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Class A modeling in the automotive industry

Class A Modeling

Often advanced surface modeling is described as a magical thing. Terms like “Class A” or “Class 1” surfaces are flying around causing some confusion. This post  should shed some light on this.

Class A modeling is a term used to describe a set of freeform surfaces of high quality. Although, strictly, it is nothing more than saying the surfaces have curvature and tangency alignment to near perfect aesthetical reflection quality. Class A is usually only found in the automotive industry because there is enough potential to establish processes to make Class A efforts efficient.

Every company has its own interpretation of Class A. The difference is mostly with the tolerances that are set for this quality level, and they mostly depend on the major CAD systems those companies are using.

The common ground is the combination of aesthetic superiority with hard requirements from engineering. A surface set that appears beautiful but without meeting engineering requirements will not be considered “Class A.”

Leading Industrial Design companies establish a surfacing process similar to automotive. The efficiency of such a process depends on the level of fulfillment. It doesn’t make sense to just hire some skilled modelers without the right scanning and milling possibilities.

Following Digital Prototyping, even surface data must be able to go through the entire process. For this a certain level of surface quality is needed and so Class A is in the picture. 

Class A DesignAs the design becomes finalized, the engineering and feasibility requirements gradually increase and are highly recognized, but the quality level remains. The Studios try to push the ‘design freeze’ deadline back to gain time for improvements in styling. This means, for Class A modeling, that it has to be established along the process to be ready when the project is done. Improving the surface quality, even of the first models, makes them reusable for the next design steps and, again, makes the entire process more effective.

Modeling under these conditions is very hard without the adoption of certain ‘surface basics’ rules. 3D computer modeling is still based on the knowledge and skill set of the individual user; therefore, roductivity and surface quality is user dependent.

The surfacing task can begin from the scan of a physical model but it can also start from 2D sketch or verbal input. In most cases it is the continuation of a concept 3D digital model. Similarly, you will also need to be aware of and include flanges, draft angles, tool split lines and other engineering constraints

To be successful and to achieve that right quality in the time given you need a ‘strategy’. Without this you can find yourself in a corner from which you can never escape: a dead end.

These points below are, in my opinion, the most important, basic rules to succeed:

  • It is very important to have a strategy on methodology, surface layout and surface construction.
  • Always try to build the surfaces to allow easy modification.
  • Keep the surfaces as simple as possible.
  • Always try to build to an intersection.

Modeling in Class A quality requires a certain persona profile. Following this, here is my rule of thumb  checklist:

  • Normally has a technical background and is precise, methodical and organized
  • Good understanding of form and design language
  • Good user knowledge of the tool and the processes
  • Diplomatically challenges the design and technical requirements to find a solution for both
  • Takes pride in the job – wants it to look its best

Class A is both art and science, requiring both skill and a will to finish. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires thick skin, perseverance and a passion for design. Do you have anything to add to this article? Share your feedback and comments. We love to hear from you!

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