Digital Mockups (DMUs) are virtual 3D assemblies that design engineers, product engineers and manufacturing engineers reference during the product development process in place of physical prototypes. The original DMU was created in the 1990s for the Boeing Corporation to create a complete digital representation of the Boeing 777 jet airliner accessible by all design engineers. Up until that point, digital representations using 3D CAD had utilized simplified geometry, often leaving out many smaller parts and details. Now, with the new 3dtagz Virtual Mockup app, Onshape users can easily leverage cloud-based DMUs that support a wide variety of use cases.

Screenshot showing 3dtagz’s Large Model capability

Screenshot showing 3dtagz’s Large Model capability.

Why Were Digital Mockups First Developed?

Boeing's DMU 777 project was the first time that a massive data set had been mocked up digitally for real-time use. This software system implementation required a large company research and development crew, specialized hardware, compensation for slow internal networks, a complex mainframe 3D CAD system, and an investment well into 8 figures.

Representation of the Boeing 777 from the 1990s.

Representation of the Boeing 777 from the 1990s. (Image courtesy of Boeing)

It was a crucial moment in the 777 program as Boeing had committed to using 3D CAD for their entire airplane design. Because of scaling issues at the time, the best mainframe 3D CAD systems could only work at the major assembly level. For the chief engineer design reviews, the plan was to use 2D plots hung on the wall to review the integrated design every week as it progressed to completion. As nearly 2000 designers were creating their models, this data became overwhelming. The 2D plots were taking two weeks to turn around. As you might imagine, those delays were intolerable.

Fortunately, a solution was found in the Boeing computer R&D labs. By quickly turning the research technology into a functioning internal software system, the two weeks required to create a 2D plot was reduced to just one day to create a video. Each engineering group was given their own specialized workstation and video production hardware for real-time access to their group’s 3D data plus video recording capabilities. As time progressed, even the large scale reviews were accomplished in real time.

The 3dtagz Solution

Fast forward 28 years later, and this power and capability is now available to all Onshape users. With the advancements of cloud-based computation, less-expensive hardware, and a new application, 3dtagz has democratized the concept of DMU. Integrated with Onshape, any organization can have access to a powerful end-to-end 3D digital mockup solution.

Using 3dtagz is a very similar process to creating a PowerPoint presentation. However, it should be thought of as 3D PowerPoint. To use 3dtagz, users start with base content (such as Onshape CAD models), then add animations, transitions, sequences, 3D notes, etc. Once authored, these presentations can be played back on any device.

Screenshot showing 3dtagz’s real-time Explode function

Screenshot showing 3dtagz’s real-time Explode function.

Use Cases for 3dtagz

3dtagz supports the Review, Interact, Assemble, Inspect, Monitor, Deliver, Maintain, Repair, and Publish processes throughout a product’s life cycle. Not only does 3dtagz replace desktop-based digital mockup software, but it also provides real-time interactive technical publications. All functions are built on the same cloud base, the data is stored in a common manner, and it requires the same skill sets to create and consume across all the vertical applications.

Like Onshape, 3dtagz is available anytime, anywhere, and on any device. Subject experts can create mockups on their Windows laptops, mechanics can use them on their mobile tablets, and managers can review them on their phones.

Let’s explore the process in more detail with a few videos showing use cases:

Use Case: Large Model Design Review

One of the strengths of a Virtual Mockup product is that it adjusts for larger models. The design review below is for an 11,000-part model on our simpler 3dtagz Reader product. We can currently support 50,000+ part models with a standard laptop PC. Loading is fast. Navigation is fast. You’ll be amazed!

In the video below, you can see how the display compensates for the large model. Please note that the footage has been edited to dissolve between sections, but each segment shows real-time navigation.

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Each hardware platform is utilized to its fullest capability and there are limits. But even on phones, a remarkable amount of geometry can be viewed and manipulated. Reviewers can also use 3D tagging to identify issues and assign work. Everyone can be in the loop as the design evolves.

Use Case: Assembly Sequences

One of the best uses for 3dtagz is to provide 3D assembly sequences to the mechanics on the factory floor. Typically, job instructions are in text form and usually are accompanied by a 2D drawing. Unfortunately, the 2D drawing often references a bill of materials (BOM) with part names and numbers unfamiliar to the mechanic. Either there is a confusion spider web of lines connecting part names to individual parts, or the mechanic is forced to find references to parts from several tables. In addition, these instructions are often out-of-date or slightly inaccurate. Not surprisingly, this results in mistakes costing time and money.

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In contrast, 3dtagz provides a 3D movie of each step of the actual assembly sequence broken down by jobs. The mechanic can pause the sequence at any time when assembling, and can select any part to isolate it or get further information. Furthermore, even the slightest revisions or configuration changes are easy to author, so a complete new sequence will be available to the mechanic for each unique job they are required to perform.

3dtagz will quickly pay for itself with decreased line rejections. Your newer, younger employees will be digesting an assembly media format they can identify with from their consumer experiences.

Use Case: Inspection Procedures

Robust inspection procedures are critical to quality manufacturing. Using 3dtagz, 3D inspection procedures are easy to understand and perform, even for the most complicated products. There is no longer a need to guess on the factory floor or rely on tribal knowledge to get it almost right. If your situation requires certain existing documentation and procedures, use 3dtagz as a job aid for that extra, added communication value.

With today’s increasing interest in customized products, adjusting the inspection procedures for slight variations is crucial. Because the 3D model is the source for each configuration, 3dtagz makes it easy to customize each procedure.

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Use Case: Maintenance Procedures

With maintenance procedures in the 3D software, the user can pause and investigate the model more fully at any stage. The user can reposition to their viewpoint, ask questions about part names, hide parts to see what’s inside, etc. The procedure is easy to create because it’s all based on the released 3D model. All the intrinsic model information comes along for free; authoring is only required for the unique details. You can even use procedures you’ve created before as templates for even quicker authoring, particularly in the case of a product revision.

Currently, a 3dtagz account with designated access is required to view procedures in library form. In future versions of 3dtagz, Author will allow the optional posting of an individual procedure with a shareable link needing no account access, similar to Google Docs. This will allow the procedures to be emailed to your customers, included in online documentation or posted directly on your website.

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Use Case: Transferring Models from Onshape

3dtagz currently accepts data from many 3D formats. For Onshape, a Parasolid file works best. Colors, names and properties all transfer over. Simply export from Onshape as a single file and use the Translate function from the 3dtagz Open page. Future versions of 3dtagz will support configuration handling, additional data attribute transmission, and allow job scheduling with automatic updates.

Coming soon: 3dtagz Connector will be available in the Onshape App Store as shown below:

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Try a Free Trial of 3dtagz

Interested in learning more about deploying your own Virtual Mockup System? Sign up for a 30-day free trial of our premium product, 3dtagz Author. Also, please join me and Joe Dunne, Onshape’s Director of Developer Relations, at our live webinar, “Virtual Mockup for Onshape” on Thursday, May 16th at 11 a.m. Joe and I will be demonstrating how and why to use 3dtagz to easily create animations, assembly instructions and 3D-annotated notes for better shop floor communication.