Congratulations to Wearality. The Autodesk Inventing the Future recipient for May.
XpoArt Reinvents Automotive Showrooms with Virtual Reality
Imagine you walk into a car dealer’s showroom, and every fixture there— the interactive kiosks, the information stands next to each car, even the coffee machine—embodies thoughtful high-end product design to enhance the shopping experience. Pretty great, huh?
Now imagine that you’re the owner of that dealership, and you get to see every one of those design elements in context in virtual reality (VR) before the designer ever fabricates a thing. It’s like you’re there, and you know exactly what you’re getting ahead of time.
Those immersive experiences—both the finished showrooms and the VR previews of them—are what XpoArt is creating with the help of Fusion 360.
Better Design for a Better Brand Experience
The design firm has been making point-of-sale systems, kiosks, and related furnishings for six years. They started out as a consulting firm focused on designing exhibit hardware for tradeshows, museums, and showrooms.
Peter Baranowski, who owns and manages the company with his father, explains how they pivoted the business a few years ago. When they decided to relocate from Indiana back to Ontario, they began to focus on the automotive industry because they thought they could design better display components than the off-the-shelf products that were being sold into car dealerships.
They began pitching car companies on a better and cleaner representation of their brands in the showroom. “It’s all about creating that experience so there’s continuity,” Baranowski says. The more fulfilling and contiguous you can make that experience, the better, he adds. When you do, every aspect of the dealership connects to the quality of the vehicle and service.
Along the way, XpoArt manufactured a lot of high-end glass-and-aluminum pricing stands for major vehicle brands, and began experimenting with holographic displays that enabled “signage that wasn’t going to occlude the environment.” Soon the firm began gaining traction with top automotive manufacturers.
How Virtual Reality Helps XpoArt Create Better Experiences
Baranowski is a relentless forward thinker when it comes to technology. Early in his career, he spent years developing custom software for engineering control systems before moving on to manufacturing automation, environmental system design and infrastructure, and Web-based applications. Today, his other business is a technology think tank that operates as an outsourced R&D unit for product design.
When XpoArt began using VR in their processes, he says, “We were blown away by what we could achieve from a design and ideation perspective.” The team has been using Fusion 360 for about three years; today, they export 3D product designs from Fusion 360 into gaming engines such as Unity to create immersive virtual environments that help clients see what’s possible.
This isn’t just a gee-whiz trick: It actually helps XpoArt create and refine prototypes faster. Baranowski uses the example of a hospitality station with an espresso machine and cups in the setting of an automotive dealership. It looks great when you render it in Fusion 360, he says, but “I still don’t have a sense of scale. I still don’t have a sense of how I as a user will interact with it.”
Once you integrate that model into a rich virtual environment, however, “It’s more about how that product relates to a person. Does it feel cool? Does it give you the right vibe?” In VR, you can show the model in its setting, with full attention to materials such as wood, glass, and veneers. That immediately gives you a sense of the hospitality station’s aesthetics and shows how it will fit in the customer lounge at the dealership. The client can interact with it in an exact VR replica of their own environment to determine if the design is a winner or needs further tweaks. Even better, the VR approach saves lots of money and time that would otherwise be spent on physical mockups.
Baranowski reports that the results have been impressive. “No customer would have said that VR is an essential experience for them,” he explains, “but as soon as they experience it, they want to see how it can integrate in to their environment and marketing strategy.”
Using Fusion 360 for End-to-End Product Development
In previous jobs, Baranowski often used SolidWorks. “Although SolidWorks is a good package,” he notes, “it was incredibly expensive.” He knew that it was out of reach for XpoArt when it was getting started. Browsing for alternatives, he came across Fusion 360: “My jaw dropped when I realized how inexpensively it was being offered on a monthly basis, even for the premium edition.”
Once he dug into the software, he says, he realized that he could go from zero to “everything I wanted to do” in three days. As he puts it, “Not only was this product inexpensive. It is extremely intuitive.” He sees Fusion 360 as “enabling a whole industry” of designers, engineers, and product developers who never would have had access to software so powerful.
For XpoArt, the CAM side of Fusion 360 has been critically important. He and his team use the CAM preprocessor heavily, often to power their large gantry CNC machine—which, Baranowski notes, they also designed in Fusion 360.
“Fusion 360 is very enabling,” he says. “Because it is so quick to design with, we can pivot very quickly.”
XpoArt Keeps Pushing the Envelope of Product Design
Baranowski likes Fusion 360 so much that he now serves on its customer advisory group which meets every several months to talk about industry trends, along with the next innovations they’d like to see in the software itself.
For now, XpoArt’s use of Fusion 360 in VR environments makes the firm an outlier. But Baranowski sees these “visualization engines” as integral for the future of product design.