Graphics Cards

Upgraded GPU Gives Airline Designers a Comprehensive View of the Cabin

12 Mar, 2014 By: Adam Scraba

Switching to an NVIDIA Quadro K6000 graphics processing unit (GPU) improves model viewing and rendering at Zodiac Seats.

Zodiac Aerospace is a global company that designs and manufactures aerospace equipment and systems for commercial, regional, and business aircraft. One of its largest divisions is Zodiac Seats, an aircraft seat manufacturer with offices in California, Texas, France, Great Britain, and other locations worldwide. Its customers include such airlines as Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Air France, as well as other global, regional, and private carriers throughout the world.

In addition to seats, Zodiac Seats also designs various economy and business-class cabin configurations, working to maximize the number of passengers that can comfortably fit into the cabin while complying with each airline’s specific requirements. The company recently implemented NVIDIA’s newest and most powerful graphics processing unit (GPU), the Quadro K6000, to improve rendering speed and capacity for its designers.

A Design Workflow Bottleneck

Zodiac Seats is continually bringing more of the product design, development, and manufacturing processes in-house in order to achieve a more fully integrated product concept-to-delivery lifecycle for its clients. Everything in an airplane is so interconnected — and so limited by space constraints — that Zodiac Seats’ designers and clients must be able to visualize the cabin as a whole in order to make the most informed design decisions. Photorealistic renders are critical to this decision process; they take the place of physical prototypes, which are expensive and time-consuming to create, and enable clients to see the big picture — the design of the entire cabin, complete with all its seats and other components. Achieving this type of visualization, however, has not always been possible for Zodiac’s design team.

Photorealistic renderings, which can be produced more quickly than physical prototypes, enable Zodiac designers and their clients to evaluate how the finished product will look. Click image to enlarge.

A typical project starts with designers using Dassault Systèmes CATIA 3D CAD design software to design all the external surfaces with which a passenger interacts, including seats, walls, floors, and in-flight entertainment systems. The designs — both of the seat by itself and of several rows of seats populated in a cross-section of the cabin — are then refined through multiple iterations in Bunkspeed 3D rendering software in order to test variations in color and lighting across the cabin and to achieve physically accurate, photorealistic imagery. From there, designers work closely with engineers to determine the optimal internal structure of seats and associated surfaces. Seat designs must accommodate integration with onboard elements including in-flight entertainment systems and beverage carts, and address concerns regarding ergonomics and passenger comfort.

One obstacle in this design process was that the designers’ previous workstations, which incorporated NVIDIA Quadro 2000 GPUs, couldn’t handle the amount of data required to work interactively with typical seat and cabin cross-section models. The resulting bottleneck forced the Zodiac team to reduce their designs down to wireframes for review before sending them to render. This process made it difficult for viewers to get the full picture — either an individual seat would be stripped of essential detail, or a cross-section would only show one small, simplified portion of the cabin. In addition, slow render times limited productivity, and time that could have been used more effectively on other tasks was wasted on minimizing designs to wireframe.


Access to Increased Processing Power

Zodiac Seats recently evaluated new Dell Precision workstations, each equipped with an NVIDIA Quadro K6000 GPU that featured 12 GB of memory and NVIDIA’s most powerful Kepler GPU architecture. The new hardware immediately improved designers’ workflows, providing the power and capacity needed to perform data-heavy renders on the workstation itself, and the speed required to easily make changes.

Felix Lorsignol, an industrial designer at Zodiac Seats, observed, “With the Quadro K6000, we can render larger files without having to simplify our designs; everything is more detailed and furthermore, everything is rendered more quickly. Ultimately the real advantage for us is being able to look at the entire cabin with no compromises, seeing how everything fits together and testing different lighting and color scenarios in real time.

Zodiac designers can now view the entire cabin, instead of just one portion of their design. Click image to enlarge.

“Before, we’d have to work with models in a wireframe and wait at least twenty minutes before we could get a glimpse of the final design [instead of seeing the design in real time] — and we could never even look at more than five or six rows of seats at a time. There was also a lot of trial and error before getting it right, due to the low level of detail our systems were limited to supporting, which reduced productivity. Now we can do much more complicated assemblies, and with more realism and accuracy than ever, in less time.

“Another example,” Lorsignol continued, “is I remember one assignment for a corporate brochure where we had to create a rendering of a cross section of the entire aircraft, including seating, the cockpit, lavatories, cargo storage, etc. This scene contained well over forty million polygons. With our older workstation setup, it was literally impossible to render. We simply couldn’t handle that project until we got the Quadro K6000.”

This cross section enables viewers to see how seating areas are arranged in relation to other sections of the aircraft. Click image to enlarge.

Expanded Workflow Options

Today, NVIDIA’s Quadro K6000 is helping Zodiac Seats’ designers work with more flexibility and efficiency. With the ability to work with more complex models and render anything directly on their workstations, designers now have fully fleshed-out designs in front of them and can simply take a screen shot and e-mail it off for approval, further speeding up the design process.

“The next step for us is to connect Zodiac teams across the country and the world to work in a truly collaborative way,” said Lorsignol. “Right now the designers have to create presentations and then hand something off for approval or edits, but we want to try having all the players around a desk or in a video conference, rendering and tweaking and making decisions all together in real time. The Quadro K6000 makes this possible.”

About the Author: Adam Scraba

Adam Scraba

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