For as much as the automotive world has evolved to incorporate new technologies – both in the product itself, and in the design and engineering of it – molding full-scale models of future vehicles out of modeling clay is still an integral part of the design process.
For instance, according to Ford, the exterior design of the new F-150 Raptor was honed and perfected using a 1,935-pound clay model, over the course of 4 years and 20,000 hours of devoted work.
But in fact, Ford’s unique modeling clay doesn’t contain any actual “clay” at all. Instead, it’s made up of a blend of waxes, oil, and filler material. The automaker uses as much as 200,000 pounds of the stuff every year, but over the past five years, at least some of that has been recaptured and recycled.
In all, Ford’s new clay-recycling process has salvaged some 20,000 pounds of material – an average of about 4,000 pounds per year – since its implementation. The majority of it is shed during the milling process, in which machines are used to carve the silhouette of the future vehicle, and is churned and heated in a process that removes all the air from the material so that it can be reused later.
Computers still have their place in vehicle design, of course; most often, Ford creates the initial vehicle design with computers before transferring that design to a clay model. But the clay model remains important as it lets multiple designers discuss and tweak a design together.
“Computers tend to have a more single-user work flow, where clay models tend to be much more collaborative,” says Ford Truck Modeling Manager Lloyd VandenBrink. “A group conversation is a great tool for collaboration and consensus, and clay models do that same thing with design. Everybody can see and explore possibilities together with a better chance of developing a great-looking model.”