Ingesting 3D data into Unity Industry with Pixyz
Apr 29, 2024
Optimize complex data for real-time 3D with Pixyz
Exploring the Pixyz data ingestion process for real-time 3D applications.
Frantz Lasorne, Visionaries 777 | Scott Montgomerie, Scope AR | Mark Schoennagel, Unity | Matt Sutton, Unity
Pixyz Plugin | Unity Industry | Pixyz Scenario Processor | Pixyz Studio
Use cases
Immersive training | Innovative customer experiences | Interactive collaboration

Ingesting 3D data for immersive experiences with Unity Industry and Pixyz

Get your copy of the engineering.com whitepaper commissioned by Unity: Ingesting and using CAD data for real-time 3D.

Introduction: Why real-time 3D?

An increasing number of manufacturers are turning to real-time 3D to maximize the advantages of Industry 4.0 and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace. It is becoming an invaluable technology at every stage of the workflow, from product design to factory floor optimization, training, marketing and more.

It’s no surprise that leading real-time 3D development platforms, such as Unity, have their origin in the gaming community: the immersive experience of interacting with a dynamic 3D environment that adapts to input in real time is just as useful for the engineer as it is for a gamer—with the added benefit for the engineer of developing a real-world product to bring to market.

Deploying real-time 3D applications can bring about real-world benefits for manufacturers. These include accelerating research and development timelines, reducing reliance on costly physical prototypes, detecting and correcting design flaws earlier in the production cycle, enabling the training of automated systems in simulated environments, deploying more effective worker training solutions and engaging with customers more effectively.

Fortunately, for many manufacturers, integrating real-time 3D into their operations is easier than they might expect. They already have much of the data they need to create immersive, compelling and interactive real-time 3D experiences—it’s stored away in their existing computer-aided design (CAD) files. The Unity Industry software package, including Pixyz for data optimization and the Unity platform for developing real-time 3D applications, can pull together and synthesize the rich and sophisticated data in those CAD files and present it in an interactive, intuitive manner.

This white paper will explain how real-time 3D can benefit engineers and manufacturers by enabling them to repurpose CAD data in transformative new ways. It details how the right software can solve the challenge posed by data ingestion, and how CAD data can power real-time 3D applications for training, collaborative work and digital marketing.

Ingesting CAD data for real-time 3D

Engineers already use CAD technologies as visualization tools. Design applications such as Catia, SolidWorks and Fusion 360 are highly capable software products that enable manufacturers to create detailed, precise and intricate three-dimensional designs of real-world components. These data-rich design files are mostly intended for use by manufacturing tools such as CNC machines and 3D printers to make the products.

However, the level of precision found in CAD tools may be too complex for real-time 3D applications to handle. In contrast to more artistic models, CAD models are often so detailed, complex and data-rich that they can’t smoothly render without undermining the performance of the real-time 3D environment—not without optimization, that is. Real-time 3D platforms create experiences that usually emphasize agility and quick response time over complexity and detail.

But that doesn’t mean that manufacturers must start from scratch when developing real-time 3D applications—just the contrary. Their existing CAD files are a rich repository of data that can be repurposed to create impactful 3D experiences. The key to unleashing that data is ingesting and optimizing the CAD data for use in a real-time environment. This process turns complex 3D models into lightweight representations suitable for all manner of computing devices and capabilities, from smartphones to virtual reality (AR & VR) headsets.

Without the right tools, optimizing CAD data for use in real-time 3D is a tedious and highly complex process. Without these tools, designers must manually merge vertices, delete faces and recreate aspects of their models to strike an ideal balance between accuracy and agility for real-time 3D. But to achieve that balance much more easily, manufacturers can turn to data optimization solutions such as Pixyz, which has purpose-built tools that can import CAD models and reduce their complexity, density and file size while maintaining accuracy and quality for real-time 3D applications.

Pixyz ingests parametric surface (NURBS) data from CAD files and translates it into the polygonal mesh data used by Unity and other real-time 3D platforms.

“Pixyz is best of breed for converting NURBS data into polygons,” Mark Schoennagel, manager of technical marketing at Unity, told engineering.com. “Game engines have always dealt with polygons, while CAD has always dealt with creating infinitely smooth surfaces for manufacturing. These are two very different worlds. What Pixyz is amazing at is bridging those two worlds.”

