May 7, 2003 Penn State engineers have developed software for use with an immersive projection display (IPD) that allows construction managers to enter and interact with the contents of a full-scale, nuclear power plant room that exists only in cyberspace in order to determine the best step-by-step installation sequence for piping assemblies, valves and other equipment.
The new Penn State virtual mockup offers first person presence, or the feeling that you're actually in the room when you're just standing in a space bounded by five large screens that surround you with a projected image. While the experience isn't up to the level of the holodeck on Star Trek's Starship Enterprise, the concept is the same. The virtual mockup experience is real enough to enable welders, for example, to crawl under virtual structures and hit their heads on virtual pipes to determine if there's enough room to work.
Early results from experiments involving construction management students and experienced construction superintendents indicate that the virtual room has the potential to reduce construction costs by enabling more efficient scheduling.
The research team will detail the virtual room's development and the first experiments to test its utility in a paper, "Using Immersive Virtual Environments To Develop and Visualize Construction Schedules for Advanced Nuclear Power Plants," to be presented at the International Congress on Advanced Nuclear Power Plants in Cordoba, Spain, May 6.
The authors are Vaughn Whisker, doctoral candidate in nuclear engineering and a research assistant at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory (ARL); Dr. Anthony J. Baratta, professor of nuclear engineering and director of Penn State's Nuclear Safety Center; Sai Yerrapathruni, a master's degree candidate in architectural engineering; Dr. John I. Messner, assistant professor of architectural engineering; Timothy S. Shaw, head, ARL Synthetic Environment Applications Laboratory; Michael E. Warren, ARL research assistant; Eileen S. Rotthoff, ARL research assistant and J. W. Winters, J. A. Clelland and F. T. Johnson of Westinghouse Electric Company.
The room modeled by the Penn State virtual mockup is Room 12306 of the yet-to-be-built Westinghouse AP1000 commercial nuclear power plant. Room 12306 exists only in cyberspace but could someday be located in a nuclear power plant auxiliary building and contain piping, valves and other equipment from 10 different fluid systems.
The development team created the virtual rooExperiments conducted at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory in the Synthetic Environment Applications Laboratory (SEA Lab) have shown that experienced construction superintendents were able to develop shorter construction schedules using the virtual room versus schedules developed using only 3-D CAD drawings. The construction sequence developed using the interactive method offered by the virtual room lasted 35 days. The sequences developed using the CAD drawings were 48 days and 53 days. The interactive sequence development method saved between 27 and 33 percent in this test case.
In other tests, construction management students who used the virtual room were able to identify constructability problems easily and to find opportunities for scheduling parallel construction activities even though they had no prior knowledge of the space.
The project is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy Research Initiative.
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