The increasing role of 3D in the simulation environment


Lerato Nyama

Defining Simulation modeling

By definition, Simulation modeling is the process of creating and analysing a digital prototype of a physical model to predict its performance in the real world. A model is a representation of the construction and working of some system of interest.

The topic of discussion will be focussing on the increasing role of 3D simulation. The main focus will be Discrete Event Simulation. This is based on the assumption that the system changes instantaneously in response to certain discrete events. Simulation modeling has opened up a whole new world of mathematical analysis on the impact of uncertain inputs and decisions we make on the outcomes we care about. We find ourselves in an era where technology advancements change the way we do things.

2D vs 3D simulation

More and more we are beginning to see 3D simulation playing a big role in simulation modeling. The traditional 2D modeling has been replaced with impressive 3D data providing visuals that are not only appealing to the audience, but also represent what is physically on the factory floor. 3D simulation provides enhanced visuals and accuracy that otherwise could not have been achieved in 2D modeling (as seen in Figure 1 – 3D Factory Model in Tecnomatix Plant Simulation). We are now able to pull in an object’s CAD data, point cloud of the facility etc. to develop a digital prototype.

Figure 1 – 3D Factory Model in Tecnomatix Plant Simulation [1]

Figure 2 – Point cloud image [2]

Instead of pulling in a 2D drawing of your facility, we see point cloud images (Figure 2 – Point cloud image) are being used in 3D simulation models. A point cloud is a set of data points in a three-dimensional coordinate system. This is quite pricey but comes with its own benefits. The level of accuracy of these point cloud images enables us to check for possible collisions with equipment. This would not have been possible in 2D models. The special relation between objects is very important, which is why point clouds are gaining popularity among modelers. The information gained from pint cloud images allows for smooth execution of facility renovations and retrofit projects.

3D Simulation models provide an opportunity for non-simulation personnel to get a better understanding of the model. When presented with visuals of their facility, machines etc., the team is able to offer more input and actually engage in the simulation process more effectively. Therefore making the whole exercise meaningful and produces even more accurate results.

Previously, presenting simulation models to management was a tedious and daunting task because most people found it difficult to relate to a 2D modeling environment with objects flying around as seen in Figure 3 – 2D Model of Production Facility [3]. As soon as you present familiar visuals in 3D, people are able to relate and make better decisions based on the visuals they see in front of them.

Some might argue that it takes a lot of effort and time into building a model in 3D which essentially does not add any statistical significance. My argument is that the response and support you will receive from key stakeholders will determine how far your project will go. If you can get your audience to understand what you are building and aim to achieve, your results will be better.

3D in Education

3D modeling together with Virtual Reality (VR) has redefined the way learning is taking place (Figure 4- University of Pretoria VR Centre [4]). The University of Pretoria has a state of the art Kumba Virtual Reality Centre for Mine Design. The VR center presents an environment for ‘immersive’ experiences destined to change the face of education, research and design in mining and beyond.

Figure 4– University of Pretoria VR Centre

The center is set to enhance learning, training, and research in operational risks across industries through an innovative approach to information optimization and visualization. Essentially, such facilities are not limited to just the mining industry and can be used in other fields of study. Imagine medical students performing open heart surgery simulations!

Such technological advances and developments have revolutionized the way simulation modeling has traditionally been done. We can now create solutions to otherwise complex challenges that we are faced with in industry today.

Workers are now able to identify and get a better understanding of what is going on in the simulation model presented to them. They are able to physically/visually see the effects of certain decisions they make while working. This makes the whole process interactive and a better learning experience.

Benefits in a nutshell

  1. Speed
  2. Precision and Control
  3. Scenario Visualization
  4. Interactive Analysis
  5. Improved Communication
  6. Appealing Visuals


[1] 3D Factory51 Model in Tecnomatix Plant Simulation taken from Tecnomatix Plant Simulation V14 example models.

[2] Trimble. Automation in Point Cloud Processing. GeoDataPointBlog: (2017,December 19) Retrieved From:

[3] 2D Model of Production Facility created in Tecnomatix Plant Simulation V13.1.

[4] Kumba Virtual Reality (VR) Centre (2017, December 19) Retrieved from: