Roisín McConnell, the 2013/14 Bombardier Sir George Quigley Memorial Scholar, travelled from from Queen’s University Belfast to Bombardier Aerospace Canada, to research “Immersive Virtual Reality Environments for Spatial Design in Aerospace Product Development“. Here is her report.
The research undertaken was aimed at linking design functions between Canada and Northern Ireland through the development of an immersive virtual reality (VR) environment, thus strengthening the collaborative working practices between the Bombardier production sites and developing VR capability at QUB. This required a thorough understanding of current working practices in Bombardier Canada and with the help of Robert Burke (our research partner in BAB) I was able to visit aircraft assembly plants in Montreal and Toronto, working with key personnel. This invaluable insight enabled me to see the manufacturing and assembly lines for Bombardier’s business and commercial aircraft. It was a great experience to see how sub-assemblies manufactured in Belfast, come together in a finished aircraft. This is a key aspect of my work in terms of its application outside academia.
The networking opportunities gave me direct access to key individuals in manufacturing, design, tool design as well as operators on the shop floor. Resulting discussions included questions about how my research could fit into and improve their role within the company. In meetings I noticed how VR could potentially address communication barriers by providing a language neutral environment for both learning and communication in an engineering context. Those involved can gather around the assembly in question and can discuss any issues by interacting with a single, 3-dimensional environment rather than reading or interpreting computer aided design (CAD) rendered images. The VR environment at the centre of my work also enables an engineer to experience the design concepts and carry out virtual assembly operations eliminating the need for physical mock-ups (as required for cabin interior design and manufacture).
Through discussions with various engineering teams at Bombardier in Canada, I learned how the approach to my ongoing research could be improved. One area for development would be taking account of varying tolerances and manufacturing errors in the VR world, thus improving the value of CAD models by accounting for more realistic geometry. We have developed a follow on research proposal where we will look at ways of including ‘as manufactured’ composite part forms in the virtual environment. The work will allow designers to take account of or eliminate assembly issues in the virtual environment as new aircraft concepts are developed.
The experience gained and contacts made during my trip to Canada positively influenced my research as I was able to see first-hand how aircraft manufacture is planned and executed. This has influenced my approach to the development of my VR environment, aided significantly by insights which cannot be gained through a literature or technology review. The quality of my completed thesis will be significantly improved and the relationship between Bombardier Aerospace Canada and the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering has been consolidated and strengthened as a result of my experiences.
I would like to thank the Ireland Canada University Fund and Bombardier Aerospace Belfast (BAB) for awarding me the Sir George Quigley Memorial Bursary. I am extremely honoured to have been the first awardee of this scholarship.
Secondly to my supervisors Dr Joseph Butterfield (QUB) and Mr Robert Burke (BAB), thank you for providing me with excellent opportunities to expand my knowledge in both the academic and industrial arenas.