Virtual Reality Helps Cummins See the Big Picture
In some ways, the cave at the Cummins Technical Center (CTC) in Columbus, Indiana (USA) is aptly named. Tucked away in the basement and dark much of the time, its inhabitants seem to prefer large, dark glasses, even when the lights are dim.
But some pretty high tech stuff is happening in the CAVE and at similar locations across Cummins where engineers are using virtual reality to get a one-to-one perspective on engines and components, often before anything is built.
“That can be really important for engine design,” said Mike Hughes, Manager – Modeling and Simulation Services for Corporate Research and Technology. “There are just some things you can’t see on a computer screen that can be very important when it comes to issues like ease of service. With virtual reality, our engineers can look at even Cummins’ largest engine, the QSK95, as if it was sitting right in front of them.”
The CAVE stands for the CTC Advanced Virtual-prototyping Environment. Providing computer-generated, three-dimensional images of engines like the QSK95 is no small thing. In reality, that engine is 8 feet tall, 14 feet long and weighs thousands of pounds. It’s not like you could easily move one around the tech center.
Hughes uses the example of building a house to explain virtual reality’s benefits. A home builder can create prints or show on a computer screen what a house will look like. However, it’s typically not until after the home is built that customers can see areas they wish were dimensionally different. Virtual reality allows you to see the dimensions in true scale, enabling you to make changes early in the design process.
Team members Sushant Dhiman and Bill Tuttle guide visitors to the CAVE on all of virtual reality’s possible uses. Hughes is proud of the capabilities the team has built essentially from the ground up. In addition to design engineers at the tech center, the CAVE is a popular spot for customers who want to see how an engine will fit in their particular vehicles. Regulators also sometimes visit to learn more about how Cummins’ clean technology works. Virtual reality has even been used to help train service technicians.
Making a big engine easy to service is extremely important to maximizing engine uptime for customers. The CAVE has plastic devices users can hold that appear in their virtual reality goggles as human hands, wrenches and drills. They enable designers to see how hard or easy it will be to get to a particular section of an engine or a part.
The technology can also identify potential ergonomic issues for technicians. A single part on a larger engine can weigh hundreds of pounds.
Hughes says when Cummins first started investing in virtual reality several years ago, it was unclear how the technology would be adopted by the Cummins culture. But that changed quickly as various groups at the company began experimenting with it. The future looks especially promising as software enables “Web-Ex” like experiences where individuals can quickly communicate between sites in a one-to-one scale.
Just in the past few years virtual reality has significantly improved in quality while decreasing in price. Hughes says he thinks there will be a time in the not too distant future when every design team at Cummins has its own virtual reality system.
For now, however, the CAVE team is plenty busy with tasks such as experimenting with scanners to produce increasingly more detailed models to work from. They lament when a team at Cummins occasionally still uses a tape measure, referring to the act as “blacksmithing.”
“Virtual reality can be a really important tool to help us design the very best engines and components,” Hughes said. “It can produce critical insights to help us provide the power our customers need to succeed.”
Caption: Virtual reality goggles make what would otherwise look like blobs of color appear as a Cummins engine.