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Scott Angster, Graduate Assistant School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering Washington State University Pullman, WA 99164-2920 angster@mme.wsu.edu


Sankar Jayaram, Assistant Professor School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering Washington State University Pullman, WA 99164-2920 jayaram@mme.wsu.edu

The current demand to reduce the time and cost involved in taking a product from conceptualization to production has forced companies to turn to new and emerging technologies in the area of design and manufacturing. One such technology is virtual reality. Current computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, design for assembly, design for manufacture and manufacturing simulation tools provide the user with valued information, but fall short of providing the information that virtual reality techniques could provide. This paper describes a system called VEDAM, Virtual Environments for Design And Manufacturing, that has been designed and partially implemented to support virtual design, virtual manufacturing and virtual assembly. VEDAM is aimed at extending the capabilities of existing parametric CAD/CAM systems. This paper presents the overall description of VEDAM and a preliminary implementation.

Keywords: Virtual Manufacturing, Virtual Design, Virtual Assembly, Virtual Reality, Virtual Prototyping


The current marketplace has demanded that companies reduce the time and cost involved in taking a product from concept to production. Software for computer-aided design, computer- aided manufacturing, design for assembly (DFA), design for manufacture (DFM) and manufacturing simulation have assisted in this reduction of time and cost. Integrated CAD/CAM, solid modeling, parametric design and feature recognition are all valuable tools that have been developed for these software products.

The integration of CAD and CAM has allowed engineers to design some of the manufacturing processes using one unified model representation without having to recreate the model several times or transfer the model between software systems. Molding and welding plans and numerical control cutter paths for milling machines and lathes can be generated using solid

models. If the development of machining operations proves to be difficult for the current design, modern parametric design abilities of software allow easy and quick modification of the design. This can be done prior to committing the design to actual manufacturing. Feature recognition allows software to analyze a design and distinguish between various features that compose the part. By associating manufacturing operations with these various features, the automatic generation of manufacturing plans can be accomplished. This results in the elimination of some of the time spent by designers during this phase of the product design. The analysis of these plans can be done using manufacturing simulation software. Through the creation of three- dimensional graphical representations of manufacturing plants, designers can now program the plant to go through a series of motions simulating the manufacturing of parts. Again, if problems arise at this stage, designs can be modified prior to committing actual manufacturing time.

These software systems have provided significant savings in time and cost, but are still not able to provide the support needed by engineers to meet the demands of the modern product development cycle. This has forced companies to look to other emerging technologies to better equip their engineers in the areas of design and manufacturing. One such technology is virtual reality. Recent rapid advances of computer hardware have made virtual reality a viable technology for engineering applications. Virtual reality is being used in today’s design environment to walk through potential architectural renovations, sit in automobiles to analyze dashboard layouts and walk through manufacturing simulations to view layout and space requirements. The next step is the incorporation of virtual reality techniques into the early design and manufacturing planning of products.


Several groups have recognized the benefits of integrating virtual reality with early design decisions through virtual design, virtual assembly and manufacturing simulation. Jayaram et al. laid out the initial requirements for a virtual manufacturing environment (VME) as a part of an applications development environment [9,10]. Washington State University has developed a system for the early design evaluation of automobile interiors. This system utilizes Pro/Engineer models that are brought directly into a virtual design environment. Once immersed in the virtual environment, a user can evaluate the design, evaluate alternate designs and conduct ergonomic studies using full human body tracking. [2].

Through joint work at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Purdue University, a prototype virtual reality based computer-aided design system has been designed and implemented. The focus of this work is to allow a simplified method of designing complex mechanical parts through the use of virtual reality techniques [12]. Work at the Georgia Institute of Technology is focusing on early design changes based on demanufacturing and servicing criteria. A Virtual Design Studio is being developed to enable designers to interact with recycling and tooling experts in a virtual environment. Parts that are being designed will be disassembled within the virtual environment to identify and correct demanufacturing and servicing problems [11].

The University of Bath in Bath, UK has developed an interactive virtual manufacturing

This system models a machine shop floor containing a three-axis numerical


control milling machine and a five-axis robot for painting. The user can mount a workpiece on the milling machine, choose a tool and perform direct machining operations, such as axial movements or predefined sequences, or load a part-program from memory [4]. This software does not provide the users with the ability to create their own machines or interact with them in a natural manner.

