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BRIDGING THE REAL AND THE VIRTUAL FOR THE AUTOMOTIVE AFTERMARKET

BRIDGING THE REAL AND THE VIRTUAL FOR THE AUTOMOTIVE AFTERMARKET

Originally, Peel 3d democratized the use of 3D scanning for reverse engineering in aftermarket garages. But in light of recent digital shifts to 3D, the scanners are put at work in new interesting ways.

There are virtual interactive 3D worlds under construction. In fact, they have been for a while.

In the early 2000, major car manufacturers, such as General Motors, Scion and Nissan, were already opening dealerships in Second Life®, which was the test bed for a lot of ideas coming to fruition today. At the time, Linden Labs investors, including Jeffrey P. Bezos and Pierre Omidyar, were already betting on the Internet moving toward a three-dimensional experience that would become more realistic as technology advanced.

Now that reliable high-speed Internet, content management platforms, real-time gaming mechanics, and headsets are on their A game to support the shift, there is no turning back.

This transition is fueled by 3D assets creation—and both peel 3d and Creaform scanners speed up the process of bridging the real to the virtual. Accurately.

DIGITAL TWINS FOR UNIQUE CARS

The buzz around the Metaverse and NFTs has increased the demand for digital twins on custom and collectible cars. “I think people will find digital automotive assets as a valuable commodity that can be used in a variety of ways,” says David Dimeola of the Bridgade, an American multi-disciplinary design studio based in New York. Among other things, his team is using the peel2CAD solution to help develop its own collection of rare cars to be accessed online with tokens. Their most recent project was to scan a Mercedes super car with Additive Restoration, a company that reverse engineers and manufactures classic car parts using peel tools as well. That 3D model will be made available for purchase on Opensea with a link to unlock the vehicle on a 3D configurator.

In the making of custom cars and collectible digital twins, 3D scanners are essential for high-quality results.

“Using a scanner is so much better than any other form of measuring in respect to recreating a car” says Dimeola. In that same spirit, Ivo Gaci, from X-engineering studios in Milan, explains: “It’s a different approach to make an NFT for a collectible car. I prefer 100% to work from scan data rather than try to build a model from scratch based on hand measures in these cases, from a precision and realism perspective.” Ivo and his team have been using Creaform higher end scanners for reverse engineering on vehicle parts and product design purposes for years. Now, they are putting these high-precision tools to new uses.

 And what happens after the scan? Retopology, UV unwrapping, rendering, minting. Although peel2CAD and some Creaform scanners can capture colour, Ivo’s team focuses solely on getting the best 3D models and accurate measurements from them. The pros figure out the realistic rendering to be applied on top of that model as a second and distinct step to meet higher-quality standards.

A Vespa project from X-Engineering. The 3D model was generated with the HandySCAN Black.

The scan outputs need to go through some steps to become assets that will be both appealing to customers and conducive to content management platforms and/or engines running virtual spaces, such as Unity or Unreal Engine. These steps are outside the traditional realm of skills within aftermarket shops, so service companies, including Brigade and X-Engineering offer their support. There are also collaborative platforms, such as Montreal-based Artstation, where teams can discover complementary talents to collaborate with.

Retopology is, in most cases, the primary action on the list. A scan mesh consists of millions of points linked together like little triangles. A car features highly complex entities and the resulting files need to be adjusted to meet computing and engines limitations—even more so if the asset is to be displayed in a real-time gaming setting. It’s about file size that allows for good FPS levels and about not stretching computing and GPU too much. It also entails preparing the field for UV mapping and enabling the materials to react properly to virtual environments’ lightning, among other things. “The mesh can be worked on in any 3D application, Blender, Maya®, Cinema 4D, etc. From there, a modeler can generate poly models light enough to perform in the Metaverse. For example, The Sandbox,” says David for the Brigade.

From mesh to quads: Work from the Brigade for the Mercedes super car project with additive restoration.

“Unwrapping UVs is critical to avoid tearing or deforming any textures that will be applied to the 3D model parts. It’s important to achieve the same pixel density across multiple faces and objects to obtain a nice uniform resolution,” explains Dimeola.

And why not use photogrammetry data to lay on top these accurate 3D models in order to achieve super realistic rendering? “We are using webGl to visualize the cars in real-time and typically the grammetry data is heavy for this type of projects and effects performance. We most importantly prefer to control every part in order to achieve a perfect look,” explains David. The object must be ray-tracing, global-illumination and reflection-friendly, depending on what you want to do with it. To keep all options opened and cut down on required perfect capturing conditions set-up time for pictures, manual work is preferred over high-res photos use for this specific type of projects. “Simply put, the photogrammetry workflow isn’t easy, and results depend on a lot of factors. The environment is not always controllable, and lighting is crucial,” says, Ivo for X-Engineering. He goes on to explain that the environment and boundary conditions have an important role to select the right way to go.

CLK unwrapping UV’s for texturing on the Mercedes project.

PRODUCT RENDERING FOR MARKETING PURPOSES

Apart from digital collectibles, the rise of interactive virtual spaces brings new opportunities for aftermarket companies to market products and engage with clients in more ways. “Our first Metaverse project was a few weeks ago when we released our latest kit for a Mahindra Mojo motorcycle live at our workshop and simultaneously on the metaverse for people who couldn’t make it physically. The platform we used is a web-based platform called Frame that allows relatively easy entry for brands and people into the possibilities of the Metaverse,” says Mukul Nanda of Autologue Design. “Experiencing products in a virtual way will become more and more mainstream for all kind of products and services, especially the automotive scene. Virtual shopping experiences will be an alternative to the existing current ways of purchase, if not replace them completely.”

3D virtual showroom from Autologue Design on Frame platform for the launch of its Mahindra Mojo motorcycle kit.