Pixyz supports nearly 40 CAD file formats, among them the most popular design applications such as SolidWorks, Revit, Creo and NX. Pixyz’ proprietary CAD model optimization algorithms can generate textured proxy meshes, remove hidden meshes that won’t appear in the real-time 3D experience, and merge and repair meshes during conversion. In addition, the level of detail—and resulting polygon count—can be manually adjusted or optimized automatically.

“I strongly recommend manufacturers and engineers incorporate Pixyz into their workflows. It enables them to generate tessellated data at varying levels of quality to suit different use cases,” Frantz Lasorne told engineering.com.

Lasorne, the co-founder of Visionaries 777, a company that specializes in creating enhanced consumer experiences with extended reality technologies, explained another bonus. “This approach simplifies the sharing of tessellated data with external vendors, eliminating the need to provide highly sensitive and confidential CAD data,” he said.

While these optimized models are incredibly useful in many scenarios, they are made exponentially more powerful when brought into a visualization engine like Unity. In Unity, these models go from technical representations to stunning product visualizations and scenes that can be developed as applications and deployed for a variety of use cases.

Real-time 3D: A game changer across industries

Real-time 3D applications are proving immensely valuable to engineers and manufacturers across a variety of industries. The following use cases demonstrate how the technology can be used to enhance training and guidance, serve as a collaboration tool for remote workers, and transform marketing through interactive product configurators.

Training and guidance

“Seeing information presented visually in front of you, in a contextually relevant way, is a great way to learn or be guided through a particular task,” Scott Montgomerie, CEO of Scope AR, told engineering.com. Scope AR provides a scalable, enterprise-ready augmented reality (AR) content creation solution for training, manufacturing and maintenance use cases across aerospace and defense industries, amongst others.

For Scope AR, Pixyz is an essential tool in the process of building training and guidance content that can be brought into a 3D model to create customized procedures. That content can then be pushed out to the cloud and downloaded to a variety of devices such as phones, tablets or headsets.

ScopeAR example - ingesting 3D data into Unity with Pixyz
Scope AR’s Worklink platform allows manufacturers to develop customized training, manufacturing, and maintenance content using Pixyz. (Image: Scope AR.)

“Almost every manufacturer has a set of paper instructions that shows a worker how to do a task,” says Montgomerie. “But the human mind is fallible, even in the short time between reading the instructions and performing the task. A person can misinterpret the instructions or forget a step. Seeing those instructions in full 3D in front of them, while they perform their task, helps eliminate those errors and improves workers’ ability to accomplish the task correctly and efficiently.”

Skanska, one of the largest construction companies in the world, turned to Unity to develop its safety training program, empowering workers to be more aware of dynamic and unseen risks. The goal: to reduce accidents and create safer construction sites.

With real-time 3D, workers can be put “at risk” in a simulated environment without actually putting them in harm’s way. This kind of training can be far more effective at creating positive behavioral change than talking through the same scenario in a meeting room. Skanska worked with OutHere to design virtual scenarios that would give workers a real challenge, putting them in situations that forced them to make the right decisions in real time—and being able to experience the consequences of those decisions, right or wrong. This kind of virtual training was able to tap into the emotions of the workers—giving them a realistic sense of an accident about to happen, without actually placing them in danger.

How real-time 3D unlocks collaboration

One of the most intriguing uses of real-time 3D technology is in developing extended reality (XR) experiences. Engineers and designers have begun adopting this use case for virtual design reviews and collaboration by remote teams.

Real-time 3D platforms such as Unity enable a worker in one city to get inside a component manufactured on the other side of the country, at the same time as a colleague on another continent. They could meet inside a common virtual space to walk around a 3D model of a turbine and troubleshoot it together.

Unity has seen how its platform has led to the democratization of data access—enabling more people to view the kind of information that would usually be limited to some power users. And with more use comes more opportunities to collaborate in a shared real-time virtual space.

“At the moment, to get access to CAD data you’ve got to go to someone with a reasonably good CAD PC,” Matthew Sutton, manager of solutions engineering at Unity, told engineering.com. “Unity makes it possible for users across the business to access CAD data, and see that data in context.”

