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.
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.
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.
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.