Could VR be the future of CNC Automation?
High-tech CNC industrial automation machines of today rely primarily on G-code for the precise computer-aided control which govern their behaviour, like CNC milling machines. While finished G-code makes controlling the machines work like magic – the process of creating the code can be a slow and tedious process, which once had to to be inputted line-by-line into a programme. This was solved with the introduction of virtual prototyping and G-code translation through CAD and CAM software respectively. But where will the future of CNC automation go next?
The latest development in industrial CNC automation promises to take these improvements further. While CAD/CAM had already solved the issue of having to type G-code from scratch, VR adds a layer of human-machine interfacing that’s more natural to the user. Instead of relying on a computer screen and keyboard and mouse, imagine a sculptor as he works on his work of art – turning and shaping his masterpiece with his hands. Therefore, throw in digital gloves, head-tracker and other sensors into the mix and voila – you get a virtual reality applied programming.
VR Human-Machine Interface.
Consisting of digital gloves, upper body scanners, head-tracking system, and body orientation sensor, virtual reality can be used to produce the G-code in an intuitive and easy manner – like CAD but with a VR setup rather than a mouse. The interface, which is being developed by a research team from the Centre for Mechatronics of the West Pomeranian University of Technology and partially funded by the Polish Ministry of Science, will reduce the level of difficulty of creating G-code by notches.
Communicating with the PC via a USB connection, the VR programme receives movement information from its user, which then executes commands within the 3-D modelling software, which is then translated into G-code. A stereoscopic display lets the operator accurately gauge the distance of the objects being worked with in the 3-dimensionally generated 3D space, grabbing and pulling the virtual table and the machine tool and observing the effect his actions have on the virtual fabrication piece.
Concerns that VR is less precise than CAD.
There is legitimate concern that the use of applied VR could do anything more than CAD can with the added cost of the digital sensors (combined with CAM software to turn a CAD drawing into G-code). In fact, the new system could instead introduce more problems especially where accuracy is concerned. Nevertheless, with any new technology it might take some time for the developers to find ways to overcome those obstacles and polish it enough to be used on a larger scale.
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