At the Audi Design Center in Ingolstadt, new models are developed by combining advanced technology, such as virtual reality and powerful computers, with traditional tools like… clay. Here is how the new A1 Sportback came into being.
The Audi Design Center team? CAD experts, specialised workers who model the clay, and obviously plenty of designers. “The design process of a standard production model at Audi takes around 4.5 years”, explains Markus Gleitz, Head of the Exterior Design and CAD Department. “It consists of individual phases: in the preliminary state of the design phase, we work together with experts from technical pre-development. That’s when we define the vehicle’s technical characteristics, such as its height and wheelbase”.
The C3 phase
Once these measurements have been established, the designers can let their creativity run free and create the first sketches, either traditionally on paper or digitally on a tablet. At this point, the digital design phase – also known as the C3: CAD, Concept and Clay – begins. The CAD designers turn the sketches into a virtual model, made up of data which is photorealistically displayed on the Powerwall, a large LED screen. On the basis of these data, a milling machine creates the clay model: so digitization becomes tangible.
The Powerwall is used to evaluate the data on a 1:1 scale. The designers are thus able to check how the smallest changes affect the digital model, thanks to the impressive processing power of the computers used. Changes to individual components or modifications to the proportions can be displayed on the Powerwall immediately. This means that, compared to the past, possible discrepancies can be detected before creating the clay model.
The virtual model
The software which creates the virtual model uses the “ray tracing” technique, a procedure based on vector calculations through which optical effects such as light, shadows and reflections are correctly calculated and displayed in dependence on the time of day. The computing power used for this is equivalent to around 4,300 notebooks, and it is also possible to create dynamic films with the car moving in predefined scenarios, for example on the streets of Barcelona at 7 pm.
The importance of touch
Even though the Powerwall creates an impressively realistic impression of the vehicle, nothing can replace the human eye and the feeling of standing in front of a real model. Thanks to the constant comparison between Powerwall and clay model, the changes implemented in the CAD data are transferred to the physical model in a very short time. Before the milling machine can work on the new details, however, fresh clay must be applied manually.
Audi designers also use virtual reality goggles, to evaluate the car within a realistic simulation. Tools like these will be used increasingly in the coming years, with several advantages in terms of efficiency. For instance, it will be possible to work simultaneously: this technology will allow users to access the same scenario at the same time, and interact via their avatars. This means being able to organise meetings in the same virtual studio between people physically located in different continents, for example in the offices of Ingolstadt, Beijing and Los Angeles. And it will even be possible to “touch” the virtual model thanks to special data gloves with haptic feedback, able to translate the virtual data into physical sensations.
Source: AUDI Blog