Surface modelling helps Land Rover cut design time by 50%

Land Rover is using the latest surface modelling, evaluation and visualisation software to achieve design quality targets for its new vehicle range. Dean Palmer reports

Surface modelling and evaluation software is playing a vital role in enabling Land Rover, the UK-based vehicle manufacturer (now owned by Ford), to meet its demanding design quality targets for the latest Range Rover. Around 25 designers and engineers have been using surface modelling software from ICEM for the last six or seven years for body and interior design and engineering, in other words, the 'visible' surfaces of a vehicle. More recently, these 'surface engineers' have been sitting between the design and engineering teams at Land Rover, using ICEM's surface model creation and diagnosis tools for the development of the company's latest four-wheel drive luxury off-roader at its headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire. ICEM's 3D surface modelling software, ICEM Surf, was used from concept, through virtual and physical prototyping, all the way to production tooling. “The value to us of the software is that it enables us to integrate the design and engineering processes so that we can deliver the design intent and the required level of design quality economically from an engineering and manufacturing standpoint,” says Wayne Morgan, manager of vehicle geometry and surface modelling for Land Rover and also responsible for craftsmanship of Jaguar vehicles. Land Rover's vehicle development process, which is critical to the final quality of the vehicle design and which relied heavily on ICEM Surf's advanced surface modelling, diagnosis and visualisation tools, is what the company calls its ‘optical quality process’. “It’s more or less a given today,” explains Morgan, “that with the tools available in ICEM Surf for diagnosing surface quality, we know that the highlights and reflections we see in a ICEM Surf visualisation are what we will see in the final product. In fact, there’s really no excuse for getting to production release and finding that there are highlight problems, as these can be ironed out with the software early in the design process." But at Land Rover, the use of these and other ICEM Surf tools goes beyond the usual process of evaluating the surfaces of the vehicle body for reflection lines, highlights and surface continuity in order to achieve a certain level of visual quality. The firm's 'optical quality process' begins when the vehicle design and development process has reached the ‘design freeze’ stage, in other words, the point at which the style has been agreed. From here on, data from ICEM Surf becomes the ‘master’ for all further design development. The process draws together and involves surfacing engineers, manufacturing staff, detail design engineers, suppliers, toolmakers and designers in order to examine and agree on the critical interfaces on the vehicle. During this process, ICEM Surf features, such as the Reference Manager and Renderer software modules, enable high quality visualisation of digital models, which combine both Class A ICEM Surface data created in ICEM Surf, and detailed design engineering data developed in Land Rover’s Catia CAD/CAM system (from IBM/Dassault), to be created and viewed in ICEM Surf. This allows the team to examine and refine the vehicle’s critical interfaces. A good example is the meeting point between the headlight, wing, bonnet, bumper and grill. ICEM Surf was used to ensure that the design intent was maintained while the engineering and manufacturing issues were considered. Exterior, interior and door shut-face reviews and design refinements were all performed during this process. “It’s the optical quality process facilitated by ICEM Surf that gives the final production vehicle its overall look and feel of quality,” added Morgan. That, and the fact that ICEM Surf data was then used directly in the machining of the individual components required for the assembly of the ‘function cube’ physical prototype of the complete vehicle and in the production tooling process, ensured that what was designed was what was manufactured. "The function cubes are basically a safety net for engineering and the business," says Morgan. "We try to divorce engineering from style development. In the past engineers always complained that they couldn't get on with the design work because they had to wait for the latest style version. Now, we do things much more concurrently you could say." He continues: "There's no need for section engineering now. We get our suppliers in to look at full assemblies projected in 3D onto large screens. We run a series of optical reviews to focus on interfaces in the vehicle. Suppliers are there to agree final models and component assemblies. "Before ICEM, the whole process of styling and aesthetics was very manual, predominantly clay-driven models. The software we did use didn't have the level of detail we required or the analytical tools [it didn't have curvature mapping, gap measuring or surface quality tools foe example] we needed before machining a physical model. We used to scan surface data from the clay models, enter this into our CADDS software. We would then re-cut and machine physical models every time we made a style or design change – it was costly and very time consuming," he adds. "Before ICEM, surface models were thrown over the wall into engineering with little attention to detail. But the new software is a lot more suited to freeform modelling. After implementing ICEM, I reckon overnight we cut the surface modelling lead times by 40%. Now, it's more like 50%," claims Morgan. "And we've cut the number of physical prototypes being machined. The software also allows us to perform more design iterations. We've therefore been able to tailor our processes to accept design changes much later on. My surface engineers now spend 40% of their time modelling surfaces, and 60% on engineering feasibility." There's more though. Morgan explains: "We have 300 Catia [3D CAD/CAM software from IBM/Dassault] users in body engineering, electrical and chassis components at Land Rover. We translate and transfer data across from Catia to ICEM on a one-to-one basis each day. We have a team of guys that police all the engineering releases from ICEM to Catia." ICEM Pointers * Land Rover is using surface modelling, evaluation and visualisation software from concept through virtual and physical prototyping all the way to production tooling * The software has enabled the company to integrate its design and engineering processes into an 'optical quality process'. * The software enables engineers to examine critical interfaces on the vehicle and problems can be ironed out early in the design process * Overnight, Land Rover cut its surface modelling lead times by 40%. Today, its closer