technology to change the way manufacturing will be carried out in the next century.
Although the ultimate goal of all manufacturing is to produce a tangible object or component, information—in the form of plans, specifications, and processes—plays a most important role. Thus, it should be expected that information technology, including VE, could have a meaningful role in manufacturing by enabling people to generate and manage such information more effectively. Consider the following points in the life-cycle of a manufactured product:
Developing design requirements. VE could be used as a medium in which a customer's mental image of a product can be fashioned into a virtual image of the product. That image could be subsequently manipulated or even used as the basis for production specifications. Examples: architectural walkthroughs of spatial designs, such as proposed buildings, rooms, and aircraft interiors.
Undertaking detailed design. VE could provide designers with the ability to reach inside the design and move elements around, to test for accessibility, and to try out planned maintenance procedures. The designer could thus have a comprehensive view of how changes made in the design or placement of one component could affect the design of other system components.
Producing the artifact. Virtual pilot lines could simulate both human and machine processes on the production line. Such a virtual pilot line could be used to predict performance and to diagnose the source of faults or failures. Plant management could be improved as engineers are given the capability of reviewing and modifying various plant layouts in virtual space.
Marketing the artifact. By providing potential customers with the ability to visualize various uses of an artifact, VE could be used for marketing an array of completed product designs to customers prior to their production.
Building prototypes electronically provides a number of advantages, including the opportunity for sharing data across manufacturing functions and the ability to modify designs with greater ease than in a physical mock-up. A further advantage is the ability to incorporate stress and