TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. - General Motors Corp. is using virtual reality, the computer simulation tool that can create a three-dimensional environment for the viewer, for everything from the design of car and truck parts to the layout of new assembly lines. The exotic computer tool, which builds 3-D representations from two-dimensional computer-aided design and manufacturing models, has been put to work on every new car and truck program currently under development.
The technology soon may find its way into dealer showrooms where, in the not-too-distant future, consumers can sit in a simulated interior and try different color and feature combinations.
There is no limit,'' said John Ivanko, CAD/CAM manager for GM's NAO Manufacturing prototype shops. ``Virtual reality is like an infinity symbol.''
He described GM's use of virtual reality at the University of Michigan Management Briefing Seminars, held Aug. 5-9 in Traverse City.
In parts prototyping, GM uses the technology to check the fit and finish of interior parts well before they go into production. These ``electronic mock-ups'' could be used by suppliers to check parts against GM specifications and also communicate with other suppliers on the same project. Such a system could speed development time as suppliers work around the clock at sites around the world.
Virtual reality promises to be highly useful in detecting costly product and plant engineering glitches. A few years ago, before virtual reality had found its way into GM's engineering labs, Ivanko said GM drew up plans for an assembly operation at a plant in Indiana - a location he would not disclose. When engineers arrived at the plant to set up the line, they discovered that it was 40 feet too long.
Still, Ivanko conceded that it was difficult to quantify the cost savings achieved by a virtual reality system, some of which can run more than $1 million.
We're manufacturing people,'' he said. ``We all know how to build mock-ups. We don't necessarily know how to justify or account for expenses.''
GM also may use virtual reality for a possible renovation or relocation of engineering staffs at its tech center in Warren, Mich. A group of GM computer specialists completed a virtual reality mapping of the tech center on Aug. 1, a major undertaking considering the vast size of the compound of engineering and administration facilities.
Ivanko showed Traverse City attendees a video clip of the 3-D tech center map. The video walked viewers through a building where several new models were being mocked up and showed a workroom where computerized measurement devices are used to check the quality of body structures.
Ivanko would not comment on the purpose of the tech center virtual map or whether the computer simulation would be used for some future renovation or relocation of engineering facilities. He did allow, however, that it was a big deal to undertake and complete the project.