A couple of weeks ago we discussed what we'd seen in robotic applications for the new John Deere Gator integrating GPS technology with that of video game controllers and precision farming components. This week we got to watch as one of our cohorts in ag journalism sat in a "virtual" tractor cab, complete with virtual glove-sensor and virtual-reality helmet to explore the cab of a new Case IH tractor to be unveiled later this year at the Farm Progress Show.
With Case IH's upgraded virtual reality laboratory in Burr Ridge, Ill., in the company's North American headquarters, it's possible for Case IH engineers, those from New Holland in Pennsylvania, and Fiat Power Team in two European sites to sit in simultaneously on "virtual" sessions" of tractor walk-arounds, experiences within new tractor cabs, and on trial runs of new ergonomically-designed control panels.
The technology is only one part of a system that allows Case IH engineers to actually build a prototype of a new machine totally in pixels without so much as hand-building a single part of the machine - to check for fit, function and reliability. It's the same kind of technology that allowed Boeing to build the first 777 from computer models to an actual aircraft with no mockups or last minute "hammering and fitting" to make sure all parts went together. From talking with Case IH engineers, you can take the "virtual tractor" on the screen and enlarge parts sufficiently to be able to read the model number on the oil filter!
Using the time saving of this advanced computer assisted design, engineers can not only make changes in designs to aid assembly and manufacture, they can put the machine and its subsets through the paces necessary to check for areas of potential reliability problems -- long before the machine gets in the hands of the consumer, saving warranty problems and public relations gaffes with recalls.
Soon, the virtual reality programs in Case IH's inventory will allow the "virtual" driver to "drive" the machine which will open up the possibility of computer simulated field exercises for "in house" operator instruction.
Couple that with Case IH's state-of-the-art cold and hot labs, engine and power train test cells, and the company's close relationship with focus groups of farmers and you can see how manufacturing is evolving from "we'll build it and you buy it" to "you tell us what you want and we'll build it to the best of our ability from your input and provide you with more production efficiency."