A virtual workshop for mechanical design was developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology[3]. The goal of the project was to develop a simulated workshop for designers to do conceptual design work while having to take into account manufacturing processes. The simulated workshop consists of a band saw, a drill press, a milling machine, a radial arm saw and a table saw. This software provides only a two-dimensional interface to the user. There is no link to an integrated, parametric CAD/CAM system.

Deneb Robotics has commercially available software for manufacturing simulation, virtual milling, virtual spray painting, virtual arc welding and telerobotics. Most of the these systems are precompiled software tools where all work is done using Deneb’s graphical user interface on the screen for setting up the manufacturing plant, etc. and all subsequent interaction is also done on the screen via the mouse and keyboard.

The research discussed in this paper differs from the existing work being done in this area in several ways. The most important difference is in the manner in which the user interacts with the environment. Other than the graphical user interface that will be used to start one of the virtual environments or switch between them, and the parametric CAD/CAM-based machine development environment, the user interacts with the system in an immersive three-dimensional environment using advanced input and output devices. The other key distinction between this research and other related work is the integration of the proposed system with a parametric CAD/CAM system.


Software for computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, design for assembly, design for manufacture, and manufacturing simulation have reduced design time, redesign costs and manufacturing costs. However, there is still often a need to produce physical mock-ups to test assembly requirements, manufacturing plans or ergonomic functionality. The next step in reducing design time and cost is the integration of virtual reality technology into the conceptual design and process planning stages [5].

Current CAD/CAM, DFA, DFM and manufacturing simulation tools provide the designer with valued information but may fall short of providing the information that new techniques using virtual reality technology could provide. Current CAD/CAM software such as Pro/Engineer and I-DEAS Master Series, provide powerful design environments using parametric design methods and solid modeling. One drawback is that the designer is limited to the size of the viewing area of the monitor being used. A large part or assembly must be viewed in either a scaled down view to analyze the entire design or in true scale with limited view. Current DFA software attempt to reduce the number of parts by merging several parts into one to

reduce the number of assembly procedures required. This may, in fact, cause handling difficulties, either machine-related or human-related, later on in the manufacturing process. Current DFM software may indicate that the part can be produced using a series of manufacturing processes without the knowledge of the actual manufacturing plant’s capabilities. Current manufacturing simulation software are often limited to predefined functionality for both machines and human models. If the projected plans for manufacturing a part involves a human operator or handler, a predefined human model can not give back “true human feedback” concerning ease of fit, ease of handling, etc.

Many of the above issues can be addressed with the use of virtual reality technology. By using new and emerging three-dimensional input and output devices, a designer can be immersed in any one of several virtual environments. True-scale, three-dimensional models can be viewed and modified by the designer in a virtual design environment. Parts can be picked up and assembled in a virtual assembly environment [6,7]. Manufacturing plants can be replicated to allow engineers to test numerical code, fixtures or entire assembly lines in a virtual manufacturing environment [3, 4, 5, 8]. It was the objective of this research to design and implement a system called VEDAM, Virtual Environments for Design and Manufacturing, that allows designers to incorporate these virtual reality techniques into the design and process planning stages of the product.


As stated earlier, there are several areas in which virtual reality can assist in the design and manufacturing planning of a product. These include parametric design changes within a virtual design environment, virtual assembly, virtual manufacturing, and human-integrated design. A system to support these concepts would be linked to an existing parametric design software system, such as Pro/Engineer, as seen in Figure 1. This figure shows the proposed system, VEDAM, and its components, the Machine Modeling Environment (MME), the Virtual Design Environment (VDE), the Virtual Assembly Environment (VAE), and the Virtual Manufacturing Environment (VME) [1]. During a design session, the user would enter into the virtual environments via the main interface to test designs or manufacturing ideas. All required data from the CAD/CAM system would then be passed into the virtual environments. Upon exiting the virtual environments the user would have the option of passing data back into the CAD/CAM system. VEDAM, combined with a parametric CAD/CAM system, would provide a complete system for engineers to evaluate potential designs and process plans.

The most general requirement of any virtual reality software system is the existence of a virtual environment for the user, such that the user feels as if he/she is part of the environment and can easily interact with this environment. To develop this type of natural interaction, several issues including the graphical backbone, the input devices and the output devices need to be addressed.


