LATHOM, UK - Glass supplier Pilkington is using new software developed for the film industry to check glass shapes proposed by auto designers.
Three-dimensional images similar to those in the Disney movie Toy Story show kinks and ripples in the outside scene just as a driver or passenger would see them when looking through an imperfect windshield or side window, said Alan Woodward. He is European shaping technology manager at Pilkington's Lathom research center.
The simulation process has taken some of the initiative out of the hands of the automotive stylist and placed it with the glass producer, said Woodward.
Designers sometimes call for glass in complex curvatures, creases and wraparounds that don't allow for the limitations of the material. Glass is shaped either by sagging or pressing at furnace temperatures up to 650 degrees Celsius and it loses optical integrity if bent through a radius below 70mm.
Simulation can reveal within a matter of hours whether a bold new shape will work, says Woodward. His manufacturing team will often suggest a modification that stays with the styling intent of a proposed glass profile but ensures optical correctness and production feasibility.
He said the glass designed for the replacement model for a high-volume European car due later this year was 'unmakable.' Changes suggested by simulation were accepted without destroying the style.
'Industry could never have afforded the research to develop this software,' Woodward said. 'Only Hollywood could throw the necessary millions of dollars at the problem. We believe that the carmaker will want to see what the car buyer is going to see when he looks through his windshield. We think this will be the standard simulation technology within two years.'
Advanced glazing, he said, is particularly attractive to mass manufacturers who can spread the investment in complex tooling over many units. He said the backlights on the Opel Tigra, Fiat Brava and Nissan Micra are far more complex than anything found on a Rolls-Royce or any so-called supercar whose production numbers would not justify tooling for expensive glazing.
Pilkington has tested about 350 designs for carmakers over the last two years, at the rate of two or three a week. It has become a crucial element at an early stage of design.
'We have been asked to agree to direct computer links into customers' research laboratories,' said Woodward. 'In no case has this yet been agreed.'