As simple as Minecraft

The combination of CAD, VR, and ultra-fast optimization tools is gamifying product development.

Design tools for the virtual space have the potential to outperform traditional screen-based solutions. Super-simple access makes things much easier for product developers, and combined with an interactive optimization assistant, it also helps them achieve their objectives faster. This is the result of tests with a new design tool from Siemens Corporate Technology. The time taken for testers to get from an idea to a legitimate design was measured in minutes, rather than hours or days.

Benjamin Rüth’s test results are further proof that in the future, new products will most likely be developed primarily in virtual space. For his master’s thesis at the Technical University of Munich, the computer scientist conducted practical tests to determine in what type of environment a design task could be resolved most quickly – and the virtual space was the clear winner. Testers using conventional design programs took much longer.

Ultra-fast optimization

Rüth’s test was based on a design tool developed by Siemens Corporate Technology that combines computer-aided design (CAD) with virtual reality (VR). Whereas conventional design programs can have up to 1,000 functions, this tool has only 20. “But this range of functions is always sufficient for quickly testing out an idea during pre-development,” says Theo Papadopoulos, who heads the development project at Siemens. “Naturally, the initial designs are a little rough. But the tool contains an ultra-fast, interactive design optimizer that we developed a few years ago. In an instant, the rough design is turned into a legitimate design proposal that can be discussed by a panel of experts.”

Super-simple design

The faster design process is down to more than just reduced complexity and the optimization assistant, however. Rüth’s tests reveal that the personal attitude of the testers also has a lot to do with how quickly they achieve their goal. Many of them see virtual reality as a game. In the case of Rüth’s testers - none of whom are experienced design experts - this clearly was the reason that their movements were more frequent and spontaneous in the virtual space than they would have been on a flat screen. The sobering presence of conventional tools makes people afraid to make mistakes. “In contrast, the gamification of design in the virtual space feels exciting,” explains Papadopoulos. “Here everything is as simple as Minecraft.”

Near real-time development

Once the new tool opens the door for the instant transformation of design ideas into optimized design proposals, there’ll be no need to calculate hundreds of initial designs using conventional simulation and optimization tools before making a final choice. “Only a handful of designs require that much effort,” says Papadopoulos. The amount of development time saved is evident, not just from Rüth’s tests but also from experience with specific design tasks. “We recently needed to find a weight-optimized design for a bracket that attaches a sensor to a motor,” Papadopoulos continues. “Using conventional means, it would have taken us half a day. With the new tool, we were done in five minutes.” (fk)

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