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* A team headed by a recent Purdue graduate played a leading role in creating a 3-D visual holographic display of how a commercial aircraft, the Boeing 787, is built. The display is currently showing at the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Everett, Wash. (1 minute, 12 seconds)
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April 10, 2007

Purdue team's 3-D animation on display at Future of Flight center

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A team headed by a recent Purdue University graduate played a leading role in creating a 3-D visual holographic display of how a commercial aircraft is built, and it is currently showing at the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Everett, Wash.

David Shaw, who received his master's degree from the College of Technology in 2006, formerly worked at Boeing and is now a senior computer-aided designer for Freightliner in Portland, Ore. His master's project, titled "A Study of the Development and Evaluation of a 3-D Animation Depicting the Assembly Process of a Boeing 787 Aircraft," details how he and a few assistants put together a four-minute video that shows how the plane is assembled.

The video has been running every four minutes since mid-December 2005 at the Future of Flight Aviation Center, which is located near Boeing's manufacturing facility. Boeing's corporate headquarters are in Chicago.

"It normally takes about three weeks to assemble a plane of this magnitude," Shaw said. "Our goal was to give a layperson not necessarily skilled in aircraft construction a glimpse of how a massive airplane is put together. We purposefully used easy concepts that even a 5-year-old can understand in a brief and fast-moving presentation.

"It's not an exact or by any means a complete look at the assembly, but it is a good representation."

In the animation, viewers see the three main parts of the plane - the nose, fuselage and tail - come together. Each section is mobile and joins seamlessly without the help of any people on the ground. Robotic arms place the tailfin and the wings on the plane, and then the engines are added. Finally, the supporting rollers glide away, and the plane is lowered to the ground, where it taxis out of the assembly line.

The students also added a special Purdue touch: as the plane rolls off the assembly line, the plane is depicted in gold and black.

The Boeing 787, also known as the Dreamliner, is assembled much like other Boeing passenger jumbo jets, except that the 787 features a one-piece fuselage section, which eliminates 1,500 aluminum sheets and more than 40,000 fasteners.

Boeing says passengers will see improvements to the plane's interior, including an increase in cabin humidity. The aircraft also promises to be much more fuel efficient while still traveling at speeds comparable to current wide-bodied planes. The first Dreamliner is expected to fly later this year, with its official entry into service occurring in 2008.

Students from Purdue created the assembly portion of the Future of Flight animation, and an Atlanta-based company, 3DH, was responsible for additional animation and final composition.

Shaw, who worked as an intern at Boeing prior to receiving his master's degree, said he spent about 600 hours during last fall's semester working on the project.

"Since I was also working about 20 hours a week for my teaching assistantship, I spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights working on the project on my computer in my apartment - sometimes 12 hours at a time," he said. "And because we did the project completely from West Lafayette, there were a few logistical and communication challenges, but we were able to complete the project on time, and we're really pleased with the results."

Purdue's Envision Center for Data Perceptualization facilities were used to test and display the animation. At the time, Miller was a faculty fellow at the center, which is part of Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP).

Shaw's adviser Craig Miller, a professor in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology, initiated the project and received significant help from Nicoletta Adamo-Villani, a professor in the department who specializes in animation.

Miller had participated in previous projects with Boeing and continues to help place many Purdue students as interns with the company. One of Miller's former graduate students, Travis Furest, who also is employed by Boeing, was instrumental in initiating this project with Purdue.

Michael Richey, a Boeing associate technical fellow within the learning, training and development group, said the display at the Future of Flight Center plays an important role in educating the public, as well as K-12 students, about technology's real-world applications.

"Almost every kid that comes to see the exhibit says it's their favorite one," he said. "It gives children such a realistic view of the plane assembly that they're always reaching out to try to touch it. Our Purdue partnership links industry application to academic projects, and this joint activity plays a critical role in closing the gap between what is taught in the classroom and industry reality."

Shaw said the current walk-through tour of the Boeing factory gives visitors a brief look at how a plane is assembled, but due to the length of time it takes to put an aircraft together, it doesn't help viewers understand the process of how it all fits together.

"To those on the tour, it looks like the different parts of the plane are just sitting there motionless," he said. "That's why this animation is so valuable. It leaves out a lot of little steps, but it is basically, sequentially, how a plane is built."

Richey said he was so impressed with the Purdue team that he would love the chance to work with other Purdue students again and possibly even expand upon the current display.

"A project like this has a lot of potential to be taken to the next level," he said. "Integrating haptics and Doppler feedback, future projects could involve all the senses to create a virtual immersive learning environment. Very soon in projects like these, we think we will be able to transfer knowledge more quickly, virtually at the speed of thought."

The Future of Flight Aviation Center debuted in fall 2005. It is a collaboration among Boeing, the Future of Flight Foundation, Snohomish County (Wash.) Public Facilities District and the Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field) to create an interpretive center to help visitors look into the future of commercial aviation. The center also incorporates the existing Boeing tour, which allows visitors see the partial assembly of commercial jets.

Writer:     Kim Medaris, (765) 494-6998, kmedaris@purdue.edu

Sources:   David Shaw, (618) 713-5678, davoshaw@gmail.com

Craig Miller, (765) 494-8207, miller02@purdue.edu

Michael Richey, (360) 387-7775, michael.c.richey@boeing.com

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

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