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My name is Ryan Skelley, and I recently graduated from Coventry University with a 1st Class Bachelor of Arts degree in Automotive Design. This included my ‘professional enhancement’, a 7 month internship at Land Rover’s G-Deck design centre. I was also chosen along with a number of students to represent the university at the New Designer’s exhibition in London, where I demonstrated my final year project to the industry. I want to use this article in DesignerTechniques to talk to you about the project I completed during my final year at Coventry University.

The final year Automotive, Transport, and Product design students at Coventry University are required to produce a 1/4 scale model of a design of their choosing. Myself and my family are all 4x4 fanatics and were absolutely bowled over when I got my internship at Land Rover, so it seemed only natural that I should design an off-road vehicle for my final project. During the research stage of my project I became totally enamoured with a particular film and the race which it follows. Dust to Glory by Dana Brown is an incredible film about the Tecate Score Baja 1000, its participants, its history, the vehicles and the brutal punishment that they must endure for 30 hours straight. The idea behind the race is simple; get from point A to point B through a series of hidden checkpoints as quickly as possible. To finish first you must first finish.

With this in mind I began to design my vehicle. I had done a massive amount of research and this ultimately ended up cluttering my view a little. One thing you need to remember when designing is that less is more. It's fine to do a lot of research, but I found the best option is to then pick just a few key pieces that will define the styling and purpose of the vehicle and really inject these into the design. The other thing I was constantly thinking of whilst generating ideas was my own model making abilities and the facilities available to me - I was going to have to produce a full 1/4 scale version of this vehicle. Luckily, due to my placement a year previous, Land Rover had extended the use of some of their facilities to me; therefore I knew I had the possibility of rapid prototype a large amount of the model.

The traditional route, is to produce an orthographic drawing of your model and then translate this into clay, eventually creating a resin or fibreglass cast for show. With the advance of digital technology and increasing use of CAD, rapid prototyping is gradually becoming more and more popular, whether it is stereolithography (SLA) or milling into foam, both options provide the ability to perfectly replicate 3D data effortlessly. Although the cost is much higher, many universities and schools are now investing in the machinery and software required. Without this technology I would not have produced the vehicle I did, nor would I have designed it as such, I would have created something much more achievable via the more traditional methods.

The way I personally tend to work is to generate lots of small sketches; front, back, side, and so forth... and then move into 3D as soon as possible where I refine the overall stance and proportions of the vehicle. I then use this data as a new starting point, either printing out or simply using a tablet to sketch over my CAD model, tidying up the details and filling in the blanks, such as wheels and accessories. At the same time as doing this I am constantly changing things on the 3D model (as per my new sketches), as well as rendering out isolated parts to check how the light falls on specific surfaces, helping me to achieve the highlights I require. One massive recommendation I have to you all is save your files incrementally! There is nothing worse than having the program crash on you only to realise you hadn't saved the file or you can't remember what you named it. A simple three digit system works best starting at 001 and working upwards. I always break my 3D model down into parts too, so I will have a folder labelled "wheels", within that you will find "research", "model", and "screencaps". It's this organisation from the start that will save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.

One of the problems that I ran into whilst producing my model was that due to the large amount of components and the lack of manufacturing time, I needed to send certain parts to be rapid prototyped as soon as the data was complete. This is brilliant in one respect as the earlier you start the earlier you finish, but the downside is that you are effectively constraining yourself to certain hard points very early on in the design. For example, I finished the chassis and suspension of my model very early on and so sent it to get manufactured - this meant that I now had to design my bodywork to fit these exact points as they could no longer be physically changed. This is where traditional techniques work better as with clay the design isn't frozen until you start casting the fibreglass.

Stereolithography (SLA) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) are the two processes I used to manufacture the components of my model. Both are a form of 3D printing but whereas SLA is a resin based solution, SLS is powder based.

As parts began to roll off the machines I made sure to shimmy them up to each other, checking tolerances and making sure that sections slotted together correctly. This is another big factor you must consider when working in 3D with the intentions of rapid prototyping parts, and can result in a lot of wasted time if not done correctly. Whenever you are modelling two parts that sit on top of one another, or slot together, always offset one of the surfaces so that there is a gap. It only needs to be a small gap, but also remember your scale; a small gap on a full size model is a minute gap on a scale model. I have fallen into this pit more than once, and it resulted in three days solid sanding in order to fit 5 alloys into their tires. Not fun!

These parts then needed to be sanded, primed, sanded again, primed again, and then a final sanding before paint. The SLA and SLS materials differ highly when it comes to sanding, and their material properties could also affect your choice of process for specific components. SLA is relatively easy to sand (dependant on the complexity of your design) and can be done with wet and dry no problem, starting with an 800, slowly moving up to a 1200. The material finish is brilliant and tends to lend itself to shiny, gloss surfaces. SLS requires a lot more elbow grease but is a much stronger material and is less likely to fracture or shatter everywhere. SLS can give nearly as good a finish as SLA but will require a lot of work to get it there; in this respect SLS lends itself more towards matt painted surfaces. The primer used on all the components was a thick primer/filler in order to fill in surface imperfections and speed up the sanding process.

After all the sanding the components were ready for painting. This was completed in two stages, with all the chassis and suspension being painted one colour nice and early on (due to them being finished first) and everything else being painted later. Always try to paint the same colours at the same time and in the same conditions (same paint gun, drying conditions, etc...) in order to achieve the exact same colour on every panel. Of course this applies more on something like my own model which is made from multiple components as opposed to a large, single bodied model. For me the painting process was mainly a hands off job, I would help out where I could, but to be honest this is one job I would definitely not trust myself with and wanted to leave it to the professionals.

One other thing to consider is that if you are painting multiple components, you will need to mount them to something in order to paint both front and back and allow them to dry. For the pieces on my model I used hot glue to attach a small 10cm piece of dowel the back of the component, somewhere that would not be seen in the final assembly. I made sure that the end of the dowel was sharp and then used this to mount all of the components into a large block of blue foam. This makes it very easy to hold the component in order to paint it and allows for you to reach the back of the part with ease. It also provides a perfect mount for drying and the hot glue should come off with a small amount of force, just be careful, you really don't want any accidents at this stage.

Remember to think smartly about how you intend to display your model too. Think about the back drop, lighting, even the height of the table it is going to be sitting on. If it is an off-road model maybe you want it sat on rocks, if it's a race car maybe a race track, if it is a boat maybe in water, or maybe less is more. Different techniques work for different models, but it is something that you should always bear in mind.

At the end of our year, after a solid 6 months of blood, sweat and tears, we presented our work at the annual Coventry University degree show. The show consisted of a weeklong public viewing and finished with a dedicated industry night before being re-opened for another 3 weeks due to the considerable amount of interest. Certain models and animations, including my own, were then chosen specifically for the New Designers Exhibition in London, a weeklong display of not only automotive and transport, but product, furniture, architecture, and anything else design related from universities all around the country, open to both the public and industry professionals. You can view some of the Coventry degree show over at Car Design News.

I hope that this small slice of my model making experience helps some of you out there, it's by no means a definitive guide but it should hopefully steer some of you in the right direction, avoiding some of the pitfalls and perils along the way. It's no easy job producing a 1/4 scale model of anything, but the results always speak for themselves and every ounce of time and effort you put into your project will shine through in the end.

To see more work from Ryan, you can visit his website at,

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page last updated; 2014-06-15
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