Visualizing the future in 3-D

An article published in the NWI Times, April 27, 2012
By Lu Ann Franklin, Times Correspondent

Purdue University Calumet’s Center for Innovation through Visualization & Simulation has saved local, national and international companies more than $30 million by analyzing problems and finding solutions using innovative technology.

“We have worked on projects in the fields of engineering, education/training, economic development, energy, environment, health care, marketing, manufacturing, science, surveys, transportation and construction,” said Chenn Qian Zhou, CIVS director and professor of mechanical engineering.

On Thursday, Zhou and some of her students presented a 3-D look at some of those projects to members of the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. The university hosted the chamber’s monthly luncheon at the CIVS facility.

Opened last October, the 6,300-square-foot, multi-disciplinary research center houses simulation and visualization labs, a 3-D virtual classroom, conference rooms and a 62-seat immersive theater.

Purdue students work on projects for partner industries with the supervision of professors and staff.

“They don’t just work in the lab. They interact with collaborators and they go out in the field,” Zhou said of the experiential learning program used at Purdue Calumet. “We train students on real-world problems and help businesses to improve their processes.”

One project example shown to Lakeshore chamber members involved a blast furnace from local steel mills. Students used computer visualization and simulation to predict the furnace’s internal conditions. This helped minimize the fuel rate used to reduce iron oxides to iron. Research continues on how to maximize furnace operations’ efficiency.

The CIVS technology also can be used to create a virtual tour of a facility not yet built. The Franciscan Alliance’s special care nursery at St. Margaret Mercy in Dyer was an illustration Zhou used during the presentation prior to the luncheon.

Computer simulation has been used for decades to create models or virtual designs of a specific system. PUC has added computer visualization to that technology.

Visualization allows the students to “get inside” what they are analyzing and troubleshoot, she said. The solutions can then be added to the visualization and tested.

“They can ask more ‘what if’ questions and do more trial and error (exercises),” Zhou said. “It’s easy to communicate and understand. (Visualization) provides for more innovative solutions. You can do less and better with less.”

Zhou said simulation and visualization services are part of the world’s future. Global challenges require more innovation, she said. The CIVS facility and faculty are also providing 21st century technologies “to create virtual worlds for innovative, cost-effective solutions,” Zhou said.