Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Communication

After our second Webex demo of ICEM Shape Design (ISD) we had a discussion on what the next step regarding the software would be:

1) Will we purchase the software and have the technology in house for our resident designer?

2) Will we not purchase the software and leave the knowledge of how to create Class A surfaces with ICEM in the hands of a hired gun after supplying him or her with the necessary tape drawings, renderings etc?

3) Will we attend some training courses on the software to bring our design and engineering teams up to speed on the terminology used with designing Class A surfaces, the techniques a contracted designer may use to create the body, and how much effort is involved to get them?

In the long term, the answer to the first question is more than likely yes. The answer for the other two questions isn't so direct. However, one thing rings true - communication is key. I've mentioned it so many times in previous posts how there is a fundamental breakdown between designers and engineers in the automotive world. If we are to break this paradigm, effective and seamless communication will be critical. This is a core competency we will have. If that means having some training on the software if we do not purchase it in the near future, that is the route we will take. Another core competency closely tied to effective communication is having a stranglehold on the design process from start to finish.

We will be the shepherds guiding the sheep - the designers and the engineers - through the hills of the design process as one. This will take communication and an in depth knowledge of the layout of the land, that being the ups and downs of the design process.

http://pro.corbis.com

SolidWorks Routing Training - Day Two

Building on the concepts learned in day one of the SolidWorks Routing technology at R&D Technologies, I learned how to route pipes, tubing and flexible hose within a SolidWorks assembly.

As with the electrical portion of the routing feature, you can easily route pipes/tubes/hoses through the vast library of clips and add elbows, junctions, and end flanges, or create your own components to use in the routing function. One interesting feature is the ability to pick a start and end to the route, select the orthogonal path option and toggle to the route that most closely represents the route you want and make the necessary modifications, or none at all in some cases.


Over the course of the two day training, this capability has proven itself to be a great time saver and powerful way to design wiring harnesses, brake lines, fuel lines, coolant lines/hoses etc. with relative ease and high accuracy. We will definitely be using this in our prototype models, marketing material, and as an educational tool for our staff and customers alike.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Engineering Essentials - Segment One

Some time ago I alluded to an upcoming series of posts regarding all things engineering. This will be the first post in that series and sure, it would make sense to start with a "first" in engineering such as Newton's First Law, but since our vision at LM is to educate our community about as many of the details of vehicle engineering small and large and the vehicle as a whole, I thought I'd start with explaining a simple little part on every car that is hugely critical. One of the things that always bugged me about my engineering education was that so much time was spent on how formulas such as Newton's First Law (and countless others) were derived, and less on the application and its actual impact. I constantly found myself thinking, "Yes, give me an understanding of the principle behind the theory, but spend more time on showing me how it applies, or more importantly in some cases how it doesn't apply to certain situations." This is the type of education I envision providing our community - applications focus. In the radio biz, this would be summed up by the phrase, "Less talk, more rock!"

I'll start with a question...

Ever wonder what allows air into your tires and keeps it there?

It's a simple piece of equipment called a Schrader valve. It is also commonly used in the fuel rails of fuel injected engines, for the same reason as in the tires it's used for - to keep the fluid in the pressurized vessel that contains it.

Below is a simple illustration of how it works:


Schrader valves consists of a valve stem which has a core threaded into it. The valve is a type of valve called a poppet valve. There is also a spring inside the core which assists the valve in staying shut.

Now, to keep true to my belief, there is actually a decent level of detail that I could go into on what makes the valve work (like the theory behind spring coefficients etc), but the important thing to know is that the spring must keep the right amount of pressure on the valve to keep it closed, and for obvious reasons, shouldn't be too stiff so that you can open it with only a slight bit of pressure. It's also important to note that the cap although not generally thought to be all that critical is actually a very key component. It will keep dirt out of the tip and prevent such dirt from lodging in the core and possibly causing the valve to stay open, creating a leak. Also commonly overlooked is the importance on tire pressure. Tire pressure is so critical to the way your car brakes and accelerates, and hugely impacts how your car handles. The valve in your tires is a bit more forgiving, but imagine how critical keeping the cap on your fuel rail is in that case!

All of this is controlled by a very small, simple valve that most people don't know has an actual name...it's called the Schrader valve.

SolidWorks Routing Training - Day One

As mentioned in an earlier post, SolidWorks has a routing feature that can be used to quickly generate detailed wiring harnesses in both 3D and 2D. As I learned today, this includes adding the connectors, plugs, clips and even insulation, whether it be from the default library of parts or those that you create on your own. I also learned today how SolidWorks 2008 has improved features of previous SolidWorks releases, particularly in the generation of 2D wiring diagrams right from the 3D assembly.


