On Thursday, 27 April, Wichita State University and its National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) held the grand opening of the new 3DEXPERIENCE Center as the school’s Innovation Campus grows with partners including Dassault Systèmes and Airbus, and 3DPrint.com was on the scene for the celebrations. More than 200 people representing 50 companies came together for the event, which provided the opportunity to see first-hand the new facilities available to students and business partners as well as to talk to the executives behind the developments.
An eight-part facility tour used as a through-line the creation of a largely-3D printed unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to showcase the capabilities of each area of the 3DEXPERIENCE Center as it relates to a real-world project. Among the goals for the facility is the use of advanced technology to significantly streamline the production process from concept to creation, and the UAS served as a demonstrator of each area’s offerings to that end.
Ahead of the formal start to the day’s festivities, Dassault’s Michel Tellier, Vice President, Aerospace & Defense, sat down with the small group of gathered press to provide insights directly into the developments. He introduced us to the story of the UAS, as well as details regarding the company’s interest in aerospace and how the France-based enterprise came to create an advanced manufacturing facility in Kansas.
“This center ticks a lot of boxes,” Tellier explained. “The scope and breadth of technology we create — having customers grasp that is difficult. A center like this is an operational metaphor; this is a place I can bring our customers and they can see it, they can experiment. It allows customers to comprehend the impact, good and bad, on business. It offers the state-of-the-art capability to see how it will work today and going forward.”
He continued, “In aerospace, there is disruption happening, more startups are getting in. There is a burgeoning level of disruptive innovation happening. This is a center where these folks can come and see manufacturing sophistication in an integrated way. This campus has significant physical testing; the largest testing in aviation outside of Boeing and Airbus today. We think this could be a very interesting center for startups and big companies — and for the engineers of tomorrow, to understand concepts in a real-world setting, with a broader spectrum.”
With WSU’s focus on experiential learning, the 3DEXPERIENCE Center seems to fit right in, ready to contribute to, as Tellier put it, the development and future of engineering. Wichita, he pointed out, is home to a great deal of aerospace and aviation activity; Dassault Systèmes has been working with customers in the region for 30 years, and WSU and NIAR have both employed the company’s technology for a long while. Tellier noted that the cloud-based collaboration at the center will connect every room of the facility to global partners, and that the facility contains rooms for all levels of development. What may start as an idea in a classroom can quickly be validated via software applications in one room, tested in virtual reality down the hall, then in another room 3D printed to bring it into the physical — and later 3D scanned to reverse engineer and check the physical product. The capabilities at the center are world-class, as it houses the largest MRAM (multi-robot advanced manufacturing) room in the world right now, as well as the world’s largest high-definition VR CAVE (cubic immersive room — cave automatic virtual environment).
“It’s kind of like your Iron Man JARVIS,” Tellier said with a grin. “There is tremendous potential for these technologies in aerospace.”
Looking to innovations for aerospace, Tellier noted that, “We are thrilled that Airbus is on the campus; this is a strong signal that this is a place to do work.” The hope is that there will eventually be “multiple Airbuses” involved, in that more partner companies will establish their presence on the growing Innovation Campus. Seeing Airbus’ presence as “an anchor for success of the campus,” Tellier pointed out that the police academy is also using the technology to recreate and preserve crime scenes via 3D scanning and virtual reality; it’s not just aerospace that will benefit from the rising presence of technology in Wichita.
“We look at this as a point on a network — a major point, a hub. The ambition is to create more centers,” Tellier told us. “Even here, we don’t want to restrict just to aerospace. We look at how products can be created and regulated, and take that to other industries… We need to have some cross-pollination to be viable, to work with other industries.”
The ribbon cutting ceremony for the 3DEXPERIENCE Center was fitting for the occasion; while many executives from Dassault Systèmes and leaders from WSU and NIAR were on-hand, the actual ribbon cutting was performed by robots performing a comedic choreography:
The breadth of technologies available at the 3DEXPERIENCE Center lend themselves indeed to a wide array of industrial applications, through which users are able to engineer, optimize, validate, verify, and certify products. As NIAR holds an FAA flight test license, aviation in particular does stand to benefit from these capabilities, as the UAS development demonstrates.
