If you’re not familiar with Theorem Solutions, it’s a UK-based company that has, for many years, specialised in the translation of complex engineering data – specifically CAD and visualisation geometry, along with the metadata that’s typically associated with them.
Theorem has always been a services focused organisation.
While its technologies for data translation have been sold out of the box (its CADverter.com was one of the first online data format conversion tools), the company has always derived much of its revenue, and its position in the marketplace, from the provision of a core set of technologies on which it then builds workflows and automation processes for customers.
Its customer list, meanwhile, reads like a Who’s Who of serious engineering companies, including all of the major automotive OEMS, as well as the giants of aerospace, defence and other sectors.
Theorem’s roots lie in engineering data translation, helping companies move from one system to another.
It made a lot of money, for example, when users moved on from CADDS 5 and Catia V4.
But at the same time, it has also built a set of technologies that help take engineering CAD data and optimise it for visualisation formats such as JT, 3Dxml and Creo View – along, once again, with relevant metadata, product structure and associated data.
With this background, it was perhaps no surprise when the company began to experiment with virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, resulting in a set of technologies it calls Theorem XR.
I spent a good while with the Theorem team, learning about how it is approaching the development of these products and how its approach differs from other vendors.
So let’s look first at what they’ve built, and then dive into the specifics of how it all works.
Platform & experiences
Theorem first built a platform, which it refers to as the Theorem XR Visualisation platform.
It’s to this platform that the user uploads data and on which workflow specific tools are built.
In addition, Theorem has built four separate and distinct ‘experiences’ or applications.
These cover product layout, factory layout, design review, and work instructions, and each are worth exploring individually.
As you might expect, the Product Layout experience is a set of tools that allows you to load up your product data, inspect and review it – all at scale.
You’re able to walk up to your parts, engage with them at 1:1, and explode, section, and measure, in addition to interrogating materials and other information.
This additional information can either be extracted from the datasets or from external connected databases.
This, as with all of the Theorem XR products, works with 100% digital environment VR headsets as well as mixed reality headsets that overlay digital graphics data onto real-world views.
Factory Layout, meanwhile, allows you to bring together factory and product 3D data and plan out a factory layout, allowing you to walk the production line, perhaps find interferences with existing plant or building structures.
Interestingly, Theorem has also added in a ‘tabletop’ mode that takes the 1:1 scale data and shrinks it down onto a virtual table (or a real-world table when using MR headsets), so that a good overview is achieved.
Next, the Design Review experience adds additional functionality for interactive design review and analysis, whether used on its own or combined with the above sets of tools.
This allows you to either have multiple team members in the same session, whether in the same room (using multiple headsets) or dispersed across multiple geographic locations.
Finally, the Work Instructions experience allows you to use the same techniques to create highly interactive and engaging work instructions for both training and shop-floor use, using mixed reality hardware.
Differentiation in a crowded world
Now, for those who have some experience in the VR or AR world, this might seem like pretty standard fare, so let’s now explore how Theorem’s offering differs from the crowd.
As mentioned, underpinning all of these offerings is the Theorem XR Visualisation platform.
While you might assume that this simply provides a location for bringing in data, tessellating it to optimise for the limitations of running a VR headset, and then providing an environment in which to view that data, the reality is that Theorem has been a little cleverer than most.
In the first instance, the platform has been built from the ground up as technology that’s ready for both same-room and remote collaboration.
This means that you can have connected sessions running in different offices and different locations, so that team members across the globe can share the same experience.
While this isn’t unique, what is not all that common in the engineering space is the ability to mix and match your hardware.
If you’re not familiar with the VR world, collaborative sessions are a rare commodity.
Only a handful of commercially available design and engineering-focused systems support it (VRED, IC.IDO and a few others).
Theorem’s platform has been built to allow users to connect to the same session, using any of the hardware they have available – the current list covers all the major bases.
In terms of VR HMDs, for example, Theorem supports the usual suspects of HTC Vive, Oculus Rift/Rift-S, Microsoft Immersive (all supported devices) and Valve’s Index.
On the MR front, it supports Microsoft Hololens 1 and 2, as well as Magic Leap.
It’s also worth noting that it’s possible to interact in an interactive manner using just an iPad or iPhone in these sessions – and of course, the sessions can also be mirrored on a desktop display or larger scale monitor for others in the same room.
Finally, you also have the ability to connect not just to VR/AR data, but also to the metadata behind it.
This means that additional information can be pulled from your lifecycle management system and also fed into the virtual world alongside the 3D geometry.
The VR/MR/XR industry is one that’s advancing quickly, both in terms of the sophistication of the hardware and the software that goes alongside it.
Look at how far we’ve come in terms of VR headsets in the last couple of years, from the chunky first generation Vives and Rifts, to more standardised, self-contained units that sidestep the need to have a billion cables littering the office floor.
MR perhaps hasn’t seen the same amount of uptake – and I suspect that’s due to the added complexities of mixing virtual graphics with the real world. But it’s now moving on apace, too.
Hololens 2 is a significant upgrade, Magic Leap is doing interesting things and there are more developments to come in this market.
Then we have the software world, and specifically, software for the design and engineering world.
This hasn’t advanced to the extent that you might assume, although the AEC world has advanced more quickly.
Many of the solutions we’ve seen lately seem to address the same common problems: typically, viewing engineering data at 1:1 scale and achieving a measure of collaboration.
Theorem’s Theorem XR offering is interesting in that the company is applying years of knowledge and expertise in how to optimise heavy CAD data for the visualisation process to a brand-new platform.
These XR experiences that Theorem has developed are a starting point, the company hopes, for more consultative projects that favour deeper tailoring to an organisation’s individual needs, unique data structures and specific workflow requirements.
But already, they amply demonstrate that it’s possible to combine high-fidelity, graphically rich data and collaborative interactivity with the less exciting but equally important world of metadata, to create something that’s both usable and of substantial benefit to serious engineering firms.