For example, in previous editions, the lines between connectors were just that. In other words they had no information from the 3D assembly tied to them. It was there only to show the link between the two ends of the wire. In SolidWorks 2008 however, if you update the assembly the diagram has a scaled representation of the route which will update accordingly. You can also manipulate the route within the 2D diagram and the part will update according to those changes.

Also, you can create wires tht you use frequently and in various assemblies, then load them into an assembly, rather than having to redraw them every time you create a new assembly that uses that same wire. These wires (and any others you create0 are logged in a BOM complete with all of the wire details (what plugs/connectors are on the ends, length, gauge, color etc.) so that they can easily be mass produced.

These are just some of the things I will use to create the prototype, use in production, and train our staff with. Day two of the Routing training will cover hoses, tubing and hard lines, so stay tuned for that next week.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Perfect Storm

Today's rain got me thinking.

Although I wouldn't call today's weather patter a "storm," today at LM was a Perfect Storm; a storm of progress.

If you've seen the movie or read the book The Perfect Storm (which details the story of a group of commercial fisherman from Gloucester, MA on the hunt for a big score and got caught up in "The Perfect Storm") you may remember that in one scene, a news cast is playing on TV and the meteorologist is explaining the conditions for a "perfect" storm to exist. It's when three separate fronts come together to create a powerful storm of a magnitude like no other.

That's how today was at LM - efforts from three separate "fronts" came together to create progress of great magnitude, which by themselves would be significant but when occurring at the same time the effect cannot be matched.

First, early this morning, the second design competition was launched, creating one of the highest amounts of traffic we've seen on the site to date. The engineering team hand formed the aluminum boxes for the charter member printed parts and packaged them for delivery. The third front took shape in the third installment of the investor newsletter, which Jay prepared for mailing.




It always dampens my spirits when I catch wind of a storm moving in. That is unless it's a "perfect" storm of progress. That's a storm I live for.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

ICEM Demo

Great Webex demo from ICEM today. We had the chance to see the software in action and try a few things that would be directly applicable to what we'd use the software for, which couldn't have come at a better time since we have a trip planned in the near future to explore methods of constructing molds and bodies (more on that later). This demo along with what we learn on our trip to several shops on the west coast will help us decide how much of the process we will bring in house and how much we will contract out. The main issue here is to make sure that we are still very much in tune with the design process, rather than simply sending a design off to a supplier and allowing them to produce the molds and the bodies without our knowledge of every step they take to get from start to finish. That's not what we're in business to do. In fact, its the exact opposite.

www.cadverter.com

If we do source some of the work from an outside contractor, it will have to be someone that we can work very closely with. Someone that understands our passion to build exciting cars and to be involved with every detail along the development process whether it be something we've done a thousand times in our professional experiences, or something that we've never done before and want to learn for the first time. This is the big caveat in deciding to add technology like ICEM to our core of software, or to outsource the work to someone that is more experienced with ICEM, or some other modeling software to get a Class A surface. Do we expend the time to learn the software while developing the body? Do we farm that work out (following the 80/20 rule) but still stay just as ingrained in the process working with the designer running the software, all the while contributing our knowledge and also learning some new techniques to get the job done, then integrate the technology and/or someone that already has an in-depth knowledge of how to run the software at a later date once we've met our prototyping time line?

To answer these questions, we have set up a second, more detailed Webex demo of ICEM and we will also learn a great deal on our trip to the west coast. Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gettin' Hot

The Toyota Prius has officially surpassed the 1 million mark, providing more proof to my previous claim that the hybrid/EV market is heating up. Through April, Prius sales are up 7% this year in the UK and Toyota will expand their sales to include South Korea in late 2009.

http://fuelzilla.com

For those of you wondering just how much of an impact hybrids and EV's have on limiting emissions and how cars contribute to global warming, Toyota also announced in the article that the Prius has produced "approximately 4.5 million sq. tons less CO2 when compared with conventional petrol-powered vehicles in the same class and of similar size and driving performance."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Goin Back to Cali


The Ferrari 250 California - one of the all time classic designs, revived in Maranello...

This is another example of a successful design and a revival of that due to its timeless styling and appeal to our innermost emotions and nostalgic feel. I say this not just because Ferrari has reinttroduced the design, but more because it is a design that has inspired so many others and even been directly copied by kit car manufacturers (or tried to anyway - Ferrari is VERY protective of their designs, and rightfully so). After all, duplication is the sincerest form of flattery.

Like the 250, the design that WAS inspired and has the capability TO inspire is what we are looