Wartsila using AR to collaborate & educate

Feb 19, 2019 | Hot Topics

A few weeks ago, I wrote about attending the Siemens Simcenter Symposium in Prague — you can read those general impressions here.

Today I’d like to dig a bit deeper into one of the most interesting things I learned from an experienced user: simulations can bridge the gap between book learning and “feel”, that intuitive sense of a design that typically comes with time.

I’m a naval architect by training, which means that (in the dark ages) I learned about propeller design, but from a purely theoretical perspective. At the Symposium, several presenters talked about their teams’ best practices for creating efficient, quiet props, but one added a twist: he uses augmented reality to create immersive experiences for new designers so that they can really understand why one design was better than another. Putting humans in wetsuits near a rotating propeller is dangerous and expensive; this speaker created a way to show the impact of design decisions using AR goggles. Very cool — and a great training tool.

Norbert Bulten, Product Performance Manager at Wärtsilä Netherlands B. V. talked about how Wartsila approaches design, looking for fuel efficiency by optimizing both parts and systems. His thesis was that optimal parts might not make up an optimal system and, in the case of propellers, that means exploring their operation not only in open water (meaning with nothing changing the flow to and around them) but also in a “behind” condition aka real life, where a ship’s entire length is in front of the propeller.

Traditionally, he argued, designers have studied propellers by carrying out model-scale experiments and doing full-scale sea trails. Model-scale is clearly more cost-effective but because you can’t scale water down as you can a propeller, full-scale trials proved whether the system as a whole works as conceived. But, the cost! Enter CFD and system simulations.

Wartsila today uses a Virtual Towing Tank which allows it to model the the complete vessel with its complex hull geometry and propulsion system, along with target speeds and operating conditions.

On the one hand, ship performance is a function of the prop’s efficiency and how it interacts with the hull. On the other, the prop can also cavitate (meaning, cast off low-pressure air bubbles), which can cause vibrations that leads to structural damage and passenger discomfort, and can create noise that interferes with marine life (and messes with stealth objectives, if a military ship). Too, because many ships are a unique combo of hull shape, propulsion system and planned environment, cookie cutter solutions don’t always work.

To facilitate collaboration around propeller designs, Wartsila created Virtual Dive Inspections, an Augmented Reality (AR) app that lets a human “dive” into the Virtual Towing Tank and see the propeller in operation. Mr. Bulten was mobbed after his session, as attendees wanted to try out the glasses and see the prop simulation in action — and I can see why. Using words, even the stylized language of prop designers, isn’t nearly as powerful as showing a prop cavitate or vibrate.

But Mr. Bulten also spoke of scenarios where unsuitable designs will also be explored via the Tank and Virtual Inspections technology, to teach newbies why some designs succeed and others need to be abandoned. Again, words would work but showing the wake of a propeller and tying that to why the prop is an unsuitable design alternative is very powerful.

New entrants into the engineering workforce have so much to learn, so quickly, to be fully productive. Not only do they have to become subject matter experts in the product they’re developing, but also in the toolsets available to them. Wartsila’s combo of Virtual Towing Tank and Dive Inspections works to simulate and explore the results, in one technological leap.

The challenge: How can you (ever so slightly) repurpose technologies you’re developing anyway, to bring newbies up to speed more quicklY? How quickly might that investment be repaid?

The cover image is of a Wartsila fixed pitch propeller with a human in the frame to give you some idea of the size of these things. Image courtesy of Wartsila.