Virtual Reality Devices and Machining

By Kip Hanson

This one’s still on the science fiction side of the fence, but just barely. What if machinists could use virtual reality VR headsets to peer into their machine tools? Maybe they could view work instructions and three-dimensional CAD models, check the status of a cutting tool, edit a program, or stop a process, all from a remote display worn on one’s head and controlled with virtual gloves?

It turns out that’s not so crazy. Software providers such as Autodesk and Microsoft are looking at VR-enabled engineering systems. Ford Automotive uses VR to analyze its vehicle designs, and defense system manufacturer BAE Systems uses it to speed product development. Within the past few years, several universities have announced VR-based machine simulation projects, one of which suggests that CNC programs may one day be generated via hand gestures in a virtual reality world. Lastly, a leading workholding company recently announced a VR design solution for use in stamping applications. It might be a good idea to keep a virtual eye on this emerging technology.