Virtual Manufacturing R&D at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA (1985/ 87)

The goals and objectives were to create an object oriented digital library of animated, solid (and wire frame) objects that could be programmed to simulate real-world equivalent machines in a digital factory. Furthermore, to put these different objects into various systems and run these virtual models in an integrated fashion.

The analytical / engineering challenge was to develop the system architecture of the library and then implement it using, at that time very new IT systems, that themselves had several bugs and undocumented problems.

The method/ model was validated by designing/ implementing and testing a library of machine tool, AGV, robot, conveyor, pallet, robot hands, tool magazines, robot hand changer and other objects and then running them in different systems as illustrated in the screen images below.

The practical, industrial use and spinoffs included sponsorship by Deneb Robotics Inc. and Technomatix, ROBCAD, also in Detroit, USA. Furthermore the project secured one of the first of five, at that time brand new, IRIS, Silicon Graphics workstations that were donated to the University of Michigan. The system has attracted several research grants for ITI and the University of Michigan from the Kellogg Foundation, Fords, the Ford RAACC center, Chrysler and others and offered R&D project work for several graduate students.

Major lessons learned included working with very up-to-date software systems that were strutting the limits of the computers we have used. Also, trying to break the limits of flexibility in manufacturing and assembly with some novel system designs. It was a great project; thanks to our industrial and academic sponsors and to my excellent students at Michigan!

The photos below are screen prints showing the object oriented virtual manufacturing library as well as its integrated use in different system designs.