Car design course
Automotive Design & Marketing Management
BRIEF COURSE INTRODUCTION
Welcome to the course, this first post will be longer than the others since it's the introductory one.
The course is especially intended for engineering students, but anyone can participate. We will see the entire development of a vehicle in a large manufacturer, seeing each and every one of car design stages. This will provide you a global vision and a greater understanding in order to obtain more criteria when choosing in which area you want to specialize in the future, and work on your passion: Car design.
Understanding the entire environment surrounding car development will provide us with unique tools to justify our designs, without limiting ourselves to creating an isolated car concept. Companies don't have emotions, they understand about numbers. It only matters if your design will be profitable for the company or will lead to bankruptcy.
In this first course delivery we will see some tips about the car designer job and how to dedicate ourselves professionally to this industry. In the other deliveries we will see in detail the different stages of the vehicle design
HOW TO WORK AS A CAR DESIGNER?
How to work designing cars?
Designing cars is the dream of many people, instead, it's an unknown area for the rest of the people. Sometimes we don't know what to study to design cars. The car design process is really complex. It will depend on your profile and the path you choose to be able to work in one of the different areas of car design.
There is no single way to achieve it. The first step will be to correctly identify which area you are most passionate about: finance, design, engineering, conceptual design, marketing, sales, etc. Additionally, within engineering there are many specializations, all of which are valid for their respective fields. Afterwards, you can specialize even more at a second level. For example, within engineering you can have a career in thermodynamics, chassis design, engines, etc.
In the future, you will be able to opt for a third level, totally focused in a very particular area. For example, within thermodynamics: internal combustion. This last specialization is not recommended unless you have work experience in the sector and you desire to ultra-specialize. Of course, it is a recommendation and will depend on each particular case.
A higher level of specialization implies less competition and your possibilities will increase, but fewer opportunities will appear. So this third level of specialization would involve to leave all their eggs in one basket. When many times, a specialization at the second level is more than enough. (For example: Master in Thermodynamics)
A 2nd level specialization will allow you to know different areas and opt for a greater number of opportunities. That is why many automotive engineering masters are generic, since in this way no doors are being shut and it is a level more than enough to enter the world of the automobile. A master's degree does not assure anything, but it certainly helps, a lot.
A master's degree does not assure anything, but it certainly helps a lot. Let's take as an example that someone wants to dedicate themselves to the combustion of engines, an idyllic recommendation on what to study would be the following:
In this way, we continue to target our area of greatest interest without losing interesting opportunities, and we will trace our path little by little. The "entry barrier" would be the minimum degree level that, in theory, the manufacturer would accept a worker for the job position.
It is mentioned “in theory” because in reality, sometimes, it is possible to access these positions with a much lower degree if skills are demonstrated or similar experience is obtained. The reality is that there are people without any formal studies who manage to work on the development of a car because they have found its differentiating element and, therefore, they have known how to fight for its own place in the automotive industry. Just an example, if you have been a car salesman, you can use this experience to enter a design studio if you really show that you have a strong knowledge and your experience as a salesperson can bring a different vision to the team. Sometimes you don't need to be the best, but rather bring a different point of view that can complement the current team. In any case, the more technical the area that interests you, the more difficult it will be to enter that field without the required level of studies.
Therefore, continuing with the previous example, if you wanted to dedicate yourself to engine combustion, it would be much more complex to enter this area without related formal studies. Although this is not entirely impossible, but you would need to justify it with a really high experience and unlikely to obtain.
To determine what do you study to design cars there is a detail to consider: It is one thing to specialize in a field of study (thermodynamics for example) and another is to do it in a sector (automotive). Both paths are equally valid and will depend on the offer of studies that is available and the area in which someone wants to specialize. In other words, continuing with the previous example, we will be able to access the same job position with both masters:
The first would have a very slight advantage. If you study a Master's degree in thermodynamics applied to the automotive industry, the advantage will be very, very strong, because you will have a Master's degree in the area of study you want (thermodynamics) and within the sector (automotive). This will not always be possible due to a shortage of training offer in some areas, but it would be ideal. Of course, this focused and exceptional specialization is not necessary.
Here we can see a example board, in which we can obtain an overview according to the suitability of the studies or the competitive advantage that we would obtain compared to other candidates without any additional training. Thermodynamics has been taken as an example of a field of study, but it can be any other. The values are subjective.