The facility tour was broken into six 3DEXPERIENCE Center stops and two Experiential Engineering Building stops, encompassing:
- Concept Development — Conceptual design in the Dassault Systèmes Collaboration Room
- Concept Refinement — Demonstrations and immersive experience in the Dassault Systèmes Lab
- Concept Validation — Immersive experience with virtual reality CAVE and motion capture
- Hybrid Manufacturing — Scalable, Multi-Robotic Advanced [Additive] Manufacturing (MRAM)
- Prototyping and Production — Additive manufacturing, new engineered materials development, and 3D printing
- Inspection and Quality — Reverse engineering including scanning and inspection
- Experiential Building Stops:
- GoCreate and EEB Labs — Makerspace equipped with high-tech tools and experts and three Wichita State University labs
- Hexagon — Precision metrology systems for the collection, analysis, and active use of measurement data
The technological capabilities housed in the 3DEXPERIENCE Center merit their own discussion; stay tuned for more details. The MRAM system can be seen in action as it was demonstrated on Thursday:
Following the tour, I spoke with Jeff Smith, Director of the Aerospace and Defense Ideas Lab, who told me, “it was always the dream to set up an end-to-end system like this, removing the constraints and making all possible.” His enthusiasm for the center and its possibilities was contagious, as he continually underscored: “This is the dream.”
As we walked back into the Concept Refinement area, he noted that that room can be broken into functions for engineering, manufacturing, and marketing, all in one place and right next to the Collaboration Room, offering fast access to various aspects of development. These pieces can be integrated into a digital tapestry, he said, which is all part of a particularly ambitious goal: to reduce the 3-5 years product development lifecycle to 90 days.
While rapid prototyping and similar applications for 3D printing technology, in tandem with VR verification, software design optimization, and close collaboration, have been seen to significantly reduce the time it takes a product or part to go from idea to production, taking a 5-year process into a 90-day turnaround may seem unrealistic. Not so, says Dassault Systèmes.
“We have the tools, the processes, the rules, and the templates to stitch together end to end, with the right tools, the right facility, the right software to make it possible,” Smith told me. “Virtual creation and then physical is the key. With virtual production, you don’t have to worry about cost, you can demonstrate concept to sustainment to operation, and prove it all out — it’s streamlined and operational. That’s why we have this immersive environment. Now we can express it physically, with MRAM.”
Smith noted the major limitations that are holding back the vision of expedited development: You buy the machine for the material you want to print, and for the volume you want to print. What, though, if it was robotic — a flexible, scalable hybrid, with MRAM the idea microcosm factory here — and allowed for going from virtual to physical to make any asset? Materials development is key here.
“I believe we have not yet designed engineering materials for the future,” he said. “We powederize aluminum and titanium and print that; what if we designed materials for these systems?”
Stitching together the development of engineering materials with scalable equipment removes the shackles of limitations and, Smith noted, pushes toward that 90-day goal. The idea here is to learn from additive manufacturing and scale that knowledge, applying AM to MRAM. The software capabilities are also not where they will need to be yet, and this is in development as the team at Dassault Systèmes tackles the question of what that software system would look like. The idea of the center itself keeps development at its core, as Smith noted that focus includes development, refinement, validation, prototyping, and production. Testing and certification, he explained, are at the heart of it all.
Of the 3DEXPERIENCE Center at WSU, Smith named the location and partners present as drivers that brought Dassault Systèmes in “for the long haul” as the company has signed a 25-year lease on the location.
“This is the right place in the United States for advanced manufacturing; then we want to expand worldwide,” he said. “The innovation ecosystem that will allow all this to be exercised and stitched together is here.”
Dassault Systèmes maintains another 3DEXPERINCE Center in Hamburg, as both Smith and Tellier explained that the ZAL location is more of a future factory. Both centers operate in partnership with Airbus, as well, highlighting the importance of advanced technologies in aerospace development. The Wichita facility offers an additional advantage in aerospace, as certification is obviously critical to success in this industry.
“NIAR is world-renowned for test plans and for certifications. NIAR has a nice relationship with the FAA, we have a nice relationship with them,” Smith said.
As the facility has now been officially inaugurated, and as the Innovation Campus offers more room for additional partners to establish a presence, it seems that Wichita will be an area with a great deal to offer in the future of aerospace and engineering — as WSU continues to foster tomorrow’s engineers and Dassault Systèmes continues toward its own ambitions alongside a strong field of partners.
Share your thoughts on this new facility in the 3DEXPERIENCE forum at 3DPB.com.[All photos/video: Sarah Goehrke for 3DPrint.com]