DETROIT -- Computer technology is putting a new spin on wheel design.
Ford Motor Co. designers used rapid prototyping -- making a prototype part directly from computer-aided design data -- to create 6-inch models of wheels for a Lincoln concept vehicle to be displayed at this week's Detroit auto show.
While rapid prototyping is not new -- auto industry engineers have used the process for more than a decade to speed product development -- the normal practice for developing wheel designs involves making full-sized patterns with poster board. But those are two-dimensional.
The designers wanted to visualize what the wheels would look like while moving before settling on a final design and size.
They used visualization software from Bunkspeed Inc., of Los Angeles, to fine-tune the wheel digitally.
"This is a great way to really lock down on themes," said Ford designer Xitij Mistry.
Ford says it was able to cut two weeks off the design process.
He said that in the past, designs could look timid when they finally made it to production vehicles. But this method, he said, keeps the designers' intentions sharp.
Ford says Bunkspeed software allows the designers to change vehicle features instantly, with the click of a mouse. The designers could see what a design looked like during movement and the way light plays on the wheel.
Designers started with 18 wheel concepts for the Lincoln concept vehicle before deciding upon the 20-inch wheels that will appear on the vehicle.
The design features five main spokes with five secondary spokes.
You may e-mail Greg Migliore at [email protected]