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Forward to Holography... & Back To Clay

Although there is a drive for more digital modeling, one scanning hardware/software company has developed the means to make accurate physical models faster, which may facilitate a return to fiberglass and clay models.

At the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, visitors to the Ford Motor exhibit saw a concept car, the Ford P2000 Prodigy, in a way unlike that which any concept car had ever appeared on the floor of Cobo Center. The vehicle was displayed as a 50% scale, full-color hologram projected from a 40-ft2 panel. Ford Advanced Design Studio worked with Zebra Imaging (Austin, TX) on the hologram technology.

Commenting on the display, J Mays, Ford vice president-Design, said, "It's only fitting we display this futuristic car in a completely new form. Our holography display is a first look at a promising technology in its infancy. Perhaps it's also a glimpse into the future of product development at Ford."

scan using Comet/Optotrak
The Comet/Optotrak 3D digitizing system (a) scans an object with structured light and (b> measures the X-Y-Z coordinates of where the scanning is taking place, thereby providing a dense and accurate point cloud that can ve output to a CAD system, which, in turn, can be used to produce physical models.

 

Hardcopy as Image.

Ford designers are calling the design concept "3D Hardcopy." The P2000 Prodigy image was created from 3D electronic design data that was processed by Zebra Imaging into a holographic film panel that consists of 900,000 individual exposures. As Alex Ferdman, CEO, Zebra Imaging, pointed out, "Until now, the potential of holography has not been realized due to the intensive manual process required to create a hologram. Zebra's mission is to fully automate the medium..."

So 3D Hardcopy may become more of a working tool, much more than something to wow! the attendees of auto shows. Indeed, Tom Scott, director-Ford Advanced Design, noted, "As Ford continues to compress its product development times, the company will bring new customer-pleasing vehicles to market more quickly. Tapping into Ford's industry-leading computer capabilities is key. Holographic technology may provide a better means to view and work with complex design data."

Ford management is so bullish on the potential of holography that the company has acquired a 12% equity stake in Zebra Imaging.

The writing would seem to be on the wall (or in this case, projected from the screen): the days of physical concept models may be behind us; clay and fiberglass models will be consigned to the dustheap of automotive history.

Back to the Future.

Pontiac Concept GTO
A 1/3-scale model of the Pontiac Concept GTO was transformed into a full-size vehicle in less than a month thanks, in part, to the use of digital scanning.

But Mike Burgess, president, Dimension Data (Farmington Hills, MI), actually perceives a return to clay by automotive stylists and designers, a return that's being facilitated by the same type of computing power that is driving holographic rendering forward.

At the 1999 North American International Auto Show, at the Pontiac exhibit, there was a full-sized vehicle, the Concept GTO. The design was initially rendered with Alias/Wavefront software. The model—the physical model—was created in 3.5 weeks by a company associated with Dimension Data, TFX (Moorpark, CA).

Although holographic models and even 3D solid models on the screens of computer workstations provide astonishing images, there is still something to be said for solid solid models, tangible, physical things, which ultimately, or ideally, concept cars will become if they are green-lighted for production.

Note: This should not be construed as implying that Ford is not availing itself of the type of technology that Burgess is promoting, as Ford is on the Dimension Data reference list along with Audi, BMW, Mack Trucks, Porsche, Renault, and others.)

Design Dimensions is developing hardware and software tools that facilitate fast, accurate scanning of models for such purposes as reverse engineering and model creating. The company is a transformation of what had been Steinbichler Optical Technologies. Burgess said that the new identity is meant to reflect the fact that while they still employ and offer the technologies developed by Steinbichler Optotechnik GmbH (Neubeuern, Germany), they are (1) integrating hardware and software from other companies into their packages and (2) developing new software capabilities on site in Farmington Hills.

One of the issues related to scanning is that so much data is obtained that it becomes difficult to work with. So one of the things that they are doing at Design Dimensions is devising software and hardware networking strategies to facilitate processing the clouds of points (e.g., company engineers networked 15 Hewlett-Packard computers that are used in the office for everything from word processing to developing code and came up with something that, Burgess claimed, can "outperform a Cray.").

White Light & Speedy Ops.

The key device that facilitates fast, accurate object scanning is called the Comet/Optotrak system. The Comet sensor is based on white light triangulation, not laser scanning as many systems of this general functionality are. "There's less `noise' than is the case with laser scanning," Burgess remarked. There is a patented fringe projection technique combined with a CCD camera that picks up a patch of 420,000 × 420,000 points per scan. The Optotrak portion of the system utilizes an infrared tracking system that locates the position of the Comet sensor over a large volume, thereby permitting the patches to be appropriately merged—the surface information is combined with hard data points so that there aren't problems with gaps or overlaps.

The system, according to Burgess, permits the scanning of a full-size clay model in a day. If the procedure is started on a Monday, the point cloud that's generated can be transformed into a NURBS file by Friday. Class A surface information can be obtained the following week.

In the case of the Concept GTO, they started by scanning a 1/3-scale clay model. The point cloud was transformed into an STL file, then Cimatron software was used to create an NC program that was used to control a Taurus milling machine which machined the concept car bodies.

A large milling machine is being installed in Farmington Hills so that they'll have the capability of cutting aluminum parts or hard epoxy stamping tools, which means prototype stampings can be quickly made from models. Burgess said they are working on a new approach to rapid prototyping, which should be finished within a couple of years.