Born out of clay: Turning a concept car into a 3D model

Few other pieces of CAD software can match the power of SOLIDWORKS, as it includes an array of tools that make it easy to develop complex 3D models and present them when required. There are certainly few limits in what users are able to create.

With the latest release, SOLIDWORKS 2016, there are new features and enhancements to make it even easier to design complicated models and components, even if the latter consist of moving parts. In addition, the program delivers visualisation and even stress-testing tools to prepare a model before it's sent for manufacturing.

Let's take a look at how an automotive designer would use SOLIDWORKS 2016 to create a 3D model of the exterior of a vehicle, and then present this to stakeholders.

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Starting with the raw materials

In the automotive world, exterior car design will almost always involve the creation of a representative model out of clay. Even now, when CAD software makes it easy to whip up concepts in a matter of hours, the automotive giants take months to expertly sculpt cars as a critical first step.

In an article for the Associated Press, author Michael Weyland explained that clay modelling is an effective way to evaluate styling. What's more, it can help to show designers how a car might look in the real world, viewing light and other factors.

Then, once the model has been largely finalised, it's time to scan it into CAD software.

The digital counterpart

With the clay model in place, designers can then scan the entire model into a 3D, digital counterpart. Programs like SOLIDWORKS can read the 3D data from the scan thanks to functions built into certain levels of the software. However, this model is quite basic.

As opposed to when a designer creates a 3D model from scratch, this clay scan will lack details, dimensions and other features. Designers then need to add in these details, ensuring they actually have something usable to work with in the later stages of the process.

Then, once the model has been given the correct dimensions, designers can start adding in other details that will likely be found on the final car. This means modelling wheels and tyres, spoilers, headlights, window and door lines, as well as any details in grills and on the roof. In effect, the clay model provides the basic shape, and the CAD software can be used to ensure the model looks presentable.

We're not done yet, however.

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Visualising the final model

There will undoubtedly be a number of key stakeholders involved in the production of a car, so it's important that CAD software can be used to create something presentable. SOLIDWORKS has a number of features and plugins that make it easy to add in a background, colouring and other details to create animations for presentation.

Then, designers can present the model to stakeholders for feedback and make any additional required changes. What's more, it's easy to swap out various components on the model as a way of easily comparing and contrasting different looks.

SOLIDWORKS 2016 is certainly the most powerful iteration of the CAD software yet, and the native functionality, along with the numerous plugins, means there's really no limit to what can be designed. It should certainly be the first choice for industry professionals or enthusiasts creating models for side projects.