Digital Modeling and Milling

Today, much of the clay modeling development is being executed first by the alias modeler over a package with the direction coming from an aesthetic designer, eliminating the hands on approach in many instancies. In this type of environment it is easy to forget the basic structure that actually spawned this method of working, leaving huge gaps in the proving out of a clay model. It is automatically assumed that once the alias design has been approved by the lead designer the model will be milled out, with changes that are not so apparent being corrected at a later date. This method of working often leads to an end product that looks static and void of any emotion because that extra time needed to massage the surfaces in 3D has been eaten up be endless revisions in a 2D environment.

The preliminary drawings that once use to accompany the chosen design are also rarely put into force and on many occasions the milled out model will not be followed up with a fullsize drawing simply because it is assumed that the data is correct because it has been developed with the latest software. This essentially eliminates the instant check in providing the sculptors the basic whereabouts of engineering criteria within those lines of the milled model. Thus this method of working eliminates the first line of defense for checking such areas as wheel coverage, ramp angles, headroom, rocker height and such like.

It is only when the design becomes a little more “real” that this starts to become a major factor but the freedom of design and the cartoon aspect that accompanies this freedom eats into the real work of refining a surface. So let’s step back and take a look at this picture, take a deep breathe and let the dust settle a little instead of rushing full-bore into the next panic situation. We as modern day sculptors have seen the erosion of our skills that we have perfected over the past 30 plus years as the digital era eliminates many of the more time consuming tasks but it is also replacing many of the areas that we also excel in.

You may well ask is this the same for every company and I am sure it is not, every company moves at a different pace. In a fast technology driven company you have to embrace the technology to work together with the tried and trusted methods to get the best results. For instance, would you go through the task of creating a cutter path to mill out a cylinder on a five axis machine when it is a simple task to turn it on a lathe? The real underlying factor is to reduce costs at all cost to become more competitive and still squeeze out a profit and if that means reducing labor in favor of technology then technology wins.

So with the New Year upon us, let’s reflect on those trades that have fell by the wayside such as Patternmaking and Modelmaking and the supporting services that they impacted such as Record tools and Emmert. These fine trades were in their prime fifty years ago and are now but memories, victims of the computer age.

For us clay modeling is thriving but as technology advances and the tolerances get closer it’s a case of when, not if, the manual side of clay modeling will be the next to go?

3 thoughts on “Digital Modeling and Milling

  1. GM Design in Warren laid-off all but about 10 of the contract sculptors. Unfortunetly I was one of them. It seems that to me that recent trends in the studio there was to do more of the work on the tube before it reached the floor. I can understand there reasoning. But it puts a pinch on those who work on the floor. More and more they look for canidates that can do alias/tube work and work with the clay. I think the days of the die hard clay guy are gone. There was almost something magical about watching one of these “old timers’ work.


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