The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), based in Ansty Park near Coventry, is tendering for an “immersive, virtual reality suite” to help save on the cost of research and development.

MTC is a company aiming to kick-start manufacturing by providing a link between the Universities and pre-production runs. The company is both privately and publicly funded, with investment from Advantage West Midlands and the East Midlands Development Agency.

Dave Doughty, procurement co-ordinator for MTC, told Techworld that experimenting with virtual reality is far less expensive than experimenting with actual, real pieces of kit in the R&D field. The company will use the technology to model and design products before putting them into production.

The contract is worth between £150,0000 and £200,000 and will last for 50 months (just over 4 years) from the date that the contract is awarded. The deadline for receipt of tenders or requests to participate is Friday 6 January at 12 noon. So far, 12 companies have expressed an interest, and these companies have been sent tender documents, according to Doughty.

Opening tenders must be submitted by 17 February.

MTC says it hopes to have a fully functional, operational unit using virtual reality within nine months. However, the company was unable to provide any further details, as it is currently only at tender stage, and still has to go through installation and commissioning.

Virtual reality is used widely in manufacturing to design products, create prototypes and carry out simulations. Programs using Electronic Design Automation, CAD, Finite Element Analysis, and Computer Aided Manufacturing are all popular industry choices, and Stereolithography and 3D printing use computer graphic modelling to create physical parts of real objects used in naval, aerospace and automotive industries.

One company making use of virtual reality in its manufacturing is Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which has reportedly managed to improve the efficiency of its product development by 40 percent over the past decade through 3D modelling. The company's 3D studio, known as the 'cave', allows engineers to design, sit in, and even test drive the latest models using computer-generated models.

“Virtual Reality helped us to visualise the vehicle as it passes through every stage of the manufacturing process to optimise the tools, facilities and processes to ensure each vehicle can be made just as engineering intended,” explained Andy Richardson, manager of the Jaguar Land Rover Simulation Group in the UK.