Model building has taken on a new level at BAE Systems, thanks to software developed by Siemens. BAE Systems’ Global Combat Systems (GCS) and their Systems In-tegration Facility helps engineers develop advanced capabilities for vehicles and weapons systems, using the three-dimensional (3D) visualization ca-pabilities of a virtual-reality (VR) laboratory known as the VR dome (see photo). This laboratory displays life-sized 3D stereoscopic models using the Vega Prime™ software from Presagis and the Teamcenter® software from Siemens PLM Software.
BAE’s Systems Integration Facility comprises several laboratories: the Combat Systems Integration Laboratory (CSIL), the VR dome, two Electronic Systems Integration Labs (ESILs), and the Vehicle Systems Integration Laboratory (VSIL). The facility was developed to reduce risk in engineering processes, minimize development time and cost, and detect errors early in the design process for efforts in support of British Ministry of Defence (MoD) requirements.
David Vallis, Manager of the GCS Land Systems Integration Facility, explains: “The plan dictates that we take the user requirement from the Ministry of Defence and analyze it to produce the requirements specifications. Then we produce the subsystems requirements specifications and architecture design. Once procured or manufactured, the subsystems are integrated, tested, and installed in the vehicle. Finally, we run tests to demonstrate to the customer that our vehicle meets their requirements.”
To assist in the design process, GCS operates several VR domes, each offering a 360° panoramic view. Each wall has two projectors that are offset to create a stereo image when viewed through passive polarizing spectacles. The projected images are blended across all eight walls, delivering a seamless, 360° panoramic view from the center-view position. A cluster of eight workstations is used to drive all eight walls. Each workstation has two outputs which carry the eye-separation images (one for each eye to create the 3D stereoscopic effect) to the projectors. An additional workstation synchronizes the output-view perspective relative to the other workstations.
Vallis notes that “very early on in the process we can make visual comparisons of concepts and layouts in the dome. We bring the customer in to carry out an assessment as early as possible. We load the concept drawings—multiple concepts, if applicable—and run them in the dome. Any changes are fed back into the design and the computer-aided-design (CAD) file is updated.”
He further elaborates: “Immediately before cutting metal, we may run a photorealistic, high-fidelity visualization, complete with all services—wiring, piping, and so on—for an assessment of maintainability and access, for example. For major client presentations and reviews, we use the Vega Prime visualization system with the VR dome to display full, life-size, 3D stereoscopic models of our physical solution.”
Assessing designs at full size makes it easier to review progress and spot potential problems. The VR dome helps to find conflicts between different parts of a system design. Teamcenter is used to manage and drive the required multi-projected images into the VR dome and add realism to a CAD model. Open-design software, such as ISO software in the JT™ file format, supports 3D visualization and data sharing between different groups. Tools such as JT Open and JT Open toolkit are part of Siemens PLM Software’s PLM Components suite of software tools, and help make the 3D visualization and design process work effectively. Aided by the software tools, the Teamcenter concept showroom allows displays of life-sized, 1:1 scale models to enable design teams with an efficient evaluation environment. The VR dome can directly read industry-standard 3D JT files produced with Teamcenter.
“This is a big investment, but it has been well worth it,” says Vallis. “We used it on a number of military platforms and it has been hugely beneficial in identifying problems, integrating subsystems and selecting and agreeing on concepts at the design stage.”