Imagine being able to design a car by slipping on a virtual reality headset or creating weapons technology with 3D panoramic models -- and never having to leave your office.
As businesses go global and teams are scattered around the world, the idea of herding everyone into the same room for a meeting seems quaint.
So companies are using technology to get creative. It's making the manufacturing world feel smaller -- and saving dollars, too.
The tool: Touch-enabled design tools, video conferencing and interactive displays
The scoop: Boeing's Center for Applied Simulation and Analytics lab in Huntsville, Alabama, is all about innovation. The walls are dotted with interactive displays, like flight simulators, video conferencing and touch-enabled design mockups. The goal is to improve communication between hundreds of global offices and tens of thousands of suppliers.
The lab -- which opened last year -- makes it easier to catch design issues early. It also speeds up the manufacturing process and feels like everyone is in the same room together.
"For aircraft, or even less complex products like TVs or phones, the high degree of technical detail is astounding: the landing gear, the engine, the manufacturing, the design, the suppliers," Greg Portell, lead partner at consulting firm A.T. Kearney, said. "It becomes pretty obvious how the varied skills needed for each component create the need for global collaboration."
The tool: Immersive virtual reality "cave"
The scoop: As part of French automaker Renault's Virtual Reality and Immersive Simulation Technologies Group, staffers use a "cave" room to help design vehicles.
A cave is a room with computer-generated images projected onto the walls and ceiling in 4K resolution. Designers and other staffers wear headsets and virtually sit inside the vehicle, where they can interact with the car's features and take a virtual "drive."
Meanwhile, other teams, including suppliers, can watch on their own screens to see what the driver is experiencing -- and use the test drive to make changes, with no physical vehicle prototype required.
ANHEUSER-BUSCH INBEV AND DEL PAPA DISTRIBUTING
The tool: Telepresence
The scoop: Portell, the Kearney analyst, points to Del Papa and InBev as examples of infusing collaboration tools into company culture.
"It isn't technology for technology's sake," Portell said.
Texas-based Del Papa Distributing, which delivers 10 million cases of beer annually from 30 suppliers, has 375 employees spread across three offices. Staffers were often forced to drive back and forth to attend meetings or present proposals.
When Del Papa built a 27-acre headquarters in 2014, the company installed a variety of tools -- including immersive audio and video equipment -- to cut down on commuting time. Both companies now use telepresence to conduct sales presentations, performance reviews and meetings.
"They didn't try to horn it in where it didn't fit," Portell said. "It works because the expectation is that you'll use the tool; it's part of doing business every day. So it's embedded into the culture in a way that some other companies can't match."
The tool: Immersive design centers
The scoop: Defense giant Raytheon operates Immersive Design Centers (IDCs) in Tucson, Arizona, and Andover, Massachusetts. Similar to Renault, each IDC is outfitted with CAVE technology that allows products to be viewed at all points in the manufacturing process. Both the Andover and Tucson systems can display 2D drawings, 3D immersive models or both as needed.
At Raytheon, up to 20 employees can use the IDCs to take an active role in reviewing models and simulation results to streamline manufacturing and communication across the supply chain. Using visual models allows various teams -- including non-engineers who may not know how to read technical drawings -- to have an equal voice in the process.
Engineers can manipulate virtual prototypes of warfighters, while staff designers create complex simulations to illustrate defense and aerospace technologies: how ground battles unfold, what missiles look like in flight and how satellites move in space.