The paper deals with the application of a Virtual Reality (VR) system to the Design Review session of a new train service system. The virtual environment has been provided with particular features, ad hoc implemented for Design Review activity, in particular directed to railway field concepts. Generally, the design activity in railway field is carried out by CAD systems, in the typical desktop configurations. Even if this approach is a good step forward if compared to the traditional project design, it does not provide an exhaustive view of all the design process phases. The well-known benefits of VR techniques include the possibility to substitute the physical mock-up of a product concept with the models obtained by means of virtual prototyping. Moreover, simulation is not limited to the simple visualization, but it gives the designer the possibility to have an immersive experience, “living” the product before its physical realization. Virtual prototyping allows validating much more alternatives not only of a product, but also of processes. The main goal of the implemented system was to offer an instrument suitable even for inexperienced VR users, such as designers or workers assigned to the maintenance operations. Moreover, unlike the available tools for Design Review, the environment was oriented to the study of complex systems with large dimensions, such as trains in real scale. The possibility to involve a great number of persons, not only designer but also personnel assigned to the real maintenance, makes them to share the experience with staff of other company sectors, according to a concurrent engineering approach. The authors received the suggestions by the collaboration with designers and technicians of an important railway company, so the case study demonstrated the utility of the presented approach in a field prevalently characterized by a traditional way of design. Particularly, the simulation concerned the brake and the air-conditioning systems was finalized to satisfy the required verifications of accessibility and detachability of such sub-assemblies with the usual tools, which the company maintenance shops are equipped with. The design review system realized by the authors is based on a commercial software, chosen as simulation manager, but several additional features has been added using the available Application Programming Interface in order to satisfy specific railway design requirements. The activity has been carried out at the VR laboratory of the Competence Centre for the Qualification of Transportation Systems, founded by Campania Region and named “VRTest”.
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