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Augmenting the design process, augmented reality (AR) offers another dimension to 3D design. Last month at SOLIDWORKS World 2018, we saw myriad announcements made in advancing design capabilities through partnerships centering around SOLIDWORKS, as well as additional capabilities through the design software itself. While additive manufacturing took an increasing amount of focus at this year’s event, 3D capabilities begin with design, and working up top-notch CAD designs is a key consideration. Allowing for greater flexibility and a (virtually) hands-on approach, at the event Meta and SOLIDWORKS announced an integration for SOLIDWORKS “Publish to Xtended Reality” through which a model can be exported from SOLIDWORKS to a custom version of a glTF open-source file format which can then be viewed on Meta’s Model Viewer platform in the Meta 2 Development Kit headset.

Rethinking what design means in the human experience was a major throughline at SWW18, and taking a design file off the computer screen and into an AR setting allows for an entirely new way of working with CAD. During a morning general session, SOLIDWORKS’ Suchit Jain brought Meta Founder and CEO Meron Gribetz to the stage to share a look at what is made possible through the technology integration, using a complex motorcycle design as a showcase process, as these designs benefit from advanced technologies. Wearing the Meta 2 Development Kit headset, Gribetz showed how he was able to manipulate the design — fully aware of his stage surroundings during the demonstration as the headset allows for a wide field of view and real-world interaction. Designs can be shown scaled down or at full 1:1 sizing, all controlled through fairly intuitive gesturing.

Highlighted in the release are key benefits of AR for design including:

  • Speed – The plug and play nature of the file export/import process means there is no need for a SOLIDWORKS user or developer to build models uniquely for the Meta AR headset.
  • Accessibility – Benefits of 3D CAD visualization are not limited to designers and engineers – any sales or training professional wanting to view 3D models in immersive AR can do so immediately.
  • Efficiency – Viewing 3D CAD models in AR can have a significant impact on time-to-market, cost optimization and revenue by shortening the design review cycle, increasing sales conversion, and enhancing training comprehension.

File information from SOLIDWORKS is retained in the export, ensuring that display states, materials, colors, animations (e.g., exploded view, motion study), and 3D model hierarchy come through in the AR experience.

“Collaboration through augmented reality is the next step in the natural evolution of 3D design authoring. With Meta extending new AR features, designers across the product life cycle – from concept to prototype to manufacturing – will benefit signficantly from this partnership,” said Vice President, Product Portfolio Management and SOLIDWORKS brand UX leader Kishore Boyalakuntla.

Joe Mikhail demonstrates the Meta 2 headset

For a better understanding of what augmented reality can offer to 3D design — as the technologies continue to cross paths in research and commercial settings, with implications on the future of 3D printing and design for additive manufacture (DfAM) — I spoke with Meta’s CRO, Joseph Mikhail, for a personal demonstration.

Through previous experience with Dassault Systèmes’ technologies, I have seen 3D imagery come to life before in CAVEs and headsets, but the AR headset from Meta offered a new experience. Still immersed in the design world presented before me, I was also able to make eye contact with Mikhail while wearing the headset.

“This is our second generation, designed intentionally for augmented AR,” Mikhail explained as he took me through the system.

“It is differentiated at all levels — the field of view, the ergonomics — all in a 500 gram headset. It is photorealistic, and offers a 1:1 scale hologram. We believe in natural interaction.”

Releasing a part also looks a bit like a great magic trick

The motorcycle design shown that morning, he noted, had an eight million poly count to enhance that photorealistic view. He pulled it up for me, so I could experience the motorcycle myself at various scales.

“With SOLIDWORKS, we are making a push toward the 3DEXPERIENCE; we’ve done this integration, built a model viewer, and have a seamless integration with a lot of work behind the scenes. Materials, states, animations, bills of parts — these are all built into the glTF file,” he told me.

With the AR model, and SOLIDWORKS technology behind it, a user can see the model in the context of the real world while also maintaining personal contact with a physical team nearby, he noted.

This system enables three fundamental use cases, as he laid out:

  • Sales enablement, with a higher conversion overall, as demonstrated through a Stanley Black & Decker use case highlighted in the video below, as that company continues to look toward advanced design capabilities
  • Training, as animations allow for instruction in building and maintenance
  • Design, allowing for full visualization before 3D printing a physical prototype

“The overall value proposition is speeding the time to market,” Mikhail told me.

“This is the natural evolution of the CAD industry, and of man and machine interaction. There is here a natural interaction in 3D content; this marriage is pretty possible. With the SOLIDWORKS integration, there is the integrity of information in the glTF file. All this happens seamlessly and allows the designer to iterate more quickly, and allows a non-engineer to interact.”

Here I am manipulating a motrocycle

As a non-engineer, I was indeed able to interact with the design, moving through exploded views to examine smaller components as well as bringing the motorcycle to a full-sized view. While a bright blue (or red; I could change the color) motorcycle looked a bit out of place in the press room, being able to see Mikhail as well assisted my understanding of the product; his experience directly helped, as, while the controls are relatively intuitive, some of us are not naturally great at immediately grasping controls. He could see what I was seeing on the computer monitor, and I could see him clearly to understand how better to pinch and release parts to change between views. Other non-engineers also certainly benefit from access, as salespeople and training professionals can learn and understand products and environments in an immersive experience.

The AR integration with SOLIDWORKS is initially accessible in an invitation-only beta; interest can be expressed here for more information.

Discuss AR, CAD design, SOLIDWORKS, and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]

 

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