Off to the future

Use VR goggles for a virtual visit to an industrial plant

Upper Austria’s GPVC – Gerhard Pichler Verschleißtechnik & Consulting GmbH – has ­succeeded, by developing “VR Plug2Work”, in adding to traditional engineering processes a virtual-reality (VR) tool. Linking with tried-and-proven 3D visualisation technology makes it possible to achieve extremely realistic inspection of industrial plants using the VR goggles.

A‌fter several months of intensive development work, 3D visualization technology was presented for the first time to customers from industry and plant engineering in January 2021 and has since undergone its successful market launch.

Plant engineers are frequently faced with the problem that the current condition of a plant no longer accords with the original, “as-built”, situation. Repeated on-the-spot measurements and discussions are then necessary if further alterations or modifications become necessary. Or, instead, one can put on VR goggles, “move” through the virtual space of the plant, even adopt positions and perspectives that would not be possible during an actual on-site visit, then additionally merge in supplementary IFC data and then share all of these images and information in real time with team colleagues throughout the world. Complex spaces can be recorded in perspective and communicated to the engineering team, without the need for actual physical presence at the site.

All that is needed is a laser-scan point cloud previously generated using a 3D laser scan, the corresponding CAD model and the VR goggles. And then the user can move through the point cloud and the CAD model, similarly to a virtual gaming world, and can rotate and zoom views and examine individual plant components from all possible perspectives.

“Our new 3D visualisation technology, 'VR Plug2Work', permits not only a quasi-realistic tour through the plant, it also lends itself, above all, as a form of ’engineering assistance’ when modifications and expansion projects are undertaken,” summarises CEO Gerhard Pichler succinctly on the benefits of this combination of laser-scan point clouds and CAD models in the virtual-reality world.

Through the plant via joystick

The system uses the latest design of goggles marketed by a well-known VR headset producer; operation is user-friendly, by means of two movements using joysticks and keys. This permits unrestricted movement, in all directions, through the virtual facility. The field of vision, or “viewing angle”, can be modified by head and body movements, or one can also move under joystick control, again without restriction, through the artificial space.

And 'VR Plug2Work' can even do more, much more: it can measure distances, or mark, and thus specially emphasise, selected areas. Additional information is available on a click of a specific element; the IFC and/or CAD data for this component will then be merged in. Images and videos can also be generated and stored for documentation purposes.

Ideal for virtual meetings

The VR world can be displayed on an external screen by means of a file opened on a PC or a laptop, or can also be further relayed using meeting software such as TeamViewer, for example. “All members of a design team anywhere in the world can take part in online discussions using VR goggles or in PC or laptop mode,” says Gerhard Pichler. “They can view the project from all perspectives realistically and in real time and can thus also decisively codetermine the continuing engineering process.” The benefits are clear for all to see, extending from early detection of problems, up to and including an enormous amount of time saved thanks to more efficient communications and less business travel.

From the starter package through to the online update

The VR project is supplied in three elements, in order to make the use of “VR Plug2Work” as efficient, cost-effective and up-to-date as possible. The first module takes the form of the starter package, consisting of the VR goggles complete with the basic software and accessories (up to and including disinfectant for cleaning of the goggles). In Module 2, the customer acquires the initial installation of his engineering project, in other words, the importation of the laser-scan point cloud and CAD model into the goggles. It is, of course, possible to set up a number of projects in a single set of goggles. Only Module 3, the implementation of an update, is necessary if the CAD model is modified or expanded. The existing CAD model in the goggles is then replaced by a new version; this can be accomplished quickly and easily via online remote maintenance. “We thus enable our customers, and the whole engineering team, to always have at their disposal the latest data material throughout the entire duration of any project,” notes Gerhard Pichler, emphasising in conclusion one of the key benefits of this new VR technology for engineering projects.

Author:

DI (FH) Gerhard Pichler, Managing Director

Gerhard Pichler Verschleißtechnik & Consulting GmbH, Linz/Austria

www.gpvc.at

After studying production management at the Steyr University of Applied Sciences, Gerhard Pichler gained more than 10 years of professional experience in industrial plant engineering and raw material processing, both as plant manager and managing director. In February 2014, he founded Gerhard Pichler Verschleißtechnik & Consulting GmbH. The GmbH is mainly engaged in 3D laser scanning and as-built modeling. Per year, 50 to 80 laser scanning projects with CAD modeling are processed worldwide.

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