Real-time 3D technology in industry, explained

See what's possible with real-time 3D

Watch this 1-minute video to see how real-time 3D is changing how products are designed, engineered, manufactured, sold, and serviced.

Thousands of companies across a range of industries have embraced this technology, including in aerospace, automotive, energy, government, industrial machinery, manufacturing, retail, transportation, and more.

What is real-time 3D?

With real-time 3D software, fully interactive, 3D models, environments, and entire virtual worlds can be digitally rendered faster than the blink of an eye – a significant advantage compared to traditional content creation tools. Check out this page for a deeper dive into how this technology works. 

Once real-time 3D content is created, it can be deployed to mobile devices, computers, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices, and other platforms. Real-time 3D offers end-users a fundamentally more engaging and immersive experience than non-interactive, static content.

Real-time 3D experiences are fundamentally both:

  • Immersive, because the digital representation of reality is lifelike and approaches the authenticity of our analog experience of reality, and
  • Interactive, because users have precise control over their experience, much like a video game.

While there are limitless ways to leverage real-time 3D, the foundational use for companies in industry is to visualize data and build realistic, dynamic experiences from 3D models, such as computer-aided design (CAD) assemblies. These interactive digital twins of physical products open opportunities to enhance processes and workflows across the business, from R&D all the way through to operations.

Check out a real-time 3D experience

Now that you have a sense of what real-time 3D is, take this real-time 3D car configurator – created by Light & Shadows – for a spin. 

You may need to wait a couple of minutes for it to load, but we promise it’s worth the wait. In the meantime, you can continue reading and check back soon.

Once you’re in, configure the car to your liking and explore it from any vantage point. If you're on your phone, flip to landscape mode for the best experience.

The business impact of real-time 3D

Manufacturing companies face no shortage of challenges in driving profitable growth – designs are getting more complex, production timelines are getting tighter, and buyers are getting more selective. Under the pandemic conditions of 2020, these difficulties are exacerbated.

Companies using real-time 3D can better navigate these challenges. Research shows real-time 3D unlocks the following benefits:

  • Cost savings from, for example, reducing reliance on expensive physical prototypes and catching design and engineering flaws earlier.
  • Faster time to market by condensing research and development (R&D) timelines, training automated systems in simulated environments, and other improvements.
  • Improved product margins by increasing workforce productivity, performing aftermarket services more reliably and quickly, and so on.
  • Increased sales by presenting products in compelling ways beyond traditional multimedia formats.

Top uses of real-time 3D

Applications for real-time 3D technology run the gamut, from the initial stages of R&D all the way through to aftermarket sales – and everything in between. Manufacturing companies that have adopted real-time 3D use it widely: for more than eight different use cases, on average, according to a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Unity, published in March 2020. 

Some examples across the product lifecycle include:

Design & Engineering
Common use cases: Virtual prototyping and commissioning, immersive design reviews, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) visualization, autonomous system simulation, human-machine interface (HMI) development, etc.

Real-world example of real-time 3D: Lockheed Martin builds products virtually to minimize physical prototyping and testing, saving millions of dollars by discovering and resolving issues much earlier in development.

Common use cases: Technician training, AR-guided assistance during production, digital factory simulation, virtual assembly process validation, etc.

Real-world example of real-time 3D: The BMW Group created AR and VR applications for training frontline workers, workstation planning at the assembly line, and quality control.

Sales & Marketing
Common use cases: Virtual events, interactive product configurators, photorealistic renderings, sizzle videos, mixed reality shopping experiences, etc.

Real-world example of real-time 3D: Autoliv boosted its global salesforce’s ability to close deals by presenting its complex products in interactive 3D rather than 2D slide presentations.

Service & Operations

Common use cases: Remote maintenance, AR-based guidance, safety training, real-time digital twins for sensor/data simulation and visualization, etc.

Real-world example of real-time 3D: ABB replaced time-consuming, costly training programs by developing an AR-based system that guides field technicians to maintain and service equipment on industrial sites efficiently and safely.

The value of extending real-time 3D across the business

Real-time 3D addresses challenges across the entire lifecycle, ensuring products are better designed, engineered, manufactured, sold, and serviced. The study by Forrester Consulting found that:

Most adopters are already using real-time 3D across multiple touchpoints in the business … [They] find that the more places … they implement real-time 3D, the more seamlessly these processes are integrated as it provides a more interactive medium for collaboration and communication.

Indeed, 90% of companies using real-time 3D find it valuable for supporting interdepartmental collaboration. There’s a reason for that: Once models exist in a virtual environment, they can be extended for any use case across the business.

That means virtual models used in the design studio can also be leveraged by the production team to place assembly instructions into AR, as well as the marketing team to create high-fidelity, interactive content. These synergies speed up the entire product lifecycle and reduce inefficiencies from traditional waterfall-style handoffs between departments.


Dive deeper into real-time 3D

Learn more about real-time 3D technology by reading our commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Unity, or learn how to leverage Unity to create real-time 3D experiences.

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