Sandia National Labs

News Release

Media Relations Department

CONTACT: Chris Miller, 505-844-5550,

September 6, 1996

New Computer Technology Dissolves Limitations to Traditional Design and Engineering Methods

Engineers can design and test applications in real time from different locations

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Traditional design and engineering constraints are being overcome with a new computer/robotics technology developed jointly by Sandia National Laboratories and Deneb Robotics, Inc. of Auburn Hills, Mich.

The Virtual Collaborative Engineering (VCE) technology allows engineers, technicians and operators to collaborate from widely disparate locations on designs, simulations and robotic operations. With VCE, researchers can develop new robot control algorithms to validate models developed in their university labs without owning a robot; designers can access machining centers to fabricate prototypi-cal parts; and manufacturers can model, simulate and measure the performance of prospective robotic tools before purchasing them.

The ability to collaborate remotely reduces travel time and expense, and speeds up the time it takes to bring new products to market.

Development of the technology was driven by Sandia's search for solutions to clean up hazard-ous waste sites and a push to keep national manufacturing competitive.

"Hazardous waste cleanup requires systems that not only retrieve waste, but monitor its condition, ensure environmental and personal safety, meet changing legal and regulatory requirements, and are affordable. Our objective was to reduce the operational costs and to increase the efficiency and safety of clean-up operations," said Michael McDonald of Sandia's Intelligent Systems Dept. "VCE gives us the ability to do this work remotely with robots and to address all these issues. We can bring together all the nuclear, robotic, design and engineering experts, from wherever they are, and work interactively to develop ways to approach specific situations.

"Whether we need to remediate waste, develop new robot systems for manufacturing, or pre-view and simulate a new factory system, we can do it safely, efficiently and economically with VCE technology," McDonald added.

Sandia's Laboratory Directed Research & Development (LDRD) program, the Department of Energy's Robotics Technology Development Project (RTDP), and other internal Sandia programs such as TIE-In, which provides on-line access to Sandia technologies, collaborated on the development of VCE technology. RTDP is promoting VCE applications development, particularly in the area of Graphical Programming Technology, by teaming with university, industry and government sectors, and serving as a bridge to speed the implementation of VCE into practical engineering solutions.

Sandia is working with Deneb to commercialize VCE technologies, which when combined with Sandia-developed robotic controls technologies, will allow engineers, technicians, and operators to collaborate on projects.

VCE is a significant step beyond teleconferencing.

"Our implementation of VCE allows all of the engineers at disparate locations to communicate using the same dataset," said Jay P. Harrison, Deneb's senior vice president of research and technology. "VCE is truly interactive since it allows each participant to manipulate the full 3-D environment and actually run the simulation. Any collaborator can request the master token, stop the simulation and show the others an aspect of the design or manufacturing operation where a problem will occur. No other tool has ever offered that capability."

Working with Sandia, Deneb added VCE capability to its TELE-interactive Graphics Robot Instructional Program (TELEGRIP), a simulation-based control system for the development and im-plementation of robots with integrated sensors, graphic representation, real-time reasoning and elec-tromechanical systems. The program is designed for hazardous or complex environments in which specific conditions may be unknown or likely to change when executing robot operations.

Sandia and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) demonstrated VCE's initial capabilities last spring at the Third Annual National Manufacturing Technology Conference at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md. A geometric model of an experimental, high-precision machining tool was loaded onto workstations at Sandia and at NIST. Engineers at both sites ran control simulation programs interactively on the machining tool. Actions initiated by either engineer were transmitted immediately to both workstations, allowing them to cooperatively interact with the simu-lated machining tool, modify its motions and see results despite being 2000 miles apart.

"This demonstration is a good example of the value of industry and government teaming," McDonald said. "Together, Sandia and Deneb cost-effectively developed and deployed technologies that would be prohibitively expensive for any single organization to produce."

Deneb's President Robert Brown predicts the VCE technology will have a large impact on Department of Defense contractors, the aerospace and automotive industries, manufacturing and research institutions.

"In the aerospace industry, the prime contractor and many first-tier and second-tier subsuppliers need to coordinate product development, product design, manufacturing processes, design for assembly and design for manufacturability," Brown said.

Deneb Robotics, founded in 1985, is a world leader in 3-D graphics-based factory simulation, telerobotic, and virtual reality software. Deneb's simulation and telerobotic software is widely used in the aerospace, automotive, defense, environmental, medical, nuclear, and research communities.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram Department of Energy laboratory, operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities located in Albuquerque, N.M., and Liver-more, Calif., Sandia has broad-based research and development programs contributing to national de-fense, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Technical contact: Michael McDonald, (505) 845-9852;

Chris Miller,

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Last modified: June 12, 2001

Sandia National Laboratories is operated by Lockheed Martin Corp. for the U.S. Department of Energy.