Virtual reality has come a long way in the last decade. From a niche application most commonly associated with the gaming industry, to a powerful and beneficial business tool proving popular in sectors such as tourism, architecture, manufacturing and electronic design.

When you think about it, the use of virtual reality isn’t really that new. While the technology has some way to go before it becomes truly mainstream, it’s long been used in experiential learning applications in aviation, aerospace or military and defence. Due to recent advancements in computing power, hardware design and software development, VR has become more portable, cost-effective and accessible.

As a result, more and more businesses are exploring the potential of VR to help them solve old challenges in a new way. This means that we’re only just scratching the surface of the benefits that VR can bring to industry.

VR and thermal imagery

Within electronics, VR has an important role to play due its unique applications in the design and prototyping phase. Currently the technology is breaking new ground in simulation, where it’s providing engineers with a fresh perspective from which to view simulation results.

In the latest iteration of our 6SigmaET simulation software, we incorporated a prototype VR visualisation mode. By connecting the software with the Oculus Rift, thermal engineers can view and explore their models from within.

Only a few years ago, this would have been almost impossible to achieve. In order to be reliable, simulation results and other geometry must be rendered with pinpoint accuracy, something that the blockish graphics of the previous generation of VR headsets couldn’t provide. More recently, however, improvements in the resolution and quality of VR hardware have meant that far more complex, and useful, simulations can be created and viewed for use in an industrial setting.

This unique perspective provides engineers with a crucial competitive advantage when it comes to thermal simulation. By providing a visual representation of temperature and air flow, they can explore their simulations, assess the thermal performance and analyse where their designs might be at risk of overheating. This makes it far easier to understand how their designs operate thermally and how it can be optimized.

Examples of VR and thermal imagery

For example, when considering something as crucial as cooling performance, engineers can now visualise the airflow before going back to the desktop and making improvements to the model. This allows for potential ‘hot-spots’ be solved prior to finalising the final product design and means less time spent re-designing costly prototypes. By making such adjustments in the early design stages, product development becomes more efficient and far less expensive.  

While VR technology for industrial applications is still in its infancy, there is enormous potential for it to unlock new value as a user interface. In the future, the aim is to allow engineers to analyse their simulations and make interactive changes to their designs whilst still in VR. And by incorporating VR into 6SigmaET, we’re taking the first step on the road to developing this unique new design approach.

Tom Gregory, Product Manager, Future Facilities