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Digital Modeling in The Car Industry

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Is purely digital modeling the future for the car industry or is the full-size clay model still the best design tool? Traditionally sculptors would use modeling plastcine for making small models or ‘maquettes’ before starting to carve in marble. Carving in stone requires great skill because, not surprisingly, once cut from the block, material cannot be put back on to the sculpture. Plasticine was invented in 1897 by William Harbutt of Bathampton in England, it was a mixture of oils, waxes and clay minerals. Unlike modeling clay used by ceramicists and sculptors plasicine could not be fired in a kiln, heat caused it to soften and disintegrate. It could however be easily worked with simple wire tools and material could be added, removed or used again, although plastcine does slowly loose its malleability and cannot be very smoothly finished.To overcome these shortcomings a different material, ‘Plastilin’ was developed and patented in Germany by a scientist, Franz Kolb, in 1880; ‘Plasteline” was developed in France by Claude Chavant in 1892, and became a registered trademark in 1927.

These materials became known as ‘Industrial Plasticine’ but today they are known as modeling or styling clay and are widely used in automotive design studios for producing both scale and full size models of future products. Until recently the modeling process was entirely done by hand; a thick layer of pre-warmed styling clay was laid onto a buck or armature made from wood and high density polystyrene or polyurethane foam. The clay was then carved by highly skilled clay sculptors using ever more refined tools until a perfectly surfaced form was produced. In recent times computer aided machining is used to create a basic design form from data derived from an initial Alias 3D CAD model. The clay sculptors then take over the model development guided by the designer. The relationship between designer and model maker is a crucial element in producing an outstanding design. The designer has to demonstrate that he knows exactly what he wants the form to be and the clay sculptor needs the skill to interpret that concept into three-dimensions.

Quite often that successful understanding of the designers intensions by the clay sculptor and the development of a close working relationship can ‘make’ a designer just as a poor working relationship can limit the career prospects of a young designer. Three dimensional design using just the computer and a CAD modeling programme can easily produce very badly resolved forms and surfaces but a skilled modeler will have the experience to guide the designer and point out surface treatments that cannot be made to ‘work’ in three dimensions.

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Digital Modeling in the Car Industry. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from
“Digital Modeling in the Car Industry.” GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019,
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Digital Modeling in the Car Industry [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jan 03 [cited 2022 Jul 1]. Available from:
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