What is ‘styling clay’ and why are designers still using it?

What is ‘styling clay’ and why are designers still using it?
INDUSTRIAL PARTNERS: Foster+ + Buro Happold

Styling clay is a class of prototyping material that is widely used in the industrial design sector, especially automotive design. Counterintuitively, these materials don’t contain any clay minerals – they are composed of waxes, oils and synthetic fillers. Clay has been popular since the 1930’s. Today, it is often used in work-flows that combine sculpting, CAD freeform surface modelling, 3D scanning and CNC machining – artists don’t discriminate between traditional sculpting and computational tools. Why are designers still using clay? Voices from industry reason, “It’s easy to change — you just add it, or take it away. It allows you to be creative and come up with something quickly. 3D printing, on the other hand, is just that — printing…It’s a great collaborative tool – everyone can get around it, brainstorming three-dimensionally….When you work on a computer, you have a tendency to zoom in, and you get too concerned with the details”.

This project has developed novel prototyping methods that recognise the value of a material that is malleable and open-ended. For the first time, styling clay is used as part of an additive manufacturing process – not to replace, but to extend the possibilities of existing design methods. Robotic systems enable rapid and customised material deposition patterns, creating forms in their ‘near-net-shape’. Subtractive techniques (i.e. milling) are used to remove excess material according to the desired geometry. This combination of additive and subtractive techniques – sometimes called ‘Hybrid Manufacturing’ – prefigures a best-of-both worlds scenario that brings together the geometric freedom and material efficiency of additive manufacturing with the precision and excellent surface finish of machining.

This month has been a busy month of testing. A lot of this has activity has been filmed…

ESR13 Arthur Prior Video Compressed from arthur prior on Vimeo.