YKK AP Technologies Lab (NA) Inc. hopes to develop a “virtual factory” that simulates engineering and supply chains in a virtual space. The research and development group, a spinoff of Atlanta-based YKK AP Inc., says that the possibilities of a virtual environment can alleviate workforce shortages and “aging installation technicians” in the design and development fields.

YKK AP Technologies Lab’s new facility will focus on developing digital technologies that enable production and installation activities to be simulated in a “virtual factory.”

To achieve this goal, YKK AP Technologies Lab recently signed a five-year lease for 7,576 square feet of research space on the third floor of RIDC Mill 19, Building A, in Pittsburgh. The new location will be home to a research and development center. The center will focus on developing digital technologies that enable production and installation activities to be simulated in a “virtual factory.” Its work will allow for the creation of engineering and supply chains in a virtual space, aiming to create a “digital twin,” says YKK AP Technologies Lab.

The news follows a 2020 research partnership between YKK AP and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) that seeks to marry technology with the construction, glass and fenestrations industries.

Oliver Stepe, president of YKK AP America Inc., says his company determined that a long-term research and technology development partnership with CMU benefits the trade industries. CMU specializes in applied research using robots and IT, and its academic culture emphasizes industry-academia collaboration.

The eventual goal of the partnership is to develop new technology for installing fenestration products at job sites by using robots and IT to improve construction productivity and quality. Through the agreement, the organizations are investigating virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality technologies and researching new installation methods to bring innovation to the field.

“YKK AP is seeing future constraints on field labor not only in the U.S. but across the globe,” says Stepe. “Increasingly tight schedules, rapid building close-ins and constraints on skilled field labor demand the development of advanced technologies.”

YKK AP researchers are working with CMU’s Computational Engineering and Robotics Laboratory, led by Professor Kenji Shimada. The five-year partnership runs through April 2024; an extension will be considered after the partnership period.