Dr Andy Levers, technical director at the Virtual Engineering Centre (University of Liverpool) and technical lead for LCR4.0 discusses why digital innovation is the key to unlocking manufacturing capabilities.
Virtual reality (VR) adoption is set to see rapid growth over the coming years in the UK. The latest forecasts from PwC indicate that the VR industry is on track to be worth £801m to the British economy by 2021, a heady increase of 1,589% on its value in June 2017.
Driving this uptake is the transformational impact that digital innovation is already having on the ways in which engineers are approaching key stages in product lifecycle.
From product development to production implementation, through to training and customer support, the opportunities opened up by VR are enabling organisations to drastically enhance their manufacturing capabilities and performance.
Long gone are the days of VR headsets being confined to scenes from the latest sci-fi blockbuster. Today’s engineers are implementing the latest virtual engineering technologies within the manufacturing process – often with a little help from academia.
This article first appeared in the November issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.
The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) is a leading centre in digital innovation and an initiative of the University of Liverpool. The VEC helps businesses to integrate and exploit VR technologies, such as advanced modelling and simulation, and immersive visualisation for industrial and commercial applications.
The VEC’s main headquarters in Daresbury is based within the Sci-Tech Daresbury campus and works in partnership with the Science Technology Faculty Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre. The VEC’s capabilities, when combined with the UK’s most powerful supercomputer at the Hartree Centre, represent a compelling proposition that is influencing the future of manufacturing.
A good example of this in action is Bentley Motors. The luxury carmaker has collaborated with the VEC to integrate the use of virtual prototypes into their new product development process. Implementing virtual prototypes has enabled the world-leading manufacturer to improve on the design of new models at an early stage, helping the team to make confident decisions.
This capability has provided a powerful design tool, removing the need for late-stage modification, reducing development costs and accelerating time to market for new models. This is the power of virtual engineering in the manufacturing space.
Created in 2010 as a European Development Fund (ERDF) project by the University of Liverpool, the VEC has become a self-sufficient department in its own right, leading the way in digital innovation and strategy in the North West.
Specialising in the development and integration of VR technologies, the VEC offers expertise in simulation, robotics, autonomous and intelligent systems and has built a decade’s worth of experience across multiple industrial sectors, developing and implementing digital technologies to enable transformation in partner companies.
The centre’s multi-disciplinary team consists of engineers, software developers and commercialisation specialists, alongside a technical team that has progressed through industry and academia. This multi-faceted skill-set enables the team to work with clients across a range of sectors, from aerospace and automotive, to medical and energy industries, as well as individual commercial projects and collaborative R&D programmes.
Value Chain is a company that creates smart production control software for subcontract engineers, to enhance supply chain capabilities in the manufacturing sector and help streamline operations.
Working with the VEC, Value Chain was able to develop an app using digital twin technology to showcase and explain the role that specific tools play within the supply chain.
The app uses real-time data based on which tools have been selected in the physical world, which is then captured and used to generate live updates online.
This allows for the analysis of data and monitoring systems to foresee problems before they occur, helping to prevent downtime and improve manufacturing processes.
Tom Dawes, CEO of Value Chain, said: “Through our LCR4.0 project with the Virtual Engineering Centre, we have been able to explore how extended reality technologies can impact smart factories and connected supply chains.
“The VEC has integrated our DNA4.0 productivity solutions within a virtual smart factory that can be used by industry and academia as an engaging training aid for Industry 4.0 best practices. Ultimately, we have created an innovative approach to attract talent into digital manufacturing.”
The ‘digital twin’ app will be showcased at The Manufacturer Live in Liverpool, 14-17 November.
The ‘sandpit’ approach
The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) has developed a unique ‘sandpit’ model to complement its capabilities, offering client’s access to the centre’s virtual laboratories to help organisations to explore technology and co-design digital solutions. The model offers a single access point to the latest academic research, technology and scientific infrastructure, as well as specialist facilities and networks.
Partners bring their specialist knowledge and expertise to the sandpit, which creates opportunities for innovation and collaboration. From supplying data for collaborative projects, innovative workflows and methodologies, through to supplying specialist hardware and software, partners are intrinsic to successful innovation and collaboration within the sandpit.
Collaboration in the Liverpool City Region
The VEC is the lead partner in the LCR 4.0 (Liverpool City Region Four Point Zero) Project, assisting SMEs based in the Liverpool City Region to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies including big data, autonomous systems, Internet of Things, simulation and cyber security.
The first of its kind in the country, LCR4.0 aims to provide a joined-up approach to local and national business support by actively engaging SMEs and growth businesses across the six local authority areas.
Through the partnership, the VEC offers expertise that helps SMEs access free digital and technology support to help improve processes, efficiency and productivity. The LCR 4.0 project is set to run until September 2019, and so far, the VEC has helped nearly 30 businesses to date under the project, including the creation of virtual prototypes, software development (including apps utilising augmented reality technology), the creation of factory simulations, and business and IP support.
Part-funded by the ERDF, LCR4.0 is delivered in partnership by the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), Liverpool John Moores University (specifically ETRI, the Faculty of Engineering and Technology Research Institute), Sensor City, STFC Hartree Centre (part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council) and the Liverpool City Region LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership).
For more information about LCR4.0, visit: www.LCR4.uk