved. The simulated workshop consists of a band saw. (a) Functionality: the virtual prototype should be clearly defined and realistically simulated to address product functionality and dynamic behaviour. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 155–156 (2004) 1834–1838 1835 Table 1 Types of VR systems VR system Non-immersive VR Semi-immersive VR Fully-immersive VR Input devices Output devices Mice. and Purdue University have instead of or in combination with physical prototypes. planning. operations management. or a combination of computer offline and real time simulation can be carried out. and design. to do engineering analysis. Design Virtual reality may play very significant rule in design a new product.S. prototyping is an essential step. prototyping. and multiple television projection systems High Medium–high Medium Expensive it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet customers’ demands and to compete. (b) Human interaction: the human functions involved must be realistically simulated. The benefits of the applying VR in design are shown in Table 4. evaluated. VR holds great potential in manufacturing applications to solve problems before being employed in practical manufacturing thereby preventing costly mistakes. for designed and implemented a prototype of a virtual reality based innovating. or the human must be included in the simulation. The benefits of applying VR technology to these categories are shown Table 2 Manufacturing design applications Application Definition Product design Virtual design is the use of VR technology to provide the designer with a virtual environment to evaluate the design. Virtual reality applications in manufacturing have been classified into three groups. modelling. Virtual prototyping could be used before building the physical prototype to prove design alternatives. manufacturing processes. etc. A brief description of every group and its relevant subgroups will be provided in the coming sections. effectively interact with the product model and conduct ergonomic studies using full human body tracking. process simulation.2. a milling machine. 1.T. space balls and data gloves. support management decisions. a drill press. then the design could be detailed to make the necessary modifications.

inspection schedules. which result more effective training. which has been used as a tool for future factory design. machining. Fig. Witness 2003. such as axial movements or predefined sequences [17]. Mujber et al. .1836 T. VR supports the simulation tools to understand the results and the dynamic behaviour of the model. 1. and inspection. Fully immersive VR environment. VR gives an opportunity to the people who have not built the model to verify it. [16] University of Bath in Bath has developed an interactive virtual shop floor containing a three axis numerical control milling machine and a five axis robot for painting. mangers and non-technical audience to communicate and understand the statistical outcome of a simulation. Machining. This environment has been developed to provide a visual. training takes place in a realistic. 1. 1 shows fully immersive VR environment. drilling. simulated version of the actual facility. and sounds of the plant floor [12]. Fig. Due to the necessity of a smarter factory planning. and worker experience on productivity [11]. The VM technology is used to study the factors affecting the quality. The user can mount a workpiece on the milling machine.1. in Table 4. VR provides virtual environment to the employees.2. Virtual machining mainly deals with cutting processes such as turning. Visual comparison of possible solutions based on human experiences and facts lead to a rapid start of production and robust manufacturing processes [14]. choose a tool and perform direct machining operations. Manufacturing processes Manufacturing processes has been classified into three different areas. sights. Table 3 shows the applications of VR technology on the operations management categories. 1. The virtual environment of the facility will allow the employees to practice existing and new tasks in safe. Fig. milling. Some of the simulation products provide some form of visualisation for depicting model output (e. etc. Training VR offers the best training by allowing each employee have a full access to the entire facility.2.3. complete with the actions.3. 2 shows a virtual environment created by Witness VR for a factory [13]. Table 4 gives a brief description on the benefits of using VR in manufacturing processes. Simul8. machining time of the material removal process as well as the relative motion between the tool and the workpiece. VR is an important factor in the verification process as it provides a visual trace of events as they happen. know in the simulation tools and understand the capabilities of simulation. Using cutting-edge VR technology.S. Virtual factory created by witness VR. three-dimensional space in which to explore the effect of various product mixes. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 155–156 (2004) 1834–1838 Fig. and see how a product takes shape as it moves through the manufacturing system. Virtual reality is a useful method to improve the understanding of the plans and to support interdisciplinary discussions. Virtual reality-based training is the world’s most advanced method of teaching manufacturing skills and processes to employees. 3 shows an engineer uses a Virtual reality “semi-immersive environment” to simulate the use of a hexapod machine tool. [21] VR helps to verify the model logic and real-world behaviour of the model [15]. Simulation VR convince the people who do not believe. 2. and Flexsim). Fig.g. and grinding. assembly. Table 3 VR applications in operations management Area VR applications Planning VR can lead to an optimal planning of a manufacturing system by giving a visual environment to the all person involved in the planning process to monitor the factors that lead to inadequate planning results and delay the start of product.

In assembly work [18]. achieve the credibility for the simulation. Virtual inspection makes use of the VM technology to model and simulate the inspection process.3.3. For example. predictive models. Virtual reality can be used for assembly/disassembly operations. To allow the user to study the factors affecting the quality. design. provide a user with an environment to explore the outcomes of their decisions without risk themselves or equipment. decreasing the time to market and reducing product cost. [18] To predict the quality of an assembly. [20]. only large companies use virtual technologies and benefit from its competitive advantages. provide a virtual environment for communication of results. support the technological as well as the economical modelling of diverse production planning scenarios. factors affecting the accuracy of the inspection process. 1. reduce significantly the amount of hardware prototypes during conception. and evaluation of new products. the mechanical and physical characteristics of the equipment and tooling. can a human worker assemble a part or a component? And then can the part be disassembled for service and maintenance at latter stages? Other questions need to be addressed. product cycle and costs. and design prototypes. enable the user to understand the results.2. allow the users to interact and change the model during runtime. Virtual assembly is a key component of virtual manufacturing and is defined as: “the use of computer tools to make or “assist with” assembly-related engineering decisions through analysis. improved interaction with design in terms of more intuitive model manipulation and functional experimentation.S. 3. improve the understanding of the plans and to support interdisciplinary discussions. too: is it “difficult” or “easy” to assemble/disassemble a part? How long does it take? How stressful is it in terms of ergonomics? Is there enough room for tools?. Assembly. 1. convince the use the simulation tools. the interrelation among different parts and factors affecting the quality based on modelling and simulation. provide a virtual environment for innovating. etc. and presentation of data without realization of the product or support processes’. Virtual machine tool. allow the employees to practice existing and new tasks in safe. Today. and the physical and mechanical properties of the inspection equipment. inspection plan. VR’s widespread use and acceptance will require devices . inspection plan. Conclusions Fig. visualisation. Inspection. To address assembly and disassembly verification. collision detection. verify and validate a simulation model. VM is mainly used to investigate the assembly processes. improve visualisation of the product by allowing the user to co-exist in the same environment with the product model. testing and evaluating of specific characteristics of a candidate design. collision detection [19]. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 155–156 (2004) 1834–1838 1837 Table 4 Summary for virtual reality benefits in manufacturing applications Area Design Design Prototyping Benefits To To To To To Operations management Planning To To To To Simulation To To To To To Training To To To allow the whole design team to work together in the virtual environments. enable unskilled users to understand and participate in the planning process. To provide an environment for studying the inspection methodologies. This aims at studying the inspection methodologies. [21] duplicates an entire manufacturing process to a virtual environment to give trainers their own factory to learn in.2. VR can be a powerful tool for testing and evaluating new products and ideas. 2. Manufacturing processes Machining To evaluate the feasibility of a part design and the selection of processing equipment. Mujber et al. Inspection To model and simulate the inspection process. re-design efforts. and the physical and mechanical properties of the inspection equipment. etc [20].2.T. factors affecting the accuracy of the inspection process.3. machining time and costs based on modelling and simulation Assembly To reduce design cycle time.

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