Immersed In A New Reality

At FCA’s state-of-the-art ImMErsive Technology room in Turin, Italy, virtual reality plays a key role in the design and development of plants and production processes.

June 17, 2020 - In the heart of the Mirafiori complex in Turin sits one of FCA’s technological centers of excellence, which functions as a virtual eye into its plants and production processes. When you first enter the ImMErsive Technology room you might think you are in a gamer’s dream world, equipped with futuristic headsets and joysticks, 8 precisely placed eye-tracking cameras, high-performance computers and a six-meter-wide screen. In reality, you are in a new type of highly-evolved virtual laboratory that serves as a focal point for design and testing.

Through the integration of multiple technologies, FCA has created a fully immersive virtual reality system which delivers tangible value by validating the design of plants and manufacturing process before anything is built. And this translates into significantly faster decision making, reduced costs, and improved safety and quality.

The ImMErsive Technology room is where engineering and manufacturing teams can interact with the virtual twin of a plant, focusing on the layout of an assembly line, the placement of giant robots in the body shop, or the functionality of an individual workstation. The space is large enough to accommodate multiple teams with manufacturing and product development engineers, for example, able to work side-by-side to define, develop and validate every aspect of a vehicle’s production. Software engineers can also use this system to program and simulate robotics, one of the most capital intensive areas in the automotive manufacturing process.

These realistic, detailed models and workspaces also make it possible for experienced assembly line workers to evaluate and give feedback on feasibility, accessibility and ergonomics much earlier in the design process. This feedback process contributes to enhanced productivity and helps maximize health and safety.

Front Loading: Detecting Issues Earlier

The ability to identify issues and test solutions in a virtual environment before production systems are built enables a significant reduction in waste and costs, while ensuring the highest quality standards are achieved. The time needed to build or retool a production line is also significantly reduced and this is essential when you have just 22 months from concept to launch of a new model.

“We are among the first in the automotive industry to use such advanced virtual reality to design and retool plants for new production,” said Ennio Meccia, Vice President of Vehicle Manufacturing Engineering FCA EMEA Region. “We use the ImMErsive Technology room from the early development phases up to the launch of the vehicle. This virtual environment models the current status of the entire project. It is progressively updated with additional levels of detail until it represents a highly accurate 3D replica of the plant where colleagues can interact, measure distances and look for potential interference, in real time.”

Team Work Makes the Dream Work

During a typical session, the dimly lit, futuristic room is full of energy and ideas. The ImMErsive Technology room operates two distinct systems each with its own application. The first system can host up to two users wearing full virtual reality headsets each paired with two hand-held controllers. By moving their heads and using the controllers to gesture or to interact with the on-screen menu, they can perform a variety of actions such as moving around the factory, measuring distances and range of movement, starting and stopping equipment and many others. Other participants are able to observe their interaction with the virtual environment via the six-meter-wide screen or “Power Wall”.

The second system also uses the Power Wall as a highly-efficient interdisciplinary collaboration tool where up to six users equipped with stereo glasses – including one user with tracking-enabled glasses and controller – can interact with a plant layout and discuss potential issues, design enhancements, etc.

Both systems also enable colleagues in different locations around the world to collaborate in real time.

What may once have been simply a conference call can now be an immersive virtual meeting with everyone seeing and sharing the same experience in real time. Issues can be identified and resolved with significantly greater rapidity and context than ever before. The solutions developed through these virtual encounters become part of a larger knowledge database that can be readily applied to future projects.

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