The ups and downs of new Car Design Culture

The use of existing technologies in a completely new way may be providing key strategic gains within the car-makers’ design and product launch operations. One long-established technology with such a potential is digital surfacing. Digital surfacing, formerly used to refine the shapes generated in physical design properties such as clay models, is now being applied to create the design character-forms directly in virtual properties – wherein the results can be visualised, assessed, refined and then NC machined for further verification.


Introducing new quality

Digital surfacing tools are increasingly being used for sculpting new design models from scratch. This not only leverages the designer’s creative potential but also skips many traditional and lengthy procedures, dramatically reducing the new vehicle’s program costs.

Surfacing, as a traditional means of reproducing and refining the visible car body shapes has been introduced in the late 1980s. It’s still being used in conjunction with the clay design approach. The traditional clay modelling process involves a horde of design, clay sculpting and concept engineering resources. It is a laborious routine that requires a project budget of its own. Its subsequent surfacing phase is labour intensive too and requires a separate project budget in its own right.

New 3D Digital Design, however, does the job faster and with less resources. It consists in capturing the design intent directly from sketches. The approach has a capacity to cope with a broader scope of needs at the same time. It covers all design sensitive areas, spanning from product ideation through to 3D research, concept design, packaging, design freeze and feasibility engineering, and all the way to the master surface release for production.  The heart of that motion is Direct Digital Modelling.

Digital modelling along with a slight design support makes a lean project execution strategy that goes beyond the design drive. The approach not only creates an effective product innovation device but also delivers better project performance increasing the quality and cutting the costs and program timing.


New Design Ethos vs the old culture

Currently, a blend between the traditional clay modelling and new digital sculpting techniques is in an exploratory phase in most of the OEM design studios. It’s a kind of an on-going trial that actually slows down the growth of the car manufacture’s own digital modelling expertise, and it happens for several reasons.

Just as most of the car design studios endorse the new process, introducing the new method is a game that requires both a change of mind-set and restructuring. For the reasons of some restrictive corporate employment and investment policies, more than a few of the automotive OEMs opt for outsourcing a portion of their projects rather than rebuilding their operational structures. It is a game of acquiring the new highly skilled personnel resources too.

As the in-house apprenticeship vanished long ago, digital design is being typically supplied by the outside consultancies. Hiring the external resources just in time may often be critical in terms of project performance and product launch and marketing. What is at stake is a process that cuts the time to market by half and removes up to 60% of the habitually incurred product development expenditure. The outsourcing phenomena leads to the emergence of a new digital design-execution branch and, as long as the supplier’s outcomes are of a higher quality and lower costs, spurs the zest for niche external execution.

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