Main Interface Legend VDE Data Flow Parametric CAD/CAM Interaction System Data VAE Integrator MME VME
Main Interface
Data Flow

Figure 1. VEDAM System

Machine Modeling Environment

The machine modeling environment (MME) is the only environment which is not a virtual environment. This environment is part of the parametric CAD/CAM system. The goal of the MME would be to provide an environment to the user that would allow the creation of any machine found on a factory floor. This would include mills, lathes, conveyors, robots, etc. This capability would be provided by customizing an existing parametric CAD/CAM system. This environment would provide the user with the ability to duplicate the functionality of the real machine with the virtual machine. Once a machine is created, it can then be positioned on a factory floor with other machines that have previously been created. The functional requirements of this environment would include the following:

Axial movement association - Provide the functionality for specifying which assemblies of the virtual machine correspond to the various axial movements of the real machine. Button/switch/toggle library - Library of parametrically defined buttons and switches. Cutter descriptions - Geometry, material, etc. of available cutters. Machine parameter set up - A predefined list of machine parameters and the capability of adding user-defined parameters. Functional association of assemblies - During the operation of a machine, many actions of the machine are dependent on other actions. This type of functional dependence of machine actions would be supported. NC code support - Support for various levels of NC codes. Machine layout - Laying out the factory floor using machines created using the MME.

Virtual Design Environment

The virtual environment that would aid in the design of new parts is the virtual design environment. After completing an initial design using an existing, commercial, parametric CAD/CAM system, the model would be imported into the virtual design environment. The design would be evaluated in a true three-dimensional environment, not limited by screen size. Parametric design changes would be made and evaluated within the virtual environment. Once the user is satisfied with the design, the data would then be sent back to the CAD system database. The process of modifying the parametric model would require the following:

Three-dimensional user interface - In the immersive VEDAM system, the user must have a method for communicating with the system other than through the use of keyboard/mouse. Parameter selection modes - A method for selecting a parameter for modification.

- A mechanism would have to be created that takes the values

Data transfer mechanism

entered in the design environment and sends them to the parametric CAD/CAM system.

Virtual Assembly Environment

A virtual assembly environment would enable a user to evaluate parts that are designed to fit together with other parts. Issues such as handling, ease of assembly and order of assembly can be studied with virtual assembly. This environment would allow the user to focus on the assembly process. First, the users will get immediate feedback when they attempt to handle the parts to be assembled. Next are the issues of ease of assembly and order of assembly. These ideas would be addressed with the concept of a soft volume combined with human feedback. The volume of the path swept out by a part moving through space is often called a soft volume. Also, after the assembly process has been studied, a partial process plan will have been developed which dictates the order of assembly. The virtual assembly environment presents some new tasks to the functionality of the VEDAM system. These include:

Grasping objects - Grasping of parts using an instrumented glove. Tracking objects - Tracking the movement of the part through space during assembly. Assembly constraints - When a part is assembled with another part, there are assembly constraints that must be met such as axial alignment, surface mating or surface alignment. Interference checking - Interferences between parts, assemblies, and soft volumes.

Virtual Manufacturing Environment

A virtual manufacturing environment (VME) would enable a designer to test NC code, fixtures, assembly lines, etc. in a virtual factory to ensure that the proposed process plans can be achieved in the real factory [3, 4, 5, 8]. This process would speed up the generation of full process plans by taking into account the actual factory capabilities during the design stage. Redesigning parts such that they can be handled easier or machined easier can be costly when done at a late stage of the design process.

The VME would allow the user to use the virtual factory created in the MME. The user would be able to pick up and place parts on any one of the factory machines. To operate a machine the user would be able to turn dials, flip switches, move levers or whatever the particular machine requires. Movement around the factory floor could be achieved in a number of ways such as using hand gestures, voice commands or just simply walking. When operating a machine, fixtures and jigs will be used to hold workpieces in each machine. Bits, blades, and other cutting tools would be changeable and only fit those machines they are intended for. The actual machining operation would be physically modeled. This means the forces causing tool wear, surface quality, etc. would be calculated and made available to the user.

After each machining process is completed, the user would have the option of saving the part being produced. The storage of each step of the process would create a drawing for each step in the process plan. These could be referenced for quality control issues during production. Functional requirements of the virtual manufacturing environment include the following:

User/Environment interaction - The interaction between the user and machines and the interaction between the user and the parts. Environment interaction - Interaction between various components of the environment itself such as the interaction between the machine and the cutter as well as the cutter and the part. Physical modeling - Physically modeling the machining process such as cutting forces, cutter wear, surface quality and power requirements.

