For SkyReal, virtual reality is about figuring out how to manufacture complex machinery and solving any production problems that may occur along the way
➨ SkyReal is a technological spin-off from Airbus Group, where Hugo Falgarone spent more than a decade building digital technologies to aid significant engineering and manufacturing operations in aerospace
➨ Today, SkyReal, based in Paris, counts Airbus as a customer and technology licensor—removing the need for seed investors—and is ideally positioned to solve some of engineering’s trickiest problems
➨ The SkyReal Suite of SkyPrep, for turning CAD models into the elements that make up an immersive experience, XR Center, the cloud-based back office for collaboration and data management, and SkyReal VR, where engineers can enter virtual reality and work on their projects, comprehensively caters for design, product and production analysis, and training
Virtual reality used to be for gamers and their entertainment. Designers and their art. Now it’s for teachers and their lessons, too, and doctors and their treatments. Even musicians are embracing this emerging modality, which is proving useful for all kinds of creation, communication and administration. This immersive technology is also equipped to help engineers solve some incredibly complex problems, as French software company SkyReal is demonstrating.
SkyReal is a technological spin-off from Airbus Group, where Hugo Falgarone spent more than a decade building digital technologies to aid significant engineering and manufacturing operations in aerospace. In his time there, Falgarone learnt what engineers did and didn’t need from virtual reality, that realism wasn’t necessarily about stunning visuals, but faithful recreation. What it came down to was problem solving.
So when Falgarone and his team developed the second generation of their virtual reality-based engineering software, they decided to spin off from Airbus and establish SkyReal so that engineers in the wider aerospace sector and beyond could benefit from their work.
Today, SkyReal, based in Paris, counts Airbus as a customer and technology licensor—removing the need for seed investors—and is ideally positioned to solve some of engineering’s trickiest problems.
The SkyReal Suite of SkyPrep, for turning computer-aided design (CAD) models into the elements that make up an immersive experience, XR Center, the cloud-based back office for collaboration and data management, and SkyReal VR, where engineers can enter virtual reality and work on their projects, comprehensively caters for design, product and production analysis, and training.
Falgarone offers the example of one aerospace company that’s looking at the SkyReal Suite as an illustration of its capabilities.
He says: “The company has delivered several new aircraft to clients around the world, but they need to be retrofitted with new parts. They clearly can’t fly all those back to their factories, because the cost of doing so would be too high. Instead, they want to send out kits to their customers, containing everything they need to do the retrofits themselves.”
The SkyReal Suite is perfectly suited to the task, according to Falgarone. For example, the average aircraft contains many wiring looms, assemblies of electrical cables or wires that transmit signals or electrical power. Dealing with something so complex during the actual retrofit is difficult enough, but attempting it on a 2D screen in CAD software is nigh-on impossible.
SkyReal solves that problem for engineers. Once the CAD model is fully online as an immersive experience, they can don a headset and wander around inside of the aircraft and, using features such as multiple snap points, efficiently plan and simulate an assembly procedure.
Then, once the retrofit is designed and tested, the process can be mapped and recorded, so that when those kits are sent out, the aerospace company’s customers can be fully trained. No expensive recalls required.
Falgarone says: “Using the software to test out how a retrofit is carried out, to discover the best way of doing it, is only half the problem the engineers on the ground need to solve.”
Keith Russell, head of sales and business development for the UK and Ireland at SkyReal, adds: “The software is more than showing a 3D CAD model in photorealistic virtual reality. There tends to be a lot of emphasis on photorealism and visuals, particularly for design and sales. For us, it’s also about figuring out how we’re going to make it and the issues we may run into during production. The SkyReal Suite is a total collaborative design and problem-solving solution with an engineering focus.”
SkyReal achieves this by fully embracing data. SkyPrep, first and foremost, works with almost any kind of CAD format for customers to create their virtual reality elements. But it also imports scientific visualisation data for that faithful realism. With this data, for example, engineers can simulate airflow and so add heat and cold to the mix.
Notably, SkyReal also allows engineers to export data back from virtual reality to use in their 3D CAD software, making their experience in both modalities seamless and efficient.
SkyReal VR is where engineers go to immerse themselves in their experience. They can use the software in caves or widely available headsets, including HTC Vive, Oculus and HP devices.
Russell says the software is compatible with the new HP Reverb G2, as many of SkyReal’s current and potential customers are working from home and need a device that doesn’t require lots of expensive hardware to run. The new HP headset fits the bill, because it comes with inside-out tracking and runs Windows Mixed Reality.
This is a crucial point for aerospace customers, according to Falgarone, because remote working is becoming the norm and they need their engineers to be able to do at home what they cannot currently do in the office. SkyReal VR also offers a desktop mode with this in mind, and in cases where colleagues need to passively review rather than actively interact.
It’s also where SkyReal offers further value. Headsets can be shipped to customers whose engineers are not well versed in fitting a particular component or dealing with a potentially dangerous situation that could result in injury and shutdown. The software allows engineers to learn on the job, in whatever environment they wish.
Falgarone says that virtual reality is becoming what 3D CAD once was: an everyday tool. Both were initially met with skepticism, but once the first-movers moved, arguments in favour of return on investment and the power of collaboration won the day. Soon, engineering outfits of every size will be answering their ever-complex questions about pipework and wiring looms in virtual reality.
SkyReal currently counts Airbus, ArianeGroup, Stelia and ÅKP as some of its customers. The automotive and energy sectors are also in its sights, because they each manufacture massive complex assemblies of thousands of parts. Each problem requires a solution. Here, that solution is virtual reality.
Main image: SkyReal users looking down at an assembly hall