Silos Changing: stimulating the customer with simulation

Posted on 11 Jan 2012 by The Manufacturer

In this Silos Changing series industry experts from Cambashi explore how manufacturers are likely to deploy new software applications that enable enterprises to implement business initiatives in the new economy.  Currently the focus is on applications that help enterprises respond to the product differentiation business driver. 

In this blog we will talk about using visualisation and simulation when selling a product to a customer, before it physically exists.

Some of you may remember virtual reality centres, facilities costing hundreds of thousands, where you could wear a helmet and be immersed in a scene, simulating Star Trek’s Holodeck environment.  The reality was that the helmet had lots of heavy electronics in front of the wearer’s eyes that meant the back of the helmet was filled with concrete to even things up.  It was good exercise for the neck muscles.

Things have moved on to the point where we can have 3D as an option on consumer products like TVs.  That means that it is much more practical to reach out to prospects for our products and entice them into ordering their unique customisation of our products.

The most ubiquitous example of this today is in the home improvement industry.  Refurbishing a kitchen or bathroom involves buying a set of products that will both fit together and fit into a space that constrains the consumer’s options.  It is both a fashion choice, making a statement about the purchaser, but also has to be practical for household activities.

2020 Fusion is the world leader in furniture and interior design software.  It’s used by stores like John Lewis.  Most people can’t visualise the result of the myriad of choices they are asked to make, but applications like 2020 Fusion make that possible.  A kitchen refurbishment is a big ticket purchase for most people.  A visualisation of the kitchen as it will be gives customers the confidence to place an order by reducing their perception of risk.

With today’s technology, a homeowner goes to a kitchen supplier and selects the style and detailing of the units they like.  The selected supplier comes to the house, surveys the room and prepares a plan using a software package that has a catalogue of each kitchen unit and options.  The completed plan generates a 3D visualisation of the kitchen and a complete parts list with pricing.  The sales representative uses that visualisation to make changes in semi-real time to answer sales objections and press for the order.

There’s another market for wealthy homeowners where the architects and interior designers design living spaces.  Here furniture is chosen from high end brochures.  Building and photographing physical sets and photographing prototypes with different materials costs much more than employing an interior designer to create 3D models and then generate high resolution photo-realistic images.

Delta Tracing is a professional design studio based in Venice.  It uses Autodesk’s 3ds Max and NVIDIA iray to produce images for both furniture designers and interior designers.  Until recently, it took a long time to produce a photo-realistic image.  Delta’s Dionissios Tsangaropoulos says “In the first month of 2011, we had already completed the same amount of work that it took us all of 2010 to do.”

This technique will be extended to all kinds of consumer products.  Often a purchase makes a fashion statement about the buyer, and the buyer wants to select options to customise the purchase to match that statement.  From garments to automotives, the ability to visualize the end result for the customer will become an essential element in the sales process.

In the medium term, we will go from photo-realistic to 3D images.  In the longer term, there will be ways to simulate the customer’s experience of the product in use, with immersive visualisation and haptic technology for the feel as well as the look.  Very long term we might even use holographic visualisations.  These techniques will expand the range of products that can be personally customised – the ultimate in product differentiation.

In future blogs we will go on to talk about other potential software deployments that support product differentiation, such as global part selection.

Look out for TM’s article tracing Jaguar Land Rover’s virtual reality journey and the application of virtual to factory planning in theFebruary issue of the magazine.