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Clay Modeling Still a Key for Vehicle Design

Mike Yaremchuk
By Mike Yaremchuk Director Styling Solutions NA, Wenzel America Ltd.

Motorized vehicles normally start as a vision. An engineer creates a vehicle design that is desired by the consumer and keeps in line with the direction the vehicle manufacturer is heading into for the future. This may mean standard fueled, hybrid, electric, and autonomous vehicles. Even with technical advances, people purchase a vehicle which attracts them visually as well as functionality. That is where the clay modeling comes into play.

Many believe that with CAD and 3D computer modeling and 3D printing that clay modeling is going the way of the dinosaur. This could not be further from the truth. Clay modeling is alive and one of the most important steps in vehicle design. Models normally start at ¼ or ½ scale clay models then into an actual full-scale model, sculpted in reusable clay. As the design matures to the vision of the board of directors (BOD) the full-scale clay models are dressed to look like a real vehicle with exterior color, glass, wheel/tires, etc. then they are displayed to the BOD in the design studio as well as out in a private courtyard to highlight the vehicle lines and contours in the natural sunlight.

The models consist of an armature constructed of metal, wood, foams and an outer layer of modeling clay. In general the starting model is constructed to the general shape of the vehicle with clay layer of 50–100 mm of hand-applied clay. Previously, these models were basically worked by hand by the clay modelers, a lengthy, tedious process. As technology evolved, so did the roughing in of the model. Coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) were modified with small motorized rotary heads (basically a drill motor) and programmed to mill out the models’ features. These CMM types, especially in the beginning, were very slow and could not handle large material removal. Wenzel also started manufacturing CMMs for this task with a milling speed of approximately 6 m/min.

Wenzel saw a need for real column-type milling machines for the design industry as hand modeling is expensive and CMM-type milling is slow.

In 2017, the Wenzel DesignTec mill was released to the global market. Wenzel DesignTec offers two models of five-axis clay mills, the DT Mill which can mill clays and foams with a density up to 62.4 lb/ft³ (1.0 gr/cm³) at milling speeds up to 40 m/min, max rpm 18,000.

The DT Robot “The New Original” also mills at speeds up to 40 m/min max rpm 18,000 in clays and foams with a density of 37.4 lb/ft³ (0.6 gr/cm³).

These speeds are accomplished by the use of linear motors in the X and Y axis; the Z axis is ballscrew driven. At the spindles we utilize the HSK-type holders.

The DT Robot is a flexible machine tool that also transitions quickly from milling head to scanning head, measuring and scribing head to a projection head and back again without recalibration through our special toolholder system.

Both DT Robot and Mill use state-of-the-art milling control systems with the primary being the Bosch Rexroth MTX control with the capacity of up to 250 axes.

Easy use operation tablet designed for modelers allows easy menu-driven operation for the less experienced user.

Both DT Robot and Mill are designed to cover the complete body side of a full-size clay model. DT Mill has a slightly larger envelope and is either mountable on floor or in floor. DT Robot has the same mounting capabilities as the Mill but is in current design for a portable X-axis rail system.

For all the Wenzel mills the X-axis rail is basically available in any length and with the control systems and their safety features multiple columns can be on one rail. Turntables can also be incorporated into your system with position control being feed from the machine controller.

Volumetric compensation is an asset in the machining environment and the machine envelope.

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