Digital imaging, virtual reality and 3D modeling have improved in the past decade but most designers and decision-makers are still unprepared to approve new designs without physical models.
It's partly a technical issue, coupled with the need and desire for managers and designers to touch a physical object before making key decisions. That's why carefully handcrafted clay models will not disappear anytime soon.
SangYup Lee, a Hyundai Motor senior vice president and head of design, said the automaker already has moved its commercial-vehicle design processes to digital and said top management is committed to moving passenger-car design there as well.
"Digitalization is key to making our design process faster and keeping up with the technology acceleration," Lee said. Today, he said, when a new vehicle reaches the market, it is, in a sense, already old, because it has taken two years to design. In contrast, a new cellphone comes out every six months.
The biggest hurdle along the road to digital design, Lee said, is that virtual-reality tools are not yet entirely up to the task. VR has to be as realistic as possible, and car designers are sensitive. Sometimes, success is a matter of 2 mm to 3 mm. Right now, 4K-resolution VR is unavailable. Moreover, projects involving multiple users require a lot of computer power, and VR technology is sometimes a little jittery, which can cause problems because precision become even more crucial when designers work together from different locations.