Any James Bond fan with a passion for automobiles and high-tech especially savors film scenes with lab hipster Q: in secret MI6 labs, the high-tech genius shows secret agent 007 the latest technological developments. Of course, mostly intended for agent purposes only. Quite entertainingly, a tad bit overcurious grip of 007 and a second of thoughtlessness of Q, reveals inventions that are ready for series production. A secretive atmosphere, coupled with the creativity of futuristic inventions, can be quite fascinating in movies. I experience a similar sensation of fascination as I stand behind a large, floor-to-ceiling window front and look upon a lab of some sort with automated milling and elongated light guiding elements on the ceiling.
The designing process of a car
The cars of tomorrow are sketched in the new Audi Design Center, where their bodies are sculpted for the first time. Blogger Benjamin Brodbeck visited the center and found out why even in the digital age, emotional design can only be created by hand.
The design studio: a place of secrecy
Strictly speaking, my focus is directed to the deepest interior. Namely in the futuristic looking heart of The Four Rings, as you might have guessed.
Right here, in the new Audi Design Center in Ingolstadt, is where the Audi vehicles of tomorrow, and even of the day after tomorrow, are designed. This is the place where designers, engineers, modelers and project managers work across departments on automobiles that are subject to highest secrecy. Automobiles, whose appearance and technology cause hundreds of journalists and competitors to rack their brains on a daily basis. Following the motto: what happens here, stays here.
The digital design manufacture
To ensure that this remains true in the avant-garde building with the large windows, a double glass façade prevents an inward view from the outside. At the same time, it lets through daylight photons essential for working on clay models. It may be true that sophisticated lighting fixtures have been installed on the wide-span ceilings, which illuminate the room with various types of lights. But we all know, nothing compares to natural daylight. This is why the large window fronts, which bring plenty of light to the generous space, play an equally superior role in the architecture of the new Audi Design Center as the exterior surface on the roof.
Before I enter the futuristic-looking studio with clay models of the new A7, the path leads me one floor down – to the origin. There, the first design ideas, forms and proportions of sketches are transferred to the canvas using CAD data (Computer-Aided Design) and developed further. Supercomputers take on the job of visualization and calculate the right picture instantly from almost all angles with incidence of light in different environments.
Even dynamic states of the vehicle can be displayed. It’s impressive to see the new A7 driving through a virtual city next to the Prologue study. Not even Q’s lab is equipped with this technology. Anything to save not only time, but also clay. The first digital results can then be transferred to adjacent models using automated milling. Above all, proportions appear differently in reality than on screen.
Back to the third floor. I am standing in front of the rear of the new Audi A7, which is mounted on a board and whose front eyes observe the world outside the studio. A robotic arm mills the shape of the side door, chips flying impressively.
The so-called CNC milling machine receives the data from previously created CAD data. Based on coordinates that are created by means of the board in the floor, the mill works line by line. Milling an entire body shell takes about one day.
So why do we even need modelers, if everything can be created and programmed digitally? After all, you could easily establish a purely digital design factory, sit back and let the machines do your work.
But the most important thing about an Audi should never be neglected: its emotionality. Solely creative hands can transfer their passion to the surfaces and lines and fill them with life and dynamics. And so the designers, together with modelers, do the finishing work by hand. The progress of this work is continuously scanned and transferred to the digital CAD model, allowing every person involved in the project to be up-to-date.
Seeing DNA even in the dark
Light not only plays a major role as an instrument for assessing body shapes, it is also extremely important to identify an Audi as such, even in adverse light conditions. In addition, light elements can support and intensify existing lines and surfaces on a body – even on a supposedly boring cuboid.
Lighting design is – next to interior and multimedia design – another department in the design center. Usually found where it is already dark. After the sketches are digitized and animated directly from the drawing board – thanks to prototype construction – spotlights, ambient lights and taillights are developed quite quickly and integrated into the vehicle.
The light tunnel is used to present the unmistakable lighting design of the new Audi A7 to various decision-makers in composition to its outer skin. A black, elongated tent shields the daylight during outdoor presentations. Therefore, while driving slowly and constantly immersing yourself in the darkness, you can judge the relationship between body shape under daylight and light lines in the darkness.
And yes, in this room I somewhat feel like 007 in the company of several quartermasters. Not that I would even dare to presume to have his capabilities. Although I may not receive a watch or car on my further mission after completing the various stations, this fascinating place exudes an atmosphere similar to that of Q’s lab on a cinema screen.
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