A new generation of consumers and marketers who grew up with a joystick in their hands and are fluent in 3d is pushing in this direction. And as David Dimeola puts it: «Any brand that wants to represent its products within the meta space will need to digitize their product line and create a database of assets». This is where peel and Creaform tools come in.

The automotive aftermarket industry is currently a $7 trillion industry. How much will this new realm of opportunities help push it further? The upcoming SEMA show in Vegas—one of the largest gatherings of automotive aftermarket suppliers, retailers, and professionals in the world—might be a good place to take the pulse on that in 2022.

The evolving designer ecosystem

The evolving designer ecosystem

There are now a variety of tools to accelerate the initial conceptual phases of the design process. The graphic tablet has replaced the old drawing board, shapes can be fashioned by 3d printers, and AR/VR is now officially within reach.

“Years ago, we would start from a sketch that we would give to a sculptor,” explained Nicolas Lebrun, Head Designer at our (big) sister company, Creaform. “The sculptor would make a model based on the sketch and then provide us with a sculpture. We would then try to reproduce their work into our CAD software. Just getting the sculpture could easily take a month. And the project was not over; it was just beginning!”

Nowadays, there are tons of new tools to make the design process more efficient without cutting down on the romantic part of it all.

The most significant ones are 3D scanning and 3D printing, as they offer a quick way in and out of computerized design steps.

Fig 1: A typical designer’s workshop with a Formlabs as its centerpiece.


Improved workflows

Projects still typically start with a sketch and, with modeling software getting more user friendly and accessible, the product designer may create a rough model by themself. Some designers will prefer to work with their hands and fashion their first iterations out of typical modeling materials (foam, cardboard, clay); others, like Nic, will rather start their design with CAD directly. Once the rough model is completed, it can then be produced using a 3D printer.

“I sometimes keep entire areas empty on my preliminary models. Instead of trying to guess what the perfect fit will be, I leave the area completely empty and fill it with sculpted clay afterwards,” Nicolas explained. “It is spectacular what a small variation can have on the look and feel of a given object. Sculpting it directly gives you that feel instantly.”

This iterative process allows the designer, using a 3D scanner and 3D printer, to jump in and out of a computerised process. “Making the exact shape you have in mind is easier and more direct by hand but then, making it perfectly symmetrical is much easier and faster on a computer; this is where both methods work so well together.”

Fig 2: Collaboration of 3D scanning and 3D printing in a modern design process

 

When working on a design, the typical process usually involves concepts; designs sketched on a sheet of paper. Concepts then lead to physical prototypes (functional concepts that do not fully consider the visual design). Then follow the visual prototypes (concepts more faithful to the design but that do not integrate the internal components). Both physical and visual are finally combined to create alpha and beta prototypes (preproduction models that work and look like the final product). These steps usually overlap considerably, as shown below:

A lot of iterations and prototypes are produced throughout this process, and this is why saving even a little time on each prototype design cycle is so valuable in the end.

Opportunities to be bolder

“Of course, more efficient tools shorten the time it takes to run a design cycle. They allow you to bring new designs to the market faster. However, there are other benefits as well,” Nicolas pointed out.  “Working faster during given period can also let you consider more options, try and try new things. In the end, having more time available to test different options brings your project closer to perfection!” Designs can therefore be bolder or simply better adapted to their applications.

The shared roots

What is even more interesting is that the process described above is pretty much the same regardless of the product you are making. A product designer working on the latest pair of running shoe will use a design process comparable to one working on the latest bike helmet for instance or even on furniture design.

All designers have their own way of working and preferred tools; a 3d scanner with a smaller field of view and a higher resolution will be better for scanning a running shoe as an example while one with a larger field of view will work better on larger furniture. Clay may work better for a certain type of project while silicone moulding and plaster will be more suitable for others… but in the end, it all comes down to the same thing.

 

Worn Running Shoe scanned with peel 2 by peel-3d.com on Sketchfab

In the design engineering jungle, competition is fierce. Only the manufacturers that can produce high-quality products the fastest will survive. Software intelligence, augmented reality and future technology developments will undoubtedly bring further progress in how products are designed. The day when products design themselves has yet to come. Until then, the fittest product designers will be there to create the innovative objects we use in our daily lives.

 

From clay to a motorcycle…

From clay to a motorcycle…

I remember playing with clay back in the days, in visual art class. I remember trying to make a vase… it sure was not easy. I never imagined that there was a much deeper use for clay, one that would still widely be used 25 years later. I am talking of course about the subtle art of designing vehicles with clay.

Designing bodywork for a specific vehicle is delicate and precise work. It requires a lot of experience and know how. Given how impactful every tiniest detail is, it is essential to use the most accurate tools possible and, for most designers, these tools are… their hands!

Take the example of Nick Graveley, a senior designer at claymoto. When working on a new project, he usually starts with existing components such as the frame or even the entire motorcycle. That is one of the first step where 3D scanning comes in handy and where Nick will use his peel 3d scanner. An accurate scan of the existing bike will be quite helpful later in the design process when designing the actual body parts. Peel 3d also provides all the necessary tools to convert his 3D scan into an accurate and reliable CAD model.

After a few hand drawn sketches, Nick starts to work with clay and puts all his skills to work shaping and designing what will be the perfect shape for the bike. After all, the body is most of what you see when looking at a bike, it is worth putting in the extra efforts.

Once the shape is perfect, Nick can put his peel 3d scanner to work again and digitize the shape he has just designed. 3D scanning really is the best way to bring your exact design into CAD and use it to design body parts. As soon as the scan is complete, the project of designing the actual parts can start and since everything has been modeled so accurately, the designer can be in great confidence that everything will fit the first time. Click the photo below to see Nick’s project in details.

 For more amazing design projects, follow Nick claymoto on IG.