Peter Brock
Peter Brock
3/28/22 3:34 p.m.

Working as an independent automotive designer in this modern age presents some unique challenges. The opportunities to create something of value in such an already congested environment are rare indeed simply because the word “independent” doesn’t really mesh with an international…

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6/14/22 4:54 p.m.

Almost everything these days is designed using 3D CAD computer software.  At the top of this list are Solidworks and Catia, which are both highly technical and require a long learning curve to use effectively.  Not to mention a lot of money to access.  Certainly, there are many other 3D packages that are cheaper and easier to use, but these do not have the technical capabilities required by automotive and aerospace engineers.  Making the needed molds for the many high end carbon fiber cars would have been virtually impossible to do using traditional wet mold making methods - a plug and lots of schmutz.  The hard foam Brock refers to is most likely Ren Board which is both CNC machinable and heinously expensive.  Plus, the HAAS five axis machining center to do all this, along with the tooling, is similarly expensive.  And, if you want a carbon fiber body, you need lots of pre-preg carbon cloth and a giant autoclave to cure it.  Lots of clean space would be nice also.  So, car building these days is not a cheap or a small company endeavor.  

msterbeau New Reader
6/15/22 9:42 a.m.

I'm a car/transportation designer schooled in the mid-80's - towards the end of the non-digital era.  All my digital training and skills came during the 90's and later.  I also taught classes in the early 2000's at College for Creative Studies in Detroit. I'm mentioning these just to establish that I'm in the industry and have an intimate understanding of how the design process has evolved the past 30 years. 

I totally agree with Brock that hands-on clay time, where you work through some parts of your design is really meaningful.  No matter if you initially sketch out your design on paper, vellum or digitally with a tablet and Photoshop (Or Sketchbook or Painter, etc) you eventually have to get it in three dimensions.  These days that process is usually started in CAD (Autodesk Alias mostly) and once you have a rough model you can have it milled into a scale model in clay.  There you start seeing what your surfaces are really doing.  You can make changes in clay, working out awkward or unsatisfactory regions without getting caught up in the CAD process, which is often counter-intuitive and a drag on creative thought.  Once that's done it's scanned and brought back into CAD to be refined.  

As you continue with the design process engineering and cost realities start getting introduced and the model(s) evolve to suit the new requirments.  At some point the model is milled at full size and you start really seeing what you've got.  As Brock mentions, there are things you see in full size that were not apparent in the scale model.  Adjustments are made and the process continues.  If this sounds time consuming - it is.  Design is an iterative process.  Getting to a satisfying result while meeting practical realities requires trying many solutions and going down dead ends.  It can be difficult to decrease development time while still respecting this process's needs.

One thing I disagree with in Brock's article is that clay is going away.  Time and again, over my career, mangement has tried using tools like virtual reality to try to reduce costs and minimize development time.  Every time they went back to clay because humans perceive them differently.  I still see and hear of clay being an integral part of the car design process pretty much everywhere.  It's often obvious when a smaller company tries to circumvent it for cost reasons. Will we ever get rid of clay or other forms of full size models?  Maybe.  It's certainly conceivable that someone will figure out how to resolve the differences in perception between them.  That day is not here, yet.

Don2001l New Reader
2/18/23 4:13 p.m.

So this statement :

"they are normally set up to operate at the direction of a remote marketing division that exists solely to determine and direct what it collectively thinks the public wants. Such specious information, often gathered by randomly collected “focus groups,” usually has such conflicting opinions that it’s essentially valueless. This is easily proved by the morass of tasteless junk that constantly fills our highways."

I would have to agree that Sales and Marketing have some pretty odd inputs to the process at times.

BUT , if it was really crap, people would not be buying it - so we would not end up with the "morass of tasteless junk that constantly fills our highways."

Someone does like "it" enought to buy it - did the company recoup its costs ?? Who knows...

IMHO - the auto industry could help itself by making a lot more of the parts used interchangeable, rather than making so many parts unique to each model...


4/14/23 11:39 a.m.

Here is a video of my business partner and I making a carbon fiber racecar body in our garage using wood, dense foam, and bondo to form the plug.  BTW, I was still working as a designer at GM Design at the time, working with all the expensive tools and materials every day (and for over 30 years!)  Enjoy this video my daughter put together for me from a number of stills we took during the process.

Lincspeed2 New Reader
4/14/23 11:48 a.m.

Here is a shot of the finished race car on the track at Road America..

bosswrench New Reader
4/14/23 2:55 p.m.

Nø thanks for reminding me of the most user-hostile software I've ever battled in my engineering career- CATIA. I've worked with young CATIA operators that dealt with the keyboard, a 2-button mouse, a 9-button function-switcher box and the foot pedal necessary to design in it. Sometimes they held a conversation while doing this! I could only shake my head at such motor skills.

Down a few levels from CATIA was the original Autocad. Any time it takes 5 separate key-swipes to insert a period in a drawing, whatever the outcome it is beyond me to like or even get used to it. The 6-volume-500+ pg (each) Manual wasn't timely help to a rookie. Clay seems far simpler and IMHO just as good even if one does have to later scan in a model to digitize it.  

Msterbee Reader
1/29/24 4:03 p.m.
Don2001l said:

IMHO - the auto industry could help itself by making a lot more of the parts used interchangeable, rather than making so many parts unique to each model...


They tried that in the 80's and 90's.  Think Chrysler K-Cars, GM A-Body, J-Body, Ford Ford Econobox/Lynx etc.  Do you really want that again?  

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