Although it is not the usual thing, a Master's degree in thermodynamics applied to the automotive industry could open some doors in other areas within the automotive industry that are not related, because we meet two of the three requirements: Educational level and sector, but not the study area. So if we are not interested in a very specific area of study, it is a good option to study a generic automotive master's degree.
WHAT A CAR DESIGNER DO?
What does a car designer do?
This part was very important, since we have received messages of al lot of people with very different interests, with elements in common. Therefore, although it may seem basic, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by designing cars.
Each person has a totally different idea about designing cars. In this course we will deal with car design in the broadest sense, from the idea to its commercialization, going through the entire process that is carried out in the large automotive multinationals.
But first of all, we will see what can be understood by designing cars and how to be able to dedicate yourself professionally to each of these areas:
In this post we will see about designing a vehicle according the first two points: Designing and modifying a vehicle and motorsport. In the next post we will see the styling and the design and development of a vehicle. This last point includes the broadest sense of automotive design, therefore, it is the one that we will deal with throughout the course. But first of all, let's look at the first two points:
1 - Design and modify cars (aesthetic or mechanical):
Designing vehicles can be understood as modifying the car, customizing it or performing it to obtain a certain performance. But it is not the broadest sense of car design; since you don't really design a vehicle from scratch. In this case, the activity start with a vehicle that is already on the market and has been designed taking into account tastes or preferences that respond to a large group of potential customers. Then a single unit is taken, modified and adapted to the criteria of a single person. This is also design and is perfectly valid, but in this course we will see automotive design from the broadest possible sense: From the idea to the marketing of the vehicle, in a large manufacturer.
What to study to modify cars?
To dedicate yourself to customizing or modifying cars it is not necessary to study a Bachelor of Engineering, since it is a mostly handmade job. In this section we will talk about modifications that are not intended for racing, we will see that point later. Within this sector there is a great diversity of possibilities: painters, specialized mechanics, coachbuilders, etc. The most common way is to carry out a training in mechanics or similar, except for specific fields such as painting. In this industry, a Bachelor of Engineering is usually necessary just to sign the vehicle project, that is, to carry out bureaucratic procedures. There are companies that may require an engineer for certain calculations, such as roll cage design.
Although it is not common, there are car brands specialized in one-offs that require an engineer. In the case of an independent engineering firm specializing in performance improvements, the form of access is similar to any automotive brand. Although those people with experience in motorsport or in similar areas will have a competitive advantage. Similar areas like vehicle dynamics, weight reduction (lightweighting), composites, engine tuning, etc.
It should be noted that there are also official modifications that are made internally by the automaker. These respond to the needs of an enthusiastic public for cars. There are also additional projects within the car brands that aren't done for commercial purposes, but for research or media purposes. To enter these teams, it is necessary to have entered the brand before; and then find where there are interesting projects that you can carry out; It can be the modification of a car, the creation of a prototype, etc.
Possibly the most famous group is the TES (Toyota Engineering Society), formed by engineers of the brand in 1937. In this group, vehicles are created without any type of commercial application, without formalities or validations of managers. It is really a creative activity that seeks to encourage engineers, challenge them and create community. Annually they show their crazy creations at the Toyota Idea Olympics. You can see some of his creations in the following video.
2 - Motorsport
Designing cars can be understood as the preparation or design cars for the competition. This is a really passionate and very hard world. It is important to know the difference between motorsport and automotive design.
Both areas are related but they are different worlds, so you will have to ask yourself: Do you want to design a racing car? or: Do you want to work in the pits at the races? The first answer is linked to automotive design, the second answer is linked to the concept of motorsport that we are going to discuss in this section. Except for some big differences, the design of racing and road cars are relatively similar. Although the industrialization part and the vehicle development times are completely different.
Within motorsport, to work for a racing team, there are different positions:
Racing teams usually buy the vehicle and configure it according to the preferences of the pilot, the weather conditions and the circuit. This always happens under very strict regulations, but they will not design new components, except in categories such as Formula One. There are some teams that have designed a vehicle from scratch, but it is not the usual way. Therefore, vehicle design is not usually in racing teams, but in the manufacturers that supply these cars to the teams. Continuing with the example of single-seaters, except in Formula One, the cars (chassis) are provided by manufacturers such as Panoz, Lola, Dallara, Tatuus, etc.
