There's plenty of room for 3D disruption in enterprise, according to Kiwi technology business Right Hemisphere, which was behind some of the technology used in the manufacture of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner.
If the future of film and TV lies in 3D, then so too does the nature of technical documents.
According to Mark Thomas, CTO and founder of Right Hemisphere, the death knell has been sounded for all kinds of product communications that we currently still access on dead trees.
“Whether its how to set up a new phone or change the blade on your lawnmower or assemble a bicycle … whatever you see today in 2D manuals and documention is gradually over the next 25 years going to be appearing in 3D interactive formats.”
He said there was a huge potential market for such technology, particularly across language divides.
“The richer the graphics, the less text required. That’s really important in a global workforce,” he said.
“The new workforce is expecting to receive training information in a format similar to the way play games.”
Right Hemisphere, which was acquired by SAP in September, develops 3D visualisation software that customers use to visualise business processes including design, manufacturing, operations and service.
That includes Boeing, which used Right Hemisphere software in the design and manufacture of its new 787 Dreamliner to translate engineering data into lightweight three-dimensional document files for use by a range of stakeholders. The aircraft touched down in Auckland on Saturday for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere.
Right Hemisphere has worked with Boeing in in various capacities for close to 10 years, but Thomas said this was their biggest collaboration to date. Its success bodes well for expansion into other future projects.
In this case, its software helped repurpose “very heavyweight, rich data” from Boeing’s engineers and transformed it with the level of accuracy required for retaining key information, into a lightweight format that other technical and non-technical people working on the project could access.
Adobe’s Acrobat reader already had 3D rendering technology embedded into it, licenced from Right Hemisphere in previous years, and was an obvious choice. Thomas said in essence, they were competing with paper and it made no sense to pay for software to view the same thing.
“We’re very good at being able to write content for the 3D PDF environment,” he said.
“What we’ve done for Boeing is to create an automated system for the conversion and republishing of engineering data into lightweight 3D PDF files.”
Prior to that Boeing was designing aircraft in 3D but reverting to a master 2D document when it came to communicating information to suppliers, airlines, manufacturers and other departments.
“Design and engineering people communicated in 3D but everyone else around project communicated in 2D,” Thomas said.
“Boeing wanted to extend the benefits of 3D communication to future projects to everyone who touched the project inside and outside the company rather than resort to a stack of 2D documents.”
He said this was referred to as “model-based” – using a model as master document rather than sheets of paper.
Thomas said there was tremendous opportunity in the health and safety field for this kind of software.
Right Hemisphere technology is also being used by New Zealand Steel for 3D documentation of repair, maintenance and shutdown processes, aerospace companies such as Gulfstream, and medical companies like Siemens Diagnostic in repairing complex devices.
Businesses with products too large to transport to trade shows would build virtual models in CAD programmes then generate photorealistic renderings through Right Hemisphere systems.
But according to Thomas, this is just scratching the surface of possibilities.
“There’s a lot of excitement at SAP about how these graphics can really change the way people interact with business information,” he said.
“Our biggest push at the moment is in linking all of the graphics and the data that exists within the ERP and financial systems of companies so I can use them as a way to understand the product from a spatial or manufacturing perspective.”
That opens up possibilities such as maintaining a visual database of information or virtual model of a product throughout its lifecycle and iterations, pulling in information about who supplied materials, who last carried out maintenance and the like.
He envisions using a 3D model to navigate to business information, replacing traditional text searches, for example.
“It’s like Google Earth for design data but at a richer, deeper level of understanding.”
Other examples of Right Hemisphere software at work