SEAT: from compass to digital design

  • Transformation of car design revealed in archive footage from SEAT factory
  • Compasses and erasers replaced by virtual reality and 3D sketches
  • Over 1,000 engineers work at the SEAT Technical Centre, five times more than 40 years ago
  • Electronics and new driver aid systems mean more extreme tests with prototypes than ever before

 Martorell– SEAT has revealed the remarkable transformation of car design over the last four decades with new archive footage from its Martorell factory.

Rubber erasers, compasses and onion-skin paper have been replaced by virtual reality, 3D sketches and HD glasses to create the latest models like the Ateca, Arona and upcoming Tarraco.

Archive footage shows how the digital world has taken over car design as the SEAT Technical Centre has expanded to over 1,000 engineers since 1975 when just 211 were employed.

These SEAT engineers, who have worked on some of the brand’s iconic models, have now offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the evolution of the process of creating and developing a new car over the past 40 years.

The latest model benefitting from the evolution in design at SEAT is the third – and largest – SUV to join its family, the Tarraco.

  • Up to six metres of paper: Today’s designers work in front of a screen using the latest 3D technology, but four decades ago they gathered around a long drawing table to outline a full-scale car. “Everything was done by hand with paper, ruler and compass, and of course no image editing programmes,” recalls engineer Ángel Lahoz. In the 80s, one of the challenges was to project the different sections of the model design, one on top of the other, onto the paper.
  • From lead pencil to digital stylus: “There used to be a single computer in each department for the manager’s assistant and the rest of us worked at tables full of drawings and coloured pencils. It looked like an artists’ workshop,” says Lahoz. Today, this image has been replaced by interactive tablets and digital pens. Designers can now immediately apply corrections with a simple click, leaving behind the countless modifications made with rubber erasers. 
  • Two tonnes of plaster compared to 5,000 kg of clay: During the creation stage of a new model, sketches are drawn alongside full-scale reproductions of the prototypes. Designers used plaster for the first generation Ibiza in the 80s, whereas today they use a clay-like resin. Lahoz points out it is “much easier to mould” and produces “great precision, down to a tenth of a millimetre”. This more manual process is combined with virtual prototypes.
  • Designers wearing HD glasses: “When I began at SEAT, if they had told me how we would be working today, I would have thought it was science fiction,” says Lahoz. Not only is it now possible to design a model using virtual reality, engineers can also experience first-hand what it feels like at the wheel. These new work tools guarantee the viability of initial sketches by around 90%.
  • Twice as many simulations thanks to virtual reality: Virtual reality has become a key aspect in recent years in the entire development stage of a model. A further example of this is collision testing. A total of 95,000 simulations were performed for the new Ibiza, which is twice as many as for the previous generation. In addition, this new technology is able to analyse up to three million elements of a car, a figure that 30 years ago topped out at 5,000. 
  • The evolution of extreme tests: Before making their way onto the market, the models have to pass a series of tests in extreme conditions. “Testing has changed a lot over the years”, explains Jaume Camps, an engineer in charge of the extreme tests. Three decades ago the prototypes were already undergoing dynamic heat tests in desert regions and extreme cold in the Arctic Circle. The difference now is that the number of tests has increased due to the addition of electronics and driver aid systems in today’s cars.
  • Five times as many engineers in the workforce: The SEAT Technical Centre opened in 1975 with 211 engineers and a surface area of 130,000m2. Four decades later, this knowledge hub has a 200,000m2 facility and more than 1,000 professionals.
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