By Patrick Michel, Vice President, DELMIA Solutions & Marketing, Dassault Systemes

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and that a movie is worth a thousand pictures, but what is less often realized is the fact that pictures and moving images are not bound by language barriers at all. With the tremendous advancements in technology, the ubiquity of broadband Internet, and even the growing popularity of video games, people everywhere are beginning to expect realistic 3D experiences at home and at work. 

Imagine replacing hundreds of pages of text and sketches with a 3D interactive digital manufacturing experience – virtually eliminating the difficulty companies experience with language barriers and complicated instructions. 3D digital manufacturing can help significantly reduce ramp-up time for new factories and new employees.

In today’s globalized economy, manufacturers are constantly balancing the advantages and disadvantages of locating production assets in low-cost countries. Though native language in the country a company is considering is often a lesser consideration, not planning for an inevitable language barrier can be detrimental to the speed and efficiency at which a new facility comes on line. 

3D digital manufacturing can help early in the process by providing workers with specific production line assembly instructions.  Often, instruction for installing complex equipment needs to be translated, which is costly and can still be confusing for workers after translation. 3D instructions can show workers the step-by-step process for constructing a complex production line so that it is able to be finished on time and on budget.  

Once the factory is built, 3D technology can help workers quickly understand their role in the factory. Time is money, especially on the assembly line where the productivity of a worker directly correlates to their hourly or daily output. Since Henry Ford invented the assembly line, paper documentation has been a tried and true method for relaying work instruction, but there’s always room for improvement. Interactive 3D documentation can help workers better understand tasks, and in turn make them more productive.

The story of an aerospace company that recently utilized 3D digital manufacturing technology illustrates my point well. In the 1960s a major OEM created a successful line of jets. Back then, all of the design and documentation to perform assembly and service activities on the aircraft was purely paper based.

Recently the demand for new builds of this aircraft rose. The OEM was faced with increased production rates and the corresponding need to increase manufacturing and production staff within this particular division. They needed a way to quickly transfer knowledge from experienced assembly operators to new operators who had never worked on this aircraft before. Attempts to leverage the documentation from the 60’s proved to be difficult, costly, and time consuming – they needed to find a better way that would help to not only reduce costs and errors, but would help them meet their aggressive deadlines for the production ramp up.

The experts from the 60’s weren’t always available to explain the assembly concepts to the new line workers. The detailed drawings had engineering information on them, but only very basic assembly instructions were available, representing a challenging learning problem for the new operators.

With no structured manufacturing instructions available, there was no easy way to learn the processes necessary to complete their jobs. Once production rates started to increase for the aerospace OEM, it become very costly to continue using the available 2D drawings– they simply were not conducive to getting new employees quickly trained and up-to-speed. Without the proper training, new operators would be forced to learn through time-consuming and costly “trial and error” rituals, which would require an increase in quality control processes to ensure acceptable quality standards. 

The company’s options were to either continue using 2D and pair new operators with senior operators for long, practical training sessions; or convert to 3D to significantly increase productivity. When considering the costs and challenges to maintain the “old way” of working, it became apparent that a switch to 3D was necessary.

To address all of these needs, the company found a technology that could scan physical parts into a usable 3D model, coupled with a solution to provide 3D interactive assembly instructions to their production workers.

Using these solutions, the company was able to create a clear and simple document that brought total on-the-job autonomy for junior operators. Additionally, the use of these manufacturing instructions could be expanded to any assembly shop in the world, since the document was mostly powered by the universal language of interactive 3D, which requires no thorough knowledge of any particular language.

3D is becoming a universal language that allows plant designs and work instructions to be expressed through lifelike experiences that help people comprehend complex tasks. Taking this a step further, augmented reality (AR) immerses people in a virtual 3D world in which they can interact with an unlimited scope of objects and environments. Undoubtedly AR will play a dramatic role in making complex manufacturing instructions and tasks easier to grasp.  In today’s digital and multi-lingual world, it is imperative to communicate data visually and dynamically.