Digital engineering technologies are enabling manufacturers to radically enhance their design approaches and their commercial offer. Andrew Borland, industrial engagement manager with the Virtual Engineering Centre, explains how technologies such as advanced modelling, simulation and visualisation can revolutionise communication between company and client to deliver competitive edge and drive growth.
Digitalisation has created opportunities for companies to make a paradigm shift in their product development and manufacturing processes. Those which have embedded advanced technologies into their long-term business strategy have seen production times sped up, risk reduced, efficiency enhanced and operational costs cut.
The potential impact is significant – The Made Smarter Review estimates that digital adoption could lead to a 25% increase in productivity for UK industry – but the benefits are not purely operational. Improved client relations are another key factor to consider.
Technologies such as advanced modelling, simulation and visualisation have the potential to revolutionise the traditional 2D design approach, creating virtual tools which allow a customer not just to see their product in the making, but to experience and influence the process at multiple stages. This serves to close the gap between both customer and product, and company and client.
Game engine software applied in the engineering environment means sophisticated, highly realistic simulations of a product can be created and viewed by the client from the prototype phase onwards, via a standard PC or across platforms. Informed decisions about design modifications can be made in the virtual environment before any physical model is manufactured. Cost efficiency is an obvious benefit, but it also lends the manufacturer a responsiveness and flexibility that are invaluable in terms of customer service and satisfaction.
This enhanced communication comes irrespective of geographical location. New markets are therefore opened up to those companies keen to extend their commercial reach. The lack of motorway miles is another important consideration for those with a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. The use of a visual medium overcomes language barriers allowing new export dialogues to be opened to drive international export growth.
Focus on these wider factors and digitalisation becomes not simply a means to make operations more efficient, they can give even the smallest business added competitive edge over bigger players.
Case Study – Eldapoint
Eldapoint produces intelligent space solutions for a vast array of sectors. Specialists in container conversions and modular unit manufacturing, they provide a range of solutions, from container conversions to bespoke manufactured units.
Based in Knowsley Industrial Park North, Merseyside the company designs, plans, builds and installs space solutions for clients. Their experience and range of products includes pop up bars and nightclubs, restaurants, cafes and retailing space, as well as manufactured solutions for specialist refrigeration units.
Approaching LCR 4.0
With over 50 years of experience, Eldapoint understands the need for innovation to remain competitive within the industry. Currently using printed catalogues and 2D drawings, the company wanted to explore the opportunities of investing in new and modern technologies in order to reinvent the way they communicate with their customers and potential clients, finding an innovative approach to accelerate the design process and offer clients the ability to virtually explore a number of custom designs, before committing to fabrication.
Eldapoint had a desire to ‘bring the space to life’ for customers, allowing them to explore space in a virtual world before final sign off and build. The company wanted ideas to flow with customers at the core of that planning stage.
The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) worked closely with Eldapoint, exploring their current product line and 2D catalogue of containers to assess the best way to translate to a digital and interactive record. The VEC suggested exploring how the company could take their existing CAD data to serve as the basis for a virtual prototyping demonstration. This would not only showcase the containers digitally but provide virtual interaction and customisation for their customers, which would include transferring the current 2D drawings and converting to 3D renderings, adding authenticity to the vision and catalogue which would look more appealing to clients.
The VEC created a digital showroom demonstrator for a number of products which can be customised, allowing customers to select wall colours and textures, choose between floor panels, window types and even add a range of furniture and décor to allow the customer to customise and explore a design prior to committing to a design for final fabrication.
This VR experience allows customers to rapidly refine and approve draft designs, using immersive technology, reducing the number of costly design changes that could incur after fabrication begins. The technology allows Eldapoint to build towards a virtual prototyping approach that breaks down design barriers while also overcoming physical distances, using this technology to enable clients to explore designs without having to visit the Eldapoint factory, offering greater customer convenience.
Eldapoint customers can explore an interactive experience, engaging directly with the product to ensure they have a realistic and creative view of the options available, as opposed to imagining what these could look like based on traditional means. Eldapoint is also hoping this enhanced customer journey will set a path for how they and their customers work closer, which in turn should increase sales growth, deliver further business efficiency and potentially change the way the industry works.
Andy Blount, Eldapoint finance director, said: “Working with The Virtual Engineering Centre at The University of Liverpool has been creative and innovative. The partnership has brought something very exciting to the industry that will drive new solutions across a number of sectors for many people. The process has been something that truly demonstrates the value that can be gained for commercial organisations working in collaboration with the educational sector.”
Working to the Future
Working with the VEC has demonstrated to Eldapoint the potential of creating a ‘digital twin’ of their products, not just for planning and customisation purposes, but also as a tool for engaging with a wider range of stakeholders.
The digital assets used to create the VR customisation showroom can also allow for web-based planning and digital customisation tools, allowing Eldapoint to overcome geographical barriers and has the potential to provide a higher degree of planning and customisation through web and tablet-based platforms, adding a new dimension of resource planning and supply chain visibility for the future.