Innovative 3-D Facility Lets CAT Engineers Enter a Virtual World

cat-engineersThe Tech Center has been CAT’s engineering hub for over fifty years

Mossville, Illinois is a rather unassuming location for one of the most advanced engineering facilities in the country. The Tech Center, located in Peoria County in the town of Mossville, has been Caterpillar’s (CAT) research and development hub for over fifty years. Originally built in the 1960’s, the Tech Center has become the epicenter of intelligent research and analysis for one of the world’s most prominent heavy equipment manufacturers.

Step into the future with the Immersive Visualization Center

It must be a strange sensation to walk into a room, don 3-D glasses, and actually feel like you could interact with the piece of heavy machinery that is “parked” in front of you. That is exactly the premise of the innovative Immersive Visualization Center (IVC), which is located in the CAT Tech Center in Mossville. The IVC allows users to virtually interact with a variety of CAT products and concepts, with the experience made all the more realistic through the use of motion sensing gloves and headgear, sophisticated camera systems, and 3-D imaging software. Users report that it actually feels like they are interacting with the machinery, even though they know a microprocessor and 3-D glasses are behind the whole thing.

Why design and implement the IVC, and is it cost effective?

The Immersive Visualization Center allows engineers and designers to interact with a machine before it is physically constructed. Engineers can manipulate parts and components, design the operator’s cab to ensure the most ergonomic layout, and discover most of the design and engineering issues that plague generations of prototypes. Analysts estimate that if a design flaw is caught early on through virtual modeling, the cost to discover this flaw would be nearly 1,000 times lower than discovering it during physical prototyping.

cat-engineers2Once casts are made and iron is poured, it is incredibly expensive to recast a part. If a door strut brace, for example, is found to be in the way of a part that requires regular servicing, it is much cheaper to fix this prior to building out the new machine. Engineers who enter this 3-D world are able to analyze the interactions between parts, the ergonomics of the entire machine, and other concerns like service accessibility, and even blind spots from the driver’s seat. By engaging the machine in a virtual setting, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be saved.

In fact, one recent example from CAT saved the company $400,000 in additional costs – significant when you consider that the investment in the 3-D room is several million dollars. CAT also announced that a new wheel loader was constructed entirely using the virtual engineering process – no actual physical prototype was ever built. The company estimated that it saved a year and a half from the total development timeframe.

While contemporary engineering processes still rely heavily on physical models and other standard methods, the immersive visualization center is one step toward designing and engineering new machines using less energy, in a quicker timeframe, and with less effort. It also looks just plain fun, too!