The Power of the Game Engine

The old-fashioned product development flow, still used by many companies today, is approaching the end of its lifecycle. It is no longer acceptable to first design the product in CAD, then build the physical prototype and finally call in the software engineers to make the system run. To avoid expensive redesigns and shorten the critical time to market, virtual prototyping is the way to go. This can be done with our Prespective platform, based on the Unity3D game engine.

I know what you’re thinking: gaming technology? That cannot seriously help me with my high-end industrial design. But the truth is that you cannot do without the realtime simulation capabilities a game engine has to offer. Of course, there are a lot of tools out there that claim to have that power. But since they are not targeted at realtime simulation, they generally fall short when you try to use them for virtual prototyping.

CAD software, for example, is ideal for drawing your design, but calculation times go through the roof when you want to simulate in realtime. With visualization software you can render beautiful imagery of your design, but again, building up each picture pixel by pixel takes tremendous computing power, and you need at least 25 pictures per second for a smooth result. Then there is Computer Aided Engineering, a tool that is meant to do extensive mathematical and physical simulations but only for the core process or a small part of the entire system. For complete products, CAE is far too slow to be a viable option.

A game engine like Unity3D is specifically designed to build virtual worlds, including real physics and true interactions between objects. That is what modern game developers need. They don’t want to program all the physics every time they design a new game. An engine gives them the right platform to construct all the imaginary worlds they can think of, but with real-life graphics and natural behavior.


High-speed calculations

Game engines have been around for quite a while. For a long time, every major game builder had his own development environment. Around the turn of the century, some companies, like Epic and Crytek, saw a new business model and put their engine on the market for third parties. The licenses carried a hefty price tag: a million dollar was no exception. Only the biggest game designers could afford to buy the game engine from such a specialized company.

In 2005, Unity Technologies turned this world upside down. It released its own free cross-platform game engine, aiming to democratize game development by making it accessible to more developers. In the years that followed, Unity3D grew to become one of the biggest game engines in the world. Nowadays, more than half of all mobile games are built on this platform. And pushed by a large user community, the market share is increasing every year.

As said, the capabilities of game engines like Unity3D are not only useful in game development. Industry also benefits greatly from this technology as an operating system for virtual worlds. This started out in visualization. For instance, with the game engine, it is very easy to change the color, or other options, of your car and immediately see how it would look. You can even extend the visualization to virtual reality and interact with your design. And you can do this in realtime, which is unique since no other software solution has the potential to generate 60 images per second. Game engines have that capability because they run on the computer’s GPU instead of the CPU. And since GPU’s can parallelize the calculations, they reach a much higher speed.


Digital twinning

Supported by our partner Unity, as they see this as a huge opportunity, we took their game engine from the gaming world and transferred it to the industry. It quickly took off, with Océ/Canon as one of our launching customers. At first, it was all about interactive visualization, but the simulation got so real, that Océ asked us if they could virtually turn on their design. That was the start of our Prespective platform.

We now offer Prespective as a simulation and visualization tool for industry. It runs on Unity3D as Excel runs on Windows, and lets you build virtual steel in realtime 3D. That digital prototype – or Digital Twin, as the current lingo goes – allows you to verify and validate your design long before the hardware is built, making the development process faster, cheaper, safer and more reliable.

That doesn’t mean you have to throw all the other tooling overboard. On the contrary, please keep drawing your designs in CAD software. Then import them into Prespective and bring them to life. Also, the output of modeling tools is invaluable input for our virtual prototyping platform. Drawings, pre-calculated simulations, visual characteristics, control software, it can all be imported in Prespective to optimize the quality of your Digital Twin.


Continuous improvement

Our competitive edge is that Prespective accepts CAD designs from all sources and that it offers the toolset to very quickly allocate behavior to every component, like the pivot points and the physical limits to the model of a robotic arm. In the old days, this was very labor intensive and highly unscalable, but we have made it much more user friendly, shortening the job from several months to a couple of hours.

The Unity3D game engine is, in fact, so powerful that it is no longer meaningful to use a specialized visualization tool – which is a massive time saver. But virtual prototyping goes beyond visualization. On the level of physics, we are improving continuously. For games this is of minor importance, but industrial clients set the bar high. Again, with strong support from Unity, the core of our engineering effort is to enhance the accuracy of realtime simulations, to such a degree that we can help you design even the most high-end systems.

About the author: Jorick Huizinga is CEO and Co-founder of Unit040, a visualisation and simulation software company from the Netherlands. As one of the early adopters of the usage of Gaming Technology for the industry, Unit040’s Digital Twin Platform Prespective is now worldwide renowed for it’s complete character.

Develop 25 percent faster with a digital twin

In the early days, system architecting was irrelevant. System development was merely a mechanical challenge, with camshafts dictating the motions in the machine. Then electronics took over, followed by software to boost intelligence even further. Suddenly, we could build smarter and more complex systems. On the downside, though, architects experienced a certain pillarization in their development teams: mechanical engineers vs. electrical specialists vs. software designers. Arguably, the biggest obstacle was that the latter of the three was always late to the party. They simply couldn’t start writing code before the base of the machine had actually been built. Although a lot has improved in recent years, it’s clear that there is still much to be gained.

The life of system architects can be hard. The advanced machines they want to build are getting more complex by the day. So complex, in fact, that it is almost impossible to keep an overview. Too many intertwining details make them lose their grip on the requirements. To make matters worse, they have fewer resources at hand, both in terms of people and money, and their bosses keep pressing them hard to raise the quality of the end product.

