Virtual Design

In the year 2007, I had the pleasure to work with Tor­b­jörn Daniels­son and Kare Folke­son, from Vir­tual Man­u­fac­tur­ing, in the design of a new factory line and the industrialization of a new clean tech product. At that time, I was in charge of the design and construction of the new fac­tory of a Swedish/Spanish com­pany called Cli­mateWell. It was a dis­cov­er­y for me to see how these two Swedish col­leagues were using vir­tual design tools to 3D repli­cate the line lay-out and sim­u­late the man­u­fac­tur­ing workflow.

The set of soft­ware tools they used ranged from Catia and Delmia to Avix and different robot programming languages.

Equipment sup­pli­ers, like Kuka, nor­mally, pro­vide their clients with 3D vir­tual mod­els in Catia of their indus­trial robots. This ser­vice allowed us to repli­cate and test the per­for­mance of the dif­fer­ent robots in action in our vir­tual fac­tory, facil­i­tat­ing an informed and risk-reduced purchase.

Two months ago, I came across this video from SpaceX­chan­nel, where the admired Elon Musk, explained how vir­tual design is used in Space X. It showed how they cre­ate, manip­u­late and print in vir­tual 3D some of the rocket parts needed, all at once. This process accel­er­ates the design-manufacturing work­flow, allow­ing them to move directly from the con­cep­tion of the idea to the fac­tory floor, just in one step. In par­tic­u­lar, I enjoyed the cost-effective use of the 3D metal print­ing as I had not seen before. In my opin­ion, if this approach were more gen­er­al­ized, it could booster local man­u­fac­tur­ing in West­ern coun­tries. The productivity could booster spectacularly.

To sum­ma­rize, these quick design and man­u­fac­tur­ing processes allow us to:

1.) Design: even at home, for exam­ple, with SketchUp. Or 3D scanning any piece to repli­cate. Most of the commercial 3D print­ers, are called repli­ca­tors, because they are also able to 3D scan.

2.)3D print: Maker­Bot, or many others, to 3D print our own designs at home. Alter­na­tively, we can use 3D print­ing ser­vices pro­vided by a local com­pany in our town. In France we have 3Dhubs. Other large cor­po­ra­tions as UPS and Sta­ples are plan­ning big scale moves into this field in the USA.

This advanced 3D design and print­ing…Will it return of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs to the USA and Europe?

Are our edu­ca­tional sys­tems delivering the uptodate edcuation needed to catch up with the challenges we have in the society?

Most prob­a­bly, many actions are needed to improve our edu­ca­tional sys­tem. In par­tic­u­lar, it needs more flex­i­bil­ity in order to adapt to new trends and knowl­edge from the industry. This may not an easy task, but it is needed to recover the lost jobs in west­ern economies.

Originally published at on January 22, 2015.

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