"These guys are on a different planet," says Chris Grieve, account consultant at automotive design software developer ICEM Ltd. (Southampton, UK). He's talking about automotive stylists whose artistic approach to designing cars places them far enough away from their math and hard data-based engineering counterparts to apparently qualify them as extraterrestrial. At least when it comes to translating flowing lines into production tooling. Bridging the gap between the software packages that stylists use to make their electronic sketches and those that can generate the engineering detail needed to produce Class A surfaces, and eventually production tooling, has been a perennial problem for automakers because of the amount of re-work necessary between packages. Pete Moorhouse, ICEM's general manager, Central Europe, estimates that translating a sketch produced with a concept design software tool used by stylists into a Class A surface can take enough re-work to eat up "2 to 4 weeks of a designer's time." And once the design data moves downstream into engineering tools it can't be easily re-translated to its original form so that stylists can make alterations. To remedy this situation and to take advantage of what it sees as a gaping hole in the design software market, ICEM has launched a new concept design package called "ICEM Style."
Style is based on the same underlying engine that drives the widely-used Class A surfacing package ICEM Surf, so designs can flow downstream to Surf for engineering analysis and back up when stylists need to modify surfaces, without incurring re-work. Surf is also upgraded to work more smoothly with the leading CAD/CAE/CAM packages Catia V5, Unigraphics and ProEngineer. The result, according to Moorhouse, is "an integrated workflow from sketches all the way through tooling." Such a workflow, if it performs as smoothly as advertised, could potentially lop off months of designer time over the course of surfacing an entire vehicle; which may be a cost savings OEMs will find too good to pass up. In addition, it would give stylists a greater amount of control over the final outcome of their design, since they can quickly modify designs based on downstream input with a familiar tool rather than having to wade through the highly segmented engineering data generated by surfacing and body engineering tools. "Stylists just want to see their lines, not the underlying math," says Grieve, "They want an intuitive interface that's easy to use." Sounds pretty down to earth.