Main stream sheet metal fabricators are learning that fabricating their own machining tools is more profitable when the core focus is reducing manufacturing lead time. Finding the right kind of tool and workpiece holding jigs & fixtures will contribute a lot towards achieving higher productivity.
Simultaneously, virtual reality [VR] has gained a considerable traction across the fabrication industry. It is being seen as an emerging potential and is being deployed for pragmatic applications of CAD, CAM, and CAE. Top of this, availability of fully immersive headset, has also eased the workflows with real-time assistance to fabricators on shop floor.
Clubbing the two [CAD and VR] will have significant impact on the fabrication productivity for higher benchmarks.
Standalone CAD scenario
Welding being a daily job for sheet metal fabricators, an efficient fixturing system is a big need. To stay profitable in agile markets, these fabricators have accepted the fact that fabricating their own jigs and fixtures will fetch them more cost savings. Since all their products are manufactured in-house, finding ways to speed up iterative tasks is staying profitable by bringing products to market on time.
Besides, sheet metal fabrication is a business that is much customized and will involve varied fabrication approaches with changing products. While design automation for sheet metal will provide fabricators the opportunities to engineering lead time, there still will be a question of efficiency during fabrication. This requires all the fixturing setup to be flexible and tailored to the need of fabrication.
The challenge while designing such a fixturing system in CAD for fixture design engineer is that it becomes difficult to gauge the reach of fixtures and work piece during operation. Also when it comes to loading the part into a fixture for welding, it is difficult to get the insights until the fixturing system is built – a fairly later stage which will bring numerous design changes.
Designing fixturing system with CAD & VR
In spite of CAD in picture, there are these aforementioned, considerable challenges, which enforced fabricators to embrace technologies like VR. With advanced goggles and headset, VR makes the product appear in the room that the fabricator is, and assist in the assembly as well as fabrication.
By importing the CAD geometry of fixturing system and mapping out customer’s shop floor it is possible to mimic the actual shop floor, understand its capabilities and workspace. Furthermore, with fixturing system’s CAD model and VR on board, the user will be enabled to load the sheet metal workpiece [CAD model], a weld gun, and check the process for each step.
VR allows rotation of fixturing system all around, including crawling under and a 360 view to see if the welder will have sufficient space for at any particular spot. Such an approach not only gives insights but also permits the changes early. When VR enables visualizing the environment and real-time arrangement on a screen to the entire design team and fabricator, it invites suggestions and value addition to gauge efficient designs.
This will attract cost savings to the fabricator, time-saving and meet the exact expectation of their customer. It is the confidence of fabricator in delivering their end product to end customers. The application of VR is not limited to sheet metal fabricators only. It can be extended to other industrial applications like designing conveyor systems and other material handling systems to check if every tooling placement is correct and aligned.
In reality, several modifications will be needed in CAD models for aligning it to VR to load quickly on VR platforms, remove detailed fabrication information, and add texts to assist the welder. This will need to revamp the native 3D CAD models and edit it for a suitable VR platform. Howbeit, the ability of VR is enormous and it could change the way of designing, fabrication, and assembly for fabricators and customers both in near future. Until then, fabricators gear up with suitability to VR with ready 3D CAD models.