YVR’s digital twin created with 3D data including lidar and CAD
YVR’s digital twin uses data imported from several sources including lidar and CAD drawings.

Enabling staff from across the operation to work together to analyze data is one of the reasons the Vancouver Airport Authority teamed up with Unity to create the first real-time 3D digital twin of an airport in North America.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) uses that digital twin to pull in real-time and historical data to display important information in real time, in both 2D and 3D environments. Through a situational awareness tool that integrates with the digital twin, staff have a better understanding of the airport’s complex operations. This tool tracks everything from data anomalies to potential security situations to passenger movement to weather to carbon emissions.

As a result, staff are able to use data-driven decision making and collaborate more effectively across job functions and the airport’s large footprint: from security to retail to transportation to customer service. Airport staff are enabled to respond to dynamic situations with enhanced situational awareness that changes in real-time.

Real-time product configurators for immersive marketing

Real-time 3D is opening new options for how manufacturers interact with their customers, enabling companies to market their products in innovative ways and giving consumers more choice in customizing their purchases.

“You’re taking that complex engineering-focused, real-world data and visualizing it in order to market the product,” says Schoennagel. “That’s where Unity comes in. We’re not concerned about the physical properties of your building; we’re interested in making the polygons look real so you can promote the building in multiple different environments.”

As an example, Unity worked with AGCO, an agricultural machinery manufacturer, to develop their award-winning 3D Product Advisor, a product configurator that enables farmers to self-guide their purchasing experience. Through a step-by-step interactive experience, a farmer is guided through a decision-making process to identify their needs: what type of farming they focus on, what type of land and how big the property is, and other relevant factors. The Product Advisor then recommends a product and enables the farmer to build a 3D virtual machine that’s ready to order. The farmer can place the machine into their virtual farming environment and even create a digital twin that can track machine performance data and offer post-sales support.

“A tractor can be made up of 800 individual STEP files, which contain thousands of components each,” says Schoennagel. “We converted all the files with the Pixyz scenario processor. From the complex heavy CAD data, we managed to smartly remove a lot of the data that engineers leave in there, like construction lines and different planes.”

The remaining data was optimized for use in a configurator-like app that automated 70 to 80 percent of that data for use by the customer, with Unity refining the remaining data for customer use.

Brose Group, a global intelligent mobility solutions supplier, is also using Unity to streamline its content creation and marketing efforts.

Brose worked with Visoric, a real-time 3D specialist company, to move its comprehensive catalog—with over 260 different products—into a real-time 3D environment. This included CAD files originating from Catia which were converted by Pixyz, in combination with other software, into configurable real-time 3D assets.

With its entire product library in the Unity platform, Brose is able to nimbly deploy these assets for marketing and sales purposes. Brose’s virtual showroom enables customers to explore products, such as vehicle components, in detail—or see them in context of the vehicle as a whole.

“It won't be long before all the prominent brands digitally showcase their complete product portfolios, allowing users to experience them in real-time 3D on a straightforward web page,” Visionaries 777’s Lasorne predicts.

Conclusion: Getting started with real-time 3D

For engineers and manufacturers seeking transformative ways to visualize their company’s data, and engage with customers like never before, real-time 3D has never been a more attractive technology. Using easily available tools, these companies can use their existing libraries of CAD models to rapidly develop real-time 3D applications and start exploring the benefits for product design and collaboration, training and guidance, marketing and more.

Sutton recommends that curious engineers download Unity and Pixyz and get started with an existing CAD product they’re already familiar with. “Load a piece of CAD data, position it in the scene, and just take a walk around it. It’s super easy.” New users who might feel a bit intimidated can take advantage of the extensive learning content that Unity makes available.

Engineers would be wise to take these first steps sooner rather than later, as real-time 3D is rapidly gaining popularity and becoming a competitive differentiator. Take, for example, the recent release of the Apple Vision Pro, a spatial computer that promises to seamlessly blend digital content with the user’s physical space. Unity just announced its support for visionOS, which includes templates, samples and other resources for developers. Keep in mind that this is just one of a myriad of devices—current and future—made for real-time 3D.

Engineers are natural 3D visualizers, but real-time 3D can both enhance their mental models and help them communicate better with colleagues, clients and the public.

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