Software helps car manufacturers produce higher quality products

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EPSRC-funded research at the University of Leeds has resulted in a software product that helps car manufacturers improve the quality of their products.

  • Researchers used 3D modelling to replicate the effects of manufacturing variation – developing a product that has saved car makers £25 million
  • Spin-out company Icona Solutions formed to maximise potential of research, creating Aesthetica software
  • Aesthetica is now licenced to over 20 companies in 10 countries

Researchers from the University of Leeds have developed 3D modelling techniques and virtual visualisation software to help car-makers address potential imperfections, such as gaps between panels and misalignments that arise during vehicle assembly, even when all part dimensions are manufactured to within their tolerance range.

In 2003 the researchers formed Icona Solutions to develop and exploit this intellectual property. This led to the creation of Aesthetica software, a product that enables manufacturers to simulate tolerance conditions, which enables manufacturers to master the exact assembly of their product, before going into production – reducing assembly time and reject rates.

The software has contributed to improvements in the design and manufacture of around 70 different vehicle lines, reaching over 40 million consumers, and saving car makers approximately £25 million in efficiency and cost savings (including reduced scrap and rectification costs).

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In 1996, the Rover Car Company approached the University of Leeds for help with a quality control problem. The company was concerned that, after assembly, a number of manufactured cars failed to match the visual appeal of the original computer aided design (CAD), despite all components being manufactured to within their specified tolerances. These cars had to be scrapped or rectified, leading to waste and increased production costs.

Typical CAD packages show what a perfectly constructed car will look like. However, the vehicle’s actual construction is always ’within tolerance’, resulting in less than perfect results.

Professor Peter Dew assembled and led an EPSRC-funded consortium to research and develop solutions to the problems highlighted by Rover. Professor Dew, along with postdoctoral research assistant Dr John Maxfield, looked at modelling the effects of the manufacturing variation, representing these effects visually, to develop a software tool.

Upon completion of the EPSRC research, the University of Leeds employed Dr Maxfield to continue development of the software tool towards commercialisation through Icona Solutions, which was established in 2003 with the aid of start-up funding of £300,000 from the WhiteRose Seedcorn fund. Icona was acquired by OPTIS, a leading software developer for the scientific simulation of light and human vision within a Virtual Reality Environment, in October 2013.