11/1/1998 | 4 MINUTE READ

The Big Picture

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HP is making it a whole lot easier to do high-tech, high-touch concurrent engineering. And more affordable, to boot.


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HPs workstation
The ability to provide a full view of an assembly to a group of people is facilitated by HP's workstation-driven "immersive environment" capability. When you put on the appropriate goggles, you're seeing in 3D.

Everyone talks about concurrent engineering (CE). Talk is the key word.

While it is certainly the case that CAD/CAE/CAM/PDM tools are vital to any efficient CE program, and though much is made of the importance (and note that it is important) of collaborative activities via the Internet, in point of fact, lots of good work gets done in projects simply by bringing together a team of people and having them talk about the task at hand.

Undoubtedly it is advantageous for the participants to have access to the aforementioned CAD/CAE/CAM/PDM tools. In a group meeting. But having them crowded around a small monitor—or even a comparatively big desktop monitor (i.e., 19- or even 21-in. screen)—is not exactly conducive to a good meeting.

Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto, CA) is addressing this situation with what the company spokesfolk are calling a "family of immersive-visualization solutions."

What we're talking about here is big. As in the means by which a group of people can sit in a conference room or theater-type arrangement and actually see an entire assembly: as in a complete car. Issues of form, fit and function are there, visible for all to see without squinting.

To be sure, this is not something that's brand new, out of the box. HP personnel openly admit that Silicon Graphics (Mountain View, CA) offers what it calls the "RealityCenter." The first RealityCenter installation was opened in 1994. But HP people are quick to point out that their "HP VISUALIZE" workstations and graphics technology are available for half the price of an SGI setup.

Another point they make is that the applications that run on the system are off-the-shelf software (OpenGL-based applications), not proprietary solutions Among the companies that have voiced support of HP VISUALIZE are Division, Engineering AnimationParametric TechnologySDRC, and Unigraphics Solutions.

One of the interesting aspects of the HP approach is that it is based on single workstations that can be used for, well, normal-sized work. Specifically, the HP VISUALIZE J2240 UNIX workstation. Which means that there is great scalability to this approach: from a single desk to an auditorium. And the single desktop can actually be fitted with three screens, all of which are running from the single workstation. HP researchers discovered that the productivity of an engineer is actually impeded by the need to zoom in and out of designs in a conventional setup. So with the three-screen arrangement, one screen can show a close-up, another screen another image and the third might have the complete assembly. All are showing the same digital model, just different aspects of it.


Sleek screen from SGI
Sleek screen from SGI

The bigger view—now we're talking wide-screen—is facilitated through what's called the "HP Distributed 3-D Single Logical Screen." In this arrangement, three J2240 workstations are running in sync and there are three graphics pipes. This system is called the VISUALIZE Center. Together, then, any OpenGL application is run and the visual output of the combination is 4.8-million pixel resolution on, say, a Panoram ViewStation-36, a 10 x 3-ft front projection workgroup review center from Panoram Technologies (Burbank, CA). (Actually, a single J2240 workstation with dual PA-RISC 8200 CPUs can run the ViewStation-36.) Or, the combination of workstations can drive 3-D stereo graphics, viewed on a Panoram GVR-120, a 19-ft × 6-ft cylindrical screen virtual reality briefing center.

The pricing for the HP VISUALIZE Center (the three dual-CPU workstations and related tools) along with the Panoram GVR-120 screen is $460,000. An HP Visualize Workgroup 2-D, which is a single workstation and a Panoram Workgroup ViewStation, can be obtained for $274,300.

The bottom line is that these really are reasonable bottom lines that have the potential to move what have heretofore been rather limited, specialized design and engineering studies out into the mainstream of CE.

Thin Is In

Nowadays, even the real estate on desktops—and we mean real desktops, as in furniture, not the screen display on one's computer monitor—is becoming more dear.

Taking that into account, the engineers at Silicon Graphics have launched the 1600SW flat panel monitor, which, although equipped with a desktop stand, can be removed from the stand and hung on a wall.

The monitor's 16:10 aspect ratio is like that of High-Definition Television (HDTV). The resolution of the 17.3-in. diagonal screen is 1,600 × 1,024 pixels. All of which is to say that what's seen on the screen is absolutely incredible.

Not only is the 1600SW available for Silicon Graphics O2 workstations, but Windows 95/98/NT PCs can be fitted, and Apple Macs will be supported sometime in the first quarter of 1999.

But this technology (the flat panel monitor is being built for SGI by Mitsubishi Electric) doesn't come inexpensively: the street price for the O2 workstation monitor is $2,595; it's $2,795 for the PC.


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