Using Virtual Reality to Improve Product Development

Rolls-Royce is pioneering the use of virtual reality (VR) for successful product development.

Rolls-Royce is leading an ambitious decarbonisation strategy, aiming to become a net zero carbon company across their value chain by 2050. Manufacturing and production are at the core of this strategy. For instance, Rolls-Royce expects their production site in Bristol, UK, to be the first Rolls-Royce facility to achieve net zero carbon status in 2022 and do so without using carbon offsets.

A cornerstone to achieve these sustainability goals is Rolls-Royce’s Technology Driven Transition - pioneering new breakthrough technologies that can accelerate the global transition to net zero. A committed Digital First company, Rolls-Royce is accelerating its digital transformation to meet exponential customer demand for increasing the performance of their propulsion systems and improving the efficiency of their delivery.

Leading the transition to net zero carbon, Rolls-Royce is acting to reduce its carbon footprint throughout the complete product lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce)

Embodying this initiative, Rolls-Royce is pioneering the use of virtual reality (VR) for successful product development. The use of VR has only been reinforced by the pandemic situation to enable collaborative design reviews in a safe environment, from various remote locations. Virtual reality brings concrete benefits to reduce the carbon footprint of product development at Rolls-Royce: less travel; less physical try-out, mock-ups, and prototypes; which means less material waste and energy use, while improving the digital continuity of product development activities.

The MT30 Aero Gas Turbine Engine

MT30 marine gas turbine. (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce)

Rolls-Royce’s involvement in naval propulsion spans over half a century. The OEM has pioneered some of the most important technical advances in marine propulsion, including the use of aero gas turbines for surface ship propulsion. Today, Rolls-Royce supplies marine gas turbines in the 3-40MW power range.

MT30 is the world’s most powerful in-service marine gas turbine, integrating marine gas turbine technology to give operators efficiency and reliability in a compact package with a market-leading power-to-weight ratio. 2008 marked the entry into service for the MT30, powering the US Navy’s first Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Freedom. Now selected for over seven ship types, MT30 has become the gas turbine of choice for many of the world’s most advanced naval programs.

Designed with approximately 50 percent fewer parts than other aero-derived gas turbines in its class, to minimize maintenance costs, the MT30 has a twin-spool, high-pressure ratio gas generator with free power turbine. It maintains operating efficiency down to 25 MW and can be configured in either mechanical, electrical or hybrid drive configurations.

Engineer working at Rolls-Royce Bristol Innovation Centre. (Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce)

For all its product lines, Rolls-Royce commits to help its customers improve operations and maintenance capabilities, while reducing costs, risks, and deployment disruption. When it comes to the MT30, maintainability is a critical goal. As opposed to aircraft engine maintenance, which can be done on-wing or off-wing, service procedures for a marine gas turbine must be performed on the ship. Service or maintenance operators often need to work in confined spaces. Another problem engineers need to satisfy is that this engine sits in a box where they have no access to it. The team found a solution to improve the way they validate their designs by evaluating it upstream in virtual reality to ensure the safety and efficiency of the service tasks.

Using Virtual Reality to Reach Maintainability Goals

For many years Rolls-Royce has equipped engineering teams in Bristol with virtual reality capabilities in a bid to develop products in a smarter and more sustainable way. They use the software solution IC.IDO from ESI Group to transform design processes and increase the efficiency of product development. Being able to virtually experience products and processes first-hand, in real-time, and at real scale gives engineers the ability to cut-down iteration loops, to avoid costly trial and error, downstream issues, and to reduce the need for physical mock-ups.

Rolls-Royce is using IC.IDO, a Virtual Reality software that creates a virtual environment from design data. When they are in office, Rolls-Royce’s design engineers can put VR headsets on and see a virtual asset in a customer environment. And when they are designing bespoke assets for their customers internationally, again, both parties can put their headsets on, reviewing designs immersively from their separate locations.

Using virtual mannequins, Rolls-Royce can run Virtual Maintenance Process reviews without risk, gaining valuable insights at the right time, helping them to reduce industrial waste and downstream process inefficiencies. This includes the removal and assembly of components that must be undertaken in confined packaging spaces. Often these tasks are theoretically plausible, but in reality, these can be difficult and dangerous for operators to do. The fact that there are lots of these tasks to consider makes IC.IDO a solid tool to virtually validate human centric operations.

IC.IDO provides an interactive, immersive experience to validate human-performed process validation and complex product integration. (Image courtesy of ESI Group)

Virtual reality also supports product integration by feeding back valuable information to the design teams. The fact that many tasks can be virtually validated from the CAD model also aids cross-functional communication, for example, by giving design a greater appreciation of the packaging constraints the operators have to work within. It also allows insight into key operator ergonomics and the feasibility of assembly and removal of products. These tasks can be performed virtually to validate existing procedures and optimize new processes.

Another key value is the ability to analyze flexible cables and hoses within their service tasks. This functionality has led to a greater appreciation of design for manufacture and understanding key serviceability processes.

IC.IDO is a proven virtual reality industry solution enabling CAD data import to create a virtual reality environment. Engineers can then interact in the environment, assess design solutions, and collaborate at pace. It is helping companies anticipate issues related to all human-centric processes. By using IC.IDO, Rolls-Royce’s Digital Innovation team have enabled fast rendering of CAD data, allowing engineers to really immerse themselves in the design process, truly bringing digital into engineering, and championing collaboration.

This article was written by James Boyd, Senior Solution Consultant Customer Experience, ESI Group (Cannock, UK); and Dan Gillians, Innovation Lead & Technologist, Rolls-Royce Defence (Bristol, UK). For more information, go to  or .