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Queensland increases large-scale manufacturing

01 May, 2006

Continuous improvement is imperative in manufacturing. Companies that fail to innovate can quickly perish in the face of an ever-changing marketplace. Queensland Manufacturing Institute Ltd (QMI) was established in 1990 to help Australian companies improve their competitiveness through the use of the latest technologies and methodologies.

Queensland Manufacturing Institute

QMI serves as a technology diffusion centre, providing world-class manufacturing technology, applied research, advanced technical training, and a single point of entry to a vast network of expertise and services.

Five years ago QMI opened its Visual Manufacturing Centre, a state-of-the-art facility offering a complete digital art-to-part environment in which the most advanced design tools available can be applied to all phases of product design.

From its inception the centre has relied on computer equipment from SGI to drive the visually oriented and compute-intensive software needed to produce 21st-century designs. Clients access the latest CAD, CAM, and CAE software running on SGI® visualisation systems and visual workstations to improve designs and streamline product manufacturing.

Control consoles in the rear of the viewing room allows clients to focus on reviewing the project without thinking about the technology, yet lets Nelson (or the staff) stage an effective presentation. 

According to Nelson Frolund, centre manager, "By providing our customers with access to the latest technologies, we can help them improve quality, efficiency, and time to market. QMI customers also find that use of the latest techniques helps them reduce costs and improve their overall competitiveness. SGI hardware and the expertise of SGI personnel are a critical component of the services we offer."

Reality works-taking Visualisation to the next level

In October 2001 QMI opened its new Reality Works virtual reality centre, expanding the capabilities it offers to its clients. The centerpiece of Reality Works is an SGI Reality Center facility powered by an SGI® Onyx® 3200 visualisation system.

A theatre-style room seats up to 25 people and houses a 3-m by 7-m spherically curved screen. Multiple projectors create a 3D digital image of a design or other data, providing a 150-degree view of the object in a fully immersive environment.

Using the Reality Centre facility, design teams can gather to collectively review life-size models, make important decisions, and avoid costly mistakes.

In its first major design success, Reality Works was contracted to help optimise the turbine blades for a new hydroelectric power plant. The customer was referred to QMI as a possible source for casting parts-QMI operates a multi-metal prototyping foundry as one of its services-but quickly discovered that QMI and Reality Works could provide a single point of contact for the entire project including CAD modeling, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis, and rapid prototyping.

Reality Works helped the customer create a scaled-down turbine design and model its efficiency using CFD software. This modeling was performed on the SGI Onyx 3200 visualisation system because of its advanced computational capabilities.

The engineers performing the CFD analysis were pleased with the stability and performance of Onyx 3200, and the project resulted in a projected 5% efficiency gain for the turbine. The new design improves the efficiency and productivity of the power plant as a whole.

A new approach to public works

The new Reality Centre facility is enabling QMI to help a whole new set of clients. The immersive visual environment is ideal for urban planning, residential development, architectural modeling, and related fields.

View from a university building adjacent to the proposed busway, showing the QUT station.

The state of Queensland was a major investor in Reality Works. According to Ken Porter, executive chair of QMI, "The new Reality Works facility, financially supported by the Queensland state government, provides significant benefits for a range of large-scale projects across Queensland and all of Australia.

Studies indicate that visualisation can reduce the cost of such projects by 5% on average. For the $A45.1 billion worth of current and planned projects in Queensland alone, the use of visualisation could result in a very significant savings, more than justifying the initial investment."

View from helipad atop a parking garage, adjacent to Royal Brisbane Hospital complex, showing hospital station and Herston road.

Queensland has been experiencing rapid growth and is working hard to develop the necessary infrastructure to keep pace. In the first major visualisation project for the state, Queensland Transport used the Reality Centre facility to model a section of the new Inner Northern Busway, a dedicated mass transit system that runs north from the central business district of Brisbane.

One critical section of the project passes through a park and a golf course close to the city. Working with Reality Works, the state developed a full fly-through 3D model of tunnels and road cuts and to decide where additional landscaping was needed.

Potential flaws in the initial CAD models were rapidly apparent in the fully immersive 3D model. Without the 3D model these problems might have escaped notice until further into the project, when changes are usually much more expensive.

A Partnership for Success

The close working relationship between QMI and SGI stretches back to the early 1990s. QMI depends on SGI not only for computer equipment but also for the experience and expertise of SGI personnel. In addition, SGI often directs customers to QMI when they can benefit from QMI services.
"The help we have received from SGI has been instrumental," said Nelson Frolund. "SGI was selected as the primary vendor for Reality Works in large part because of the depth of experience of SGI people. There aren't many visualisation facilities that offer commercial services. We had to hit the ground running, so it made sense to go with SGI for their vast expertise."

Reality Works has contracted with SGI for a centre consultant to help with structuring and staging real-time visualisation projects. SGI also supplies a real-time programmer and a systems engineer to provide ongoing assistance.

SGI has itself made a significant financial investment in Reality Works. According to Bill Trestrail, SGI's regional managing director for Australia and New Zealand, "We are partnering with Reality Works because we believe that ready access to Reality Centre technology offers major benefits to Australian businesses. Immersive visualisation enables communication of complex ideas and concepts across disciplines in a visual language that everyone can understand, improving design quality and reducing mistakes."

Still in its first year of operation, Reality Works is already proving its value to QMI customers. SGI and QMI are committed to expanding the services at the centre as they build awareness of the benefits that visualisation technology brings to large-scale projects.