I came across the article below over the weekend. Seems to be a need for
large model size RP machines.
Clay modelers will still be needed
Henry J. Holcomb - Knight Ridder
PHILADELPHIA _ For more than a half-century eccentric artists, working with
clay and hand-made tools, have played a key role in designing cars of the
But over the last decade, the big car makers have assumed -- incorrectly, it
turns out -- that these artisans would soon be replaced by computer
Now with scores of artists hired in the auto industry's design hey-day ready
to retire, the automakers have decided that they will need clay modelers for
many more years, if not forever.
This set off a scramble for clay modelers that has brought the Ford Motor
to the Art Institute of Philadelphia for help in reviving what was thought
be a dying art.
The company has assigned a master modeler to be a mentor at the Philadelphia
school -- and its affiliate schools in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Denver and Fort
These artists will make frequent visits to the classroom, to teach and
interest in the craft.
The realization that this ancient skill still has a place in the high-tech
world didn't come easily to an industry that has come to rely heavily on
computers and automation.
But car makers gradually discovered computers aren't a good fit in this
of the creative process. The machines, for example, give unfriendly retorts
when temperamental designers come up with an ideas that won't work.
In contrast, "we love what we do ... we know where the company is going and
we want to help it achieve its goal," said master modeler Bill Harris of the
Ford design center in Dearborn, Mich.
"We work with designers. We craft models that show why an idea won't work,
and we help solve problems," Harris said.
Sometimes this means working long hours, seven or more days at a stretch,
"and working with deadlines imposed by people who have no idea what we do
We have our high-stress moments," Harris said.
Modelers are paid well -- the best earn more than $100,000 a year, plus big
discounts on new cars and trucks, Harris said.
In addition to being friendlier to the creative process than computers, clay
artisans are faster.
"If the CEO comes in and says, `I don't like that hood,' a modeler can fix
in a half day," Harris said, reshaping a clay model in a Philadelphia
classroom in early February.
Making a similar change would take weeks using computer-aided design
software, Harris said.
In the drive to come up with new shapes of cars and trucks for a hotly
competitive marketplace, the industry has found that something that you can
walk around and actually touch, indeed, works better than virtual reality
The clay models even look very real.
"We've had senior managers forget they're looking at a clay model, and pull
handle off trying to open a door," Harris said.
Some of the artists' work is on concept cars that merely "push people's
thinking," Harris said. But mostly they work -- using skills it took years
develop -- on trying out and refining ideas for specific types of cars and
Harris is now working on the model year 2003 Ford F-150 pickup truck.
"Most of us are car nuts," Harris told the Art Institute students, adding
that his current love, a Ford F-350 truck with an oversize cab and a diesel
engine, is "the best thing I've ever driven."
Artists such as Harris craft full-scale models of whole car and truck
exteriors, as well as dashboards and other interior parts.
Most new cars and trucks take 40 months to get from idea to a dealer
showroom, and the clay modelers are intimately involved with the first 18
months of that process, working in huge, top-secret studios.
For more information about the rp-ml, see http://ltk.hut.fi/rp-ml/
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