Can virtual reality and CAD go hand in hand?

Virtual reality (VR) is no new technology. For years, holographic 3-D projections and the like have been widely available, but they’ve not really hit the mainstream. Rather, the solutions are saved for special, showpiece events.

For example, AV Concepts sent social media into a fervour back in 2012, when they managed to create a photo-realistic hologram of Tupac Shakur​, which allowed the long deceased rap legend to ‘perform’ at the Coachella festival, as reported by MTV.

The technology has been out of reach for consumers over the past few years, but products such as the Oculus Rift are attempting to take VR into the mainstream. While there can be little denying that being able to ‘experience’ environments has myriad uses in the gaming and even education spheres, does VR have the potential to change the world of 3-D design?

Automating processes

Computer-aided design (CAD) software creates spaces in which digital designs are drawn up. How useful would it be to physically step into that space and experience a new product virtually? Rather than push through a prototype too soon, or rely on data from other forms of testing, VR can aid designers by offering a more ‘real’ experience of their own creations.

The ability to spot design mistakes before they happen is invaluable.

Using a specific example, research collated by Loughborough University explained that the construction sector is successfully using VR across the design process. While the findings suggested that the technology is yet to reach a widespread level of maturity, it has massive potential to help in the visualisation of building designs.

Naturally, construction projects can quickly spiral beyond their initial budgets if fundamental errors of judgement take place in the early stages. The ability to spot any mistakes before they actually happen could prove invaluable.

This, of course, transcends the construction sector and has the potential to affect any kind of product design. If flawed ideas can be grasped before they go on to become bigger issues, CAD designers could significantly reduce their expenses. Moreover, customer satisfaction can also be improved as, ultimately, testing in the VR environment should lead to a better, more usable end product.

Combining VR and CAD

The theory behind the practice of utilising VR in design environments is all well and good, but the technical hardships are an issue. In fact, the reason VR has not taken off and become more widespread is due to the complexity of the computing that has to support it.

Joint research from the University of Windsor, Canada and the University of Hong Kong found that there are currently two methods for integrating CAD and VR:

  • Use as a tool kit: VR is twinned with designs after they have been created in the typical CAD environment. CAD models are created, then imported into the digital space for virtual assessment and analysis.
  • Designing in VR: The second method sees designers draw up ideas completely in a VR space. This is a lot more complex from a computing perspective, but has the ability to offer more streamlined, thoroughly configured end products.

Designing and showcasing virtually

One sector that’s embracing both of the above methods of design is the automotive industry. In fact, Hong Kong-based manufacturer Infiniti has even gone one step further and is showcasing its latest offerings completely in a VR environment.

This opens up a world of opportunity when it comes to the customer experience. Not only can potential buyers assess the vehicle in all its glory regardless of where they are geographically, they also have the chance to make customisations on the fly. In doing this, consumers gain a better appreciation of the vehicle they will end up receiving, while also tailoring it to their individual needs.


The technology showcase is part of the 2015 Pebble Beach Automotive Week, which brings together the best and the brightest of innovative technology and engineering from across the automotive world.

“This innovative partnership invites the automotive enthusiast at Pebble Beach to transport themselves virtually and in real life with unique Infiniti experiences,” explained Allyson Witherspoon, Infiniti’s director of marketing communications.

An idea of what the experience will entail is shown in this interactive YouTube video:

The skills edge

In the future, the ability to design and manufacture in the VR space will become a sought after commodity. AutomationWorld predicted that VR will be a huge asset in allowing existing and future workforces to learn more about design and manufacturing processes, and better themselves over the long term.

For the time being, it appears as though VR will remain relatively niche. However, as more companies look to explore the ways it can better their engineering and design processes, it may enter the mainstream manufacturing sector in its entirety in the not too distant future.

Designing or manufacturing in Asia Pacific? Contact us at SOLIDWORKS to see how we can help inspire engineering innovation and improve every aspect of your product development.