A kit consisting of compasses, rubber erasers and onionskin paper as the main tools for designing a car has given way to the digital era. SEAT engineers who have participated in the launch of iconic models take us through the evolution in the process of creating and developing a new car over the past 40 years:
Drawing tables up to 6 metres long give way to 3D sketches to create a car.
Today’s designers work in front of a screen using the latest 3D technology, but four decades ago they gathered around a long drawing table to outline full-scale car. “Everything was done by hand with paper, ruler and compass, and of course no image editing programmes”, recalls Ángel Lahoz. In the 80s, one of the challenges was to project the different sections of the car design, one on top of the other, onto the paper.
“There used to be a single computer in each department for the manager’s assistant and the rest of us worked at tables full of drawings and coloured pencils. It looked like an artists’ workshop”, says Lahoz. Today, this image has been replaced by interactive tablets and digital pens. Designers can now immediately apply corrections with a simple click, leaving behind “the countless modifications made with rubber erasers”, he adds.
During the creation stage of a new model, sketches coexist with full-scale reproductions of the prototypes, making it easy to define the final shapes. Designers used plaster for the first generation Ibiza in the 80s, whereas today they use a clay-like resin “which is much easier to mould”, points out Lahoz. In addition, current technology produces “great precision, down to a tenth of a millimetre”. This more manual process is combined with virtual prototypes.
“When I began at SEAT, if they had told me how we would be working today, I would have thought it was science fiction”, says Lahoz. Not only is it possible nowadays to design a model using virtual reality thanks to Industry 4.0 advancements, but you can also experience first-hand what it feels like at the Wheel. These new work tools guarantee the viability of initial sketches by around 90%.
Virtual reality has become a key aspect in recent years in the entire development stage of a model. A further example of this is collision testing to ensure the highest car safety standards. 95,000 simulations were performed for the new Ibiza, which is twice as many as for the previous generation. In addition, this new technology is able to analyse up to 3 million elements of a car, a figure that 30 years ago topped out at 5,000.
Electronics and new driver aid systems, key players in new extreme tests with prototypes.
Before making their way onto the market, the models have to pass a series of tests in extreme conditions. “Testing has changed a lot over the years”, assures Jaume Camps, an engineer in charge of the extreme tests. Three decades ago the prototypes were already undergoing dynamic heat tests in desert regions and extreme cold in the Arctic Circle. The difference, emphasises Camps, is that the number of tests has now increased due to “the addition of all kinds of electronics and driver aid systems” in today’s cars.
The SEAT Technical Centre opened in 1975 with 211 engineers and a surface area of 130,000 m2. Four decades later, this knowledge hub has a 200,000 m2 facility and more than 1,000 professionals.