To work as a racing mechanic, it would be more appropriate to train as a mechanic than as an engineer. For this, professional training related to mechanics is usually required, in addition, it is highly recommended to take motorsport courses. You have to make sure to have as much contact as possible with the racing world and find a way to enter this sector. People usually start with small teams and they promote on merit until the top racing teams. For example, you can start with a local rally team, even without training, and gradually obtain experience and contacts to advance to higher categories. If you take a motorsport course, you usually do internships, which already ensures that difficult start to get without contacts. In addition, it allows you to start your professional career with higher-level teams. That is, the more specific training in motorsport, the better your cover letter will be, so you can access higher-level teams from the first moment.
It is a job that requires great pressure on the track, and it does not entail a normal working day. For example, after qualifying, the car has to be perfectly set-up and ready for the next day. This is complicated if the vehicle has been involved in an accident during the day and the vehicle has to be repaired in the pits. In addition, in the important categories, each race is carried out in a different country, so it requires constant travel during the racing season.
For example, in Formula One, to race on Sunday the mechanics arrive at the circuit on Tuesday. That day they will set up the box, and on Wednesday they begin to prepare the car to have it ready for free practice on Friday. After each session they have to review the vehicle and set it up for qualifying or for the race.
Therefore, the work of the racing mechanic is not limited only to race's moment. Between races, the car returns to the team's factory and the mechanics will have to disassemble the vehicle and reassemble it to replace those components that have worn out.
There are careers such as a track engineer, who is the person responsible for decisions about the vehicle's set-up before and during the race. From the tires, configuration of the wings, to the number of stops. These decisions are not made based on hunches but all these decisions are based on data. Therefore, a race plan is created to take into account all possible scenarios.
But in the same way, it is not strictly necessary to study engineering to have this job position, despite being called a "track engineer". But it is increasingly required to have a related training in this area.
The engineer is related with strategic and data analysis positions. They handle simulation software tools like Matlab / Simulink, ChassisSim or vehicle dynamics software tools like OptimusG. Vehicle data acquisition is one of the most important parts for these types of professional profiles.
But if what you are interested into know how to work in Formula One, the most common path is to study a Bachelor of Engineering and then a Master's degree in motorsport. The advantage of this training is that it is not limited only to theory and offers real practices in different racing teams.
In this kind of training you will learn about materials, aerodynamics, structural analysis, vehicle dynamics and kinematics, etc. Still, there is great competition to get into Formula One's job position, but it is by no means impossible. Learning languages is essential, and being willing to travel a lot. Formula Student is also usually an interesting gateway.
To work on the design of a Formula One, one option is to specialize in a specific area, for example in aerodynamics or vehicle dynamics, either by experience or by regulated studies. For component design, a Bachelor of Engineering, plus additional training or experience, is usually enough. The key is to select a specific area of study that we are passionate about, focus on it and apply without fear to the different teams.
For example, one option is to specialize in surface modelling. For this you must correctly handle Catia or NX in their respective modules. For example, Ferrari uses Catia and Red Bull uses NX. Having a high command of surfaces is very valuable due to the high complexity of the Formula One's surfaces. In this post we will see key aspects of the Cad and the recommendations to choose which one to start learning with.
Aerodynamics is a key factor in Formula One. Doctoral studies are really demanded by racing teams, for the aerodynamics of the vehicle. This profile is very scarce and specialized. For this, you will need to have a Master in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics). A free software to learn is OpenFoam, which is organized in different C ++ modules that make it possible to solve different problems of turbulence and acoustics, among others.
Composites specialization is also a good option, both in competition and in the manufacture of supercars. There really are a lot of different areas in which to specialize in motorsport, as many as engineering areas. It should be noted that not only engineers work in racing, but there are also other professional profiles in areas of marketing, business administration, etc.
In the next post we will see How to become a Car Designer, both in styling and in the development and design. This last point will be the central axis of the course. We will also see the figure of the automotive engineer. With this, we will conclude the introductory part that helps us to position ourselves and know how to get a job in the automotive industry.
Then, in the third post, we will give a quick review of all the car design phases and go directly into the first phase of car design: Product Planning. There will be some practical cases, including some things that have never been revealed.
These are the two key books to learn about Formula One design, the first one is possibly the most famous automotive design book:
How to Build a Car: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Formula 1 Designer by Adrian Newey (currently the chief technical officer of the Red Bull Racing Formula One team.)
The second is exceptional, it is from Ross Brawn and if you like motorsport, it cannot be missing on your shelf.