CAx systems have been an established part of factory planning for years. They may offer many benefits, but they can also be extremely demanding. Companies need special software to run CAx systems and staff need special training. Sometimes technicians compare their project plans with the actual situation in a factory and despite (or because of) all the sophisticated technology, they still struggle to understand what they are looking at. To make site inspections easier, the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Factory Planning in Neu-Ulm has developed a platform-independent solution called Plan:view.
It used to be extremely difficult to compare digital planning data with the actual situation in a factory. CAx systems require extremely sophisticated hardware. Despite the power of modern laptops, which certainly have the performance technicians need, using a laptop on-site – e.g., next to production – is complicated and not exactly practical. Users point to the difficulty of storing data locally, transferring data and, in particular, operating the software – plus the understanding of CAx needed to do this.
When it comes to complex software, project managers and decision-makers are often out of practice. So the Steinbeis experts have drawn on cutting-edge technology to develop an application tailored to this target group. The aim was to create a system that is compatible with different end devices. A key priority was to maintain functionality but reduce the program to the bare essentials – or as the saying goes: keep it simple. Everything should revolve around user perspectives, which now, thanks to 360° views, is entirely possible. Standing anywhere in a building, the system accesses stored CAD data to provide a 360° view of the user’s surroundings. As technicians walk around, they simply call up the relevant view on their handset. The system makes it easy to compare the actual situation with virtual planning data by providing identical perspectives.
To generate 360° views, the software used by the system accesses stored CAD data. Each perspective is pieced together out of individual images to provide a 360° view. These views can then be called up on the mobile handset using a standard browser. Once the information has been converted, the volume of data needed to provide views is only a fraction of the amount of data used in VR models.
Tablet PCs with touch-screens are particularly well suited to this new system in factory settings. A simple swipe is enough to change perspectives or zoom in on details. By clicking around the screen, users can jump straight to neighboring views. This allows them to follow paths through a building. The software also provides factory overviews with a display of all 360° views stored in the system. If operators inspecting the site notice any inconsistencies between the model and the actual situation, they can take advantage of a variety of functions to document these. For example, the user can store the coordinates of the current perspective and attach comments. A special reporting function allows the user to send the coordinates via e-mail as a hyperlink to other project team members.
Conversion of model data held in the CAD system is carried out fully automatically and data can be made available directly in a central system. As a result, users of the software always have access to up-to-the-minute information, made available through Webbased systems. The information provided to the user in the 360° views includes all data of potential interest to people working on a project. By contrast, using a 3D model to do this would offer no value-added, would raise costs and is nowhere nearly so userfriendly.