Simulation and virtual reality are becoming a critical part of the design process in the construction equipment industry. Given the size of the equipment, it is “easy to understand the benefits of using simulation in the product development process,” said Verdi Ogewell, Editor in chief of VerkstandsForum and FRONTRUNNERS Host.
In his interview with Volvo CE’s Reno Fella, specialist of operability & adaptive automation, it became clear that an industry that once relied on expensive physical testing is now turning much more to simulation.
This move to simulation has been a game changer for product development. Testing in early stages allows for better solutions, usability, and reduced lead times and cost.
Fella and about 50 other designers use simulation to design road construction tools like pavers, graders or compactors, and production equipment like excavators or wheel loaders. Fella notes that it is useful to test various different concepts in the virtual world, compare them, and take the best concepts into further development. It would be impossible to do this level of testing physically due to the high costs involved.
In terms of trusting the results from simulation software, Fella states that “you really need to have an engineering background, you need to have experience, and you need to utilize that so it’s really not just buying a software.”
One difficulty is in the ability to simulate the different forces, sizes and types of materials when they are loaded onto a machine. Moisture plays an important role but is particularly hard to simulate. Clearly the software isn’t just a plug-and-play experience.
Fella believes that we are getting closer to eliminating physical testing, but we may never reach it. Like a car, you have to drive it and get the feel of the machine before you can be sure. But every other aspect is getting there. Simulation can even be used for training drivers, while safety and efficiency can be tested in dangerous conditions without risk to the operator.
The machine operation must also be easy enough to limit the stress on the operator. Stress comes from more than just the job, and Fella says that the goal is to create a smart machine that acts much like a horse. There is a communication between the horse and rider, but the rider doesn’t command each leg. They just point the direction and set a speed. The horse will avoid obstacles and jump over gaps as needed. Perhaps construction equipment will work that way one day?