3D technology - Ford creates a design "CAVE"

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There’s nothing we like more than a nice bit of 3D and Virtual Reality. That is, if our trips to the cinema are anything to go by. There was a time not so long ago when watching a film in 3D was a bit of a treat. Now the technology is arguably used too much and some filmmakers deliberately shy away from it, in fact. I can quite see how Life Of Pi and The Hobbit used 3D to splendid effect – but The Great Gatsby? I really didn’t see the point of that at all. And that’s nothing to do with Tobey Maguire being wetter than a dolphin’s swimming trunks.

But film experiences (and reviews) aside, we may be forgetting that all this technology has massive real-life implications too – it’s certainly not just about fantasy worlds and entertainment.

Let’s take car design, for instance. Ford have developed a facility that sounds like something right out of Star Trek. They call it the CAVE – or Computer Automated Virtual Environment.

Based in Cologne, Germany, Ford are using the CAVE to design and develop their new models before making a physical prototype. By bringing vehicle designs to life using a high-tech 3D projection system, engineers can test a much greater range of new designs far more quickly in a virtual world than they would be able to in the real world.

Engineers using the CAVE sit in a dummy car interior as vehicle 3D simulations are projected onto the ceiling and three surrounding walls. Wearing special polarising glasses and monitored by a motion-detecting infrared system, they interact with the “vehicle” by, for example, adjusting rear view mirrors or placing bottles into door pockets. So every detail of driving a particular car model – or being a passenger in one – is optimised.


So the CAVE enables engineers to access and compare multiple designs at the push of a button, to ensure that the best possible design is ultimately realised.

“By being able to actually get inside ultra-realistic simulations of prototype vehicles, we can immediately identify improvements that we would otherwise uncover only later in the development process,” said Michael Wolf, virtual reality supervisor, Ford of Europe. “CAVE is an extremely valuable tool that ultimately delivers superior final products for our customers.”

But on those occasions when only a physical component will do, there is the now comparatively common process of 3D printing. This involves placing thousands of ultra-fine layers of material on top of each other to form complex shapes and designs of up to 700mm in size.

The implications of 3D printing are huge because it means that manufacturers can create a plethora of shapes and one-off components that would previously have taken many, many man-hours and resources to produce manually or through machining. So, for instance, they can design and produce one-off exterior door handles – or several versions of it with minor tweaks – before signing off on the final version.

Over time, Ford will be investigating the potential to produce car parts in greater volumes, which in turn has big implications not only in terms of man hours but environmentally too.

So the next time you see a duff film in 3D, you can be pleased that that’s not all the technology is good for. Good to know, Mr Maguire…


by Ashley Morrison

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