DEARBORN, MICH. - Virtual reality has been discussed a lot in publications like Popular Science, and it's used regularly in building things like the Boeing 777. But not much has been heard about the mysterious and amazing technology that would bring it into the plastic processor's frame of reference. That is, until now.
Researchers at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., say that, among other things, virtual reality can be used to spot errors in stereolithography files, the software-generated computer images used in making models by converting slices of an object into an entire object. The use of stereolithography files has become a virtual industry standard in recent years.
Put yourself in the place of a mold designer, for example, with rapid prototyping and virtual reality at your fingertips. You would create a three-dimensional model in your computer and use the stereolithography file to create the real model in your rapid prototyping system.
If, for some reason, the system were to discontinue operating, you could slip into the virtual reality mode, walk into the mold you are designing and look around to find the reason for the stoppage.
Georges M. Fadel, professor of mechanical engineering and design at Clemson, discussed virtual reality and its use with rapid prototyping during a conference held May 2-4 in Dearborn by the Rapid Prototyping Association of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
To illustrate his remarks, Fadel used a videotape showing a rapid prototyping model of a ship in a bottle in virtual reality. His audience saw views from inside the bottle as though they were walking the ship's decks.
``You can walk around it, inside the object, look up, down, sideways and see features that are not directly accessible using two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional object,'' he said.
``We can take any object you can build with rapid prototyping and put it into a virtual reality environment. From a designer's point of view, to be able to look at the inside of your product is something you never had before,'' Fadel said.