Human-Integrated Design

One of the virtues of using virtual environments for analyzing designs and manufacturing plans is the concept of human-integrated design. Once the user is immersed into the virtual environment, he/she will get a better sense of the assembly processes, manufacturing processes or handling processes involved with a part that is being evaluated. This is because it is the user who will be performing these tasks, not a simulated human. The analysis of repetitive motion injuries, space or movement requirements and manufacturing time requirements would all be possible since there will be actual human feedback. This will provide a new direct feedback of human factors into the design and process planning stages. The incorporation of a full human model into the VEDAM system involves the following:

User/human model position correlation - Full three-dimensional tracking of the user to accurately match the position of the human model with that of the user. User/human model size correlation - A scaleable human model for the software system to be compatible with all different size users.


Based on the functional requirements specified above, an object-oriented analysis of the VEDAM system architecture was conducted. The decision to use an object-oriented approach was based on ease of future modification, extension and flexibility of the system. This analysis provided a list of classes that would enable the VEDAM system to be created in steps, where

each step produces more features that can be added to the system. The object-oriented analysis
each step produces more features that can be added to the system. The object-oriented analysis
can be seen in Figure 2.
A uses B

Figure 2. VEDAM Architecture

This figure shows most of the classes that were designed to be part of the VEDAM system. The interaction of the classes is also shown by the arrow indicating which classes are using other classes. At the heart of the system is the interact manager. This class is responsible for all interaction between the user and the system as well as the interaction between the various parts of the system. A model manager is provided to handle all data transfer between the CAD/CAM system and VEDAM. The human model provides all of the functions necessary for incorporating a full human model into the system. The input manager and output manager provide the utilities for communicating with all of the various virtual reality hardware. The various classes that compose the machine, parts, stock, workpieces, etc., provide all of the methods necessary for the actual machining inside the virtual manufacturing environment as well as the assembly procedures for the virtual assembly environment.


After completing the object-oriented analysis of the VEDAM system, an initial implementation of the system was completed. The system was created on a Silicon Graphics Crimson workstation with Reality Engine graphics. All classes were developed using C++ and the graphics were created using Performer 2.0. The virtual reality hardware used in this implementation include a Virtual Research VR4 helmet, a Virtual Technologies 22-sensor Cyberglove, and an Ascension Flock of Birds tracking system with an ERT and six birds.

This system uses most of the classes that were identified during the analysis phase. A prototype of both the virtual manufacturing environment and the virtual design environment have

been implemented. The machine class was created during the process of modeling a table-top milling machine, shown in Figure 3. The modeling of the milling machine was done in Pro/Engineer and, through the use of the model manager, brought in to the VEDAM system. Once the machine class was created, several other machines were created and brought in to the VEDAM system. These include a table-top lathe and a water jet. The lathe can be seen in Figure 4. The user interacts with the machines in the same fashion as with the real machines. A generic controller was created to provide the functions of XYZ axis control, floating zero support, and load and run NC codes. The motion of the machines are tied into the current graphics display frame rate as to accurately portray the proper feed rates.

The virtual design environment is built around the use of a three-dimensional graphical user interface. This interface provides the user with a menu system that the user interacts with by selecting menu items with a touch of the finger. When the user selects a model to be analyzed, the model manager extracts the needed parametric data from the CAD/CAM database. The model is then displayed to the user. The user can then modify the parameters through the use of the graphical user interface. After modifications, the model manager sends the information back to the CAD/CAM system where the model is regenerated. The model is then redisplayed to the user reflecting the modified parameters. Figure 5 shows the parameters of the model being displayed to the user as well as a keypad that is used for entering in new values for a parameter.


This paper has described the system requirements of a virtual reality system that would aid engineers in the conceptual design and manufacturing process planning stages of a product. By linking such a system to an existing parametric CAD/CAM system, engineers can immediately obtain the benefits of using a VR system. The analysis of designs in a true, three-dimensional environment, manufacturing the part in a replication of the actual factory and the assembly of mating parts are all valuable tasks in the early stages of a product’s design cycle. The initial implementation of this system has formed the basis for a full implementation of the VEDAM system.



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Figure 3. Table-Top Milling Machine - Virtual and Actual Figure 4. Table-Top Lathe - Virtual

Figure 3. Table-Top Milling Machine - Virtual and Actual

Figure 3. Table-Top Milling Machine - Virtual and Actual Figure 4. Table-Top Lathe - Virtual and
Figure 3. Table-Top Milling Machine - Virtual and Actual Figure 4. Table-Top Lathe - Virtual and

Figure 4. Table-Top Lathe - Virtual and Actual

- Virtual and Actual Figure 4. Table-Top Lathe - Virtual and Actual Figure 5. VDE Images

Figure 5. VDE Images - Model Parameters and Keypad