Another challenge is the architect’s wish for an agile design flow, with the short iteration cycles they see at the software department. Wouldn’t it be great to watch the whole system improve every few weeks and show the progress to the customer? For that, they want virtual steel to build up their system, with virtual actuators and sensors, as well as a virtual platform to test the software. The architects – and the rest of the industry – have an ever-growing need for this, but the traditional tooling is lagging.


Break down the pillars

The logical next step in system development – that also answers to the above-mentioned challenges – is prototyping by using Digital Twins. You have probably already heard the over-hyped stories, promising you the moon when you use the technology. But let me tone it down a little because digital twinning is no revolution; it’s just an evolution from what used to be called virtual prototyping. For years companies have already been using FEM analysis or computational fluid dynamics to simulate their designs, but always on the component level. This is very helpful, but the real challenge is in combining all components and simulating the whole machine. That means linking the tools each development pillar is using, which can be a real Babylonian confusion of tongues.

A digital twin breaks down the pillars and unlocks the possibility of mixing various blood types. Prespective, our real-time simulation tool has the ability to tap into all of the data models and sources that the different specialists are creating. It understands CAD models drawn in, for instance, Autodesk, Dassault or Siemens software. It accepts physical models made with tools such as Comsol, Matlab or Wolfram. The best part is that even the real embedded software runs on the digital twin created in Prespective, as it reacts precisely the same as the real system would.

With Prespective, designers with different backgrounds can create a common model so they can easily communicate with each other. By eliminating the need for a complete restructuring of the development process, they have a virtual product they can work on in parallel, allowing them to create prototypes both fast and cheap. Just as easily, they can use it in their own department to virtually verify the assumptions they made in their model. And if they want, they can already start the basic iteration after the first design brainstorm.


Gaming technology

Digital twin tools come in two flavors. Major companies offer solutions, but these have the potential disadvantage of vendor lock-in. Although the brands claim to be open, these tools don’t operate very well with third-party software. This is particularly impractical, as the different development pillars generally don’t work with matching tools.

Next to the digital twin software from juggernauts, several speedboats are taking the industry by storm. Smaller contestants that are dedicated, adapt more quickly and are completely open. And, small certainly doesn’t mean weak. When we started our journey about seven years ago, we faced the dilemma of developing an engine ourselves or using a strong existing base. It was a no-brainer that a dedicated development team of at least a hundred engineers was out of our league. That’s why we opted to build our Prespective platform on Unity3D – the biggest gaming engine in the world. Every day more than two thousand engineers are improving, updating and finetuning this engine. Not even Siemens can say that it has so many dedicated developers. One of the biggest benefits of using a gaming engine is that this engine offers real-time 3D physics, which makes it far more powerful than regular CAD software.

Our digital twin platform is truly open. Not only does it accept input from a wide range of sources, but engineers also have access to the engine. By making modifications in Unity3D, designers can get a lot of help overcoming the hurdles they encounter when trying to solve very complex physical problems.


Fewer costs

Let me emphasize again: digital twinning doesn’t have to disturb your current process. You don’t have to do it completely differently. The whole idea is to help system architects regain the control and overview they need.

Digital twinning is a new way of prototyping. It’s a new layer on top of your existing models, extending your possibilities. I estimate from real life experiences that you can develop 25 percent faster with real-time simulation software like Prespective, all with less cost, fewer mistakes, smaller teams, fewer physical prototypes and fewer issues after commissioning. By providing insight into the requirements, you will drastically improve the communication with your (first tier) suppliers and, above all, with your customers. A digital twin allows you to build complex systems that otherwise simply would be out of reach.


About the author: Guido van Gageldonk is co-founder & CTO of Unit040, a visualisation and simulation software company from the Netherlands. He founded the company in 2006 while still being a student at the Technical University in Eindhoven. He is a renowned tech watcher in the Netherlands and is well known for his ground breaking ideas regarding Digital Twin Technology. 


Digital twins: the power of a virtual visual copy

(Re) Watch the key-note of Prespective’s CTO Guido van Gageldonk at the Unite Fair in Copenhagen 2019.

From buildings and infrastructure to industrial machinery and factories, digital twins are becoming integral revisualization tools across the industrial sector. In this session, learn how Unit040, a company specializing in visualization and simulation, creates digital twins that combine real-time 3D technology with BIM, CAD and CAE systems to add value at all stages of the building and product lifecycle, from the early design phase to predictive maintenance using Internet of Things (IoT) data.



Prespective partners up with Unity3D

Dutch Prespective and American game engine giant Unity Technologies have agreed on a strategic partnership in which the latter will market and sell the digital twin toolbox from Eindhoven on a worldwide scale. This deal will move Prespective closer to its ambition to become a global player in the digital twin market.

Verified Solutions Partners represent a collection of 3rd-party SDKs, plugins, editor applications, cloud services, and more that enable the success of your project while ensuring deeper technical alignment with partners’ products and services to ensure 0% developer downtime. Partners accepted into the program go through a verification process to ensure their SDK or software is optimized for the latest version of Unity, including our Long-Term Support (LTS) release. The testing is conducted on an ongoing basis with the latest Unity releases, so developers can always be sure these solutions will work with the latest version of Unity. Unity Verified Solutions Partners who have passed our testing and verification process will receive a Verification badge to acknowledge their technical compliance.

Unity: ”Prespective is a company focused on digital twin solutions for the automotive and manufacturing industries. Prespective lets you use a digital system model to simulate the behavior of a system, exactly as it would perform in the real world. The system is fully interactive, on screen as well as in virtual reality and augmented reality.

Prespective provides the ideal system behavior simulation tool, where the virtual system is tested before it is built. The best part? The entire software is built on top of Unity.