Visualization: The Key to the Future of Product Design

PTC recently interviewed Daniel Gale, the manager of the Immersive Design Center (IDC) at Raytheon Company in Andover, Massachusetts. The Andover IDC is one of three Raytheon centers that use CAVE, or automatic virtual environment, technology with processes that the company has developed to advance product quality. These facilities are used to maximize engineering excellence and enhance product research and development through the use of three-dimensional stereoscopic visualization.  

Gale has been with Raytheon for over 10 years and has been the manager of the IDC in Andover since 2014. Here in this interview, he describes how important visualization is for the company’s product design and manufacturing processes.

What is Raytheon’s vision for the Immersive Design Centers?

The Immersive Design Centers (IDCs) have a charter to use advanced visualization and large-scale collaboration for any appropriate program within Raytheon. Our employees, customers, and suppliers can strategically collaborate and apply the latest in technology across the complete product life cycle to solve problems and challenges in real time in the centers. The centers help drive value and bring greater efficiency to our design and manufacturing processes

How are the IDCs typically used?

As the name suggests, these environments are for immersive design, where teams engage in everything from early stage design presentations to development reviews. Up to 20 participants can review conceptual designs or full scale models while evaluating alternatives in real time and interactively making adjustments in a near-seamless, 320-degree panoramic 3-D virtual environment.

How do people benefit from using an IDC?

The most advantageous aspect of the IDCs is that they offer a common language – visualization – which levels the playing field so that everyone involved in any aspect of a project can understand what’s presented. Whether designer, customer, or supplier, all the stakeholders can interact with native design data, real conceptual models, or production designs. And because of the immersive nature of this interaction, the teams are exposed to extensive amounts of available information which enables them to make better decisions.

For instance, suppose there is a facility review in progress. Instead of viewing a two-dimensional floor plan, with extensive specifications, schematics, and architectural drawings, we can virtually build a 3-D site in an IDC using laser scans, computer-aided design, satellite imagery, and site topography data.

This integrated virtual reality in the IDCs allows people to stand up and point directly to potential design flaws or improvements without needing to interpret any of the technical details. Initially, new users of the centers may be a bit skeptical, but once they’ve stepped into one and experienced it firsthand, the benefits are clear. It’s exciting to see how quickly teams from different disciplines become aligned, and people can observe in real time how designs and processes are optimized early on in the product lifecycle. It’s readily apparent how this technology can help us reduce risk, lower development costs, and improve product quality.

Do all stakeholders benefit equally?

Yes, because there is value in the process for all the stakeholders. Customers get a better understanding of what’s going on and they can ask questions in a very open and collaborative environment. They may come to an IDC expecting to focus on three specific topics, but soon, entirely new chains of discussion evolve because everything is right there in front of them. People can explore the depth of the data in real time, interrogate it, and drive deeper understandings of what they see.

It’s the same for our internal design teams, whether it’s an integration review of a top-level manufacturing assembly or a more formal peer review, where there are independent reviewers of a design. People can go deeper and broader in an IDC than with any other process – and changes that will have big impacts later on can be made instantaneously.

How does an IDC improve the design process for engineers?

Using technology associated with visualization and collaboration, specifically when the goal is to extract and quantify value, can be a challenge for engineering communities. As projects evolve from the ground up, the value – and the innovation that evolves – is evident as the design teams go through collaborative design reviews leveraging advanced visualization.

Here’s a quick example. Take an experienced engineer who has developed a mature process that drives his designs, models, and decisions through a CAD model that he looks at everyday at his desk. That’s great, but he is still working somewhat in isolation. Now imagine this engineer in an IDC where he has the ability to showcase his design work and bring in all of these other diverse opinions from every stakeholder. Many of the people that come into an IDC have years and years of experience in their specific domain areas. With this extensive knowledge pool, the engineer can gain firsthand insights from people from all aspects of the product lifecycle. He can talk to experts in ergonomics, human machine interfaces, manufacturing, maintenance, and more – all in one collaborative environment.

Bringing all of those to eyes into the process up front – when the designer’s still working out the details – and getting constructively contributions through a full-scale, life-sized 3-D model is priceless.