TURIN - Here in the Silicon Valley of car design, there is one company that uses none of the skills that made Turin famous.
At Carcerano there are no plaster and clay modelers or craftsmen to shape body panels with just a hammer. There aren't even any pure designers. Instead, there are 74 people and almost 100 computers to help designers and engineers transform ideas into reality using virtual reality technology.
Carcerano, headquartered in the very center of the city in a magnificent, marble-covered 1927 villa, entered the virtual reality side of the automotive business in 1996.
Today the company can assist designers by offering 3-D simulations and movies to evaluate visibility, ergonomics and interior accessibility.
On the engineering side, Carcerano offers everything from feasibility studies to structural analysis and virtual prototyping.
Carcerano's first project in the car business was the chrome bar added at the last minute to the trunk of the Lancia Kappa.
The company says it has 60 clients, including Audi, BMW, Fiat Auto, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Opel, Saab, Suzuki, Bosch, Delphi and Magneti Marelli. It had revenues of E3.5 million in 1999 and plans about E5 million this year.
Carcerano also provides virtual reality support to design houses that do not have their own virtual reality centers, such as Carrozzeria Bertone.
The man behind the company is architect Piero Luigi Carcerano, 47, who for 15 years divided his working life between his two passions: automobiles and architecture. In 1980, he opened its own architecture studio and, the same year, joined Lancia's technical department.
'As I began working at Fiat Auto on virtual simulation systems, I realized what I really wanted to do,' Carcerano says. 'I left Fiat Auto and in 1996 I added car engineering to my architect studio activity.
'I am deeply convinced virtual reality will be a dominant activity in the future of car business,' he says. 'In this way, the designer has the full control of a car's shape, not diluted by the craftsmanship of the model maker. He can even check if the surface is really feasible in terms of production dies.
'At the same time,' Carcerano says, 'a virtual prototype is much more detailed and close to the project than any physical one, which is always missing a part or not completely updated with the latest modifications.'
Another benefit, says Carcerano, is that 'to find and solve problems on a virtual assembly line costs a fraction of the cost of discovering and fixing them in the plant.'
He believes that virtual reality 'could halve the development time of a new car.'
For the Iveco Daily S2000 light truck, Carcerano says the company designed and engineered the complete dashboard.
'After all the virtual reality evaluations, the dies were milled without the creation of a master model,' Carcerano says. 'That was a world first.'