Today I experienced a piece of the future, of manufacturing in particular, but of design, too. This collaborative virtual reality (VR) lab at Ford, led by Elizabeth Baron, is remarkable. They call it the FIVE lab -- Ford Immersive Virtual Evaluation.
It stands out not because of the technology -- Elizabeth explains that all of it is off-the-shelf gear. Nvidia graphics cards (top of the line, no doubt), VR headset, 4K displays. High end off-the-shelf, but gear you and I can purchase easily. It stands out because of the process that Ford brings to it.
Ford is the first automaker to use a new ultrahigh-definition, virtual reality lab that enables designers and engineers globally to work together on vehicles in real time. While I was there, a team was visiting from Germany and the Australia lab leader were there in person to continue polishing the system. This year alone, Ford designers and engineers have verified more than 135,000 details on 193 virtual vehicle prototypes.
There are often debates if virtual reality or augmented reality (which the FIVE lab does as well) can help the business world to improve design or process. The answer is a hearty yes. More corporations would adopt VR/AR tech if Ford could find a way to bottle Elizabeth Baron's passion, energy and commitment to the technology. She and her team are a not-so-secret weapon for design excellence.
I read about the lab on the web not too long ago. It explains that Ford’s Immersion Lab can take credit for "improvements were made in both design and function to the sleek, door-mounted sideview mirrors and ultrathin LED center brake light on the new Ford Fusion; likewise, the all-new Ford Mustang benefits from improved fit and finish of its dashboard and concealed windshield wipers." I didn't even notice the wipers while I was "sitting" in the virtual car and I looked for them! Now I'm going to look for them on the real world car, too.
If you wonder if a virtual reality process could help you design a better product, just study what Ford is doing. You can read about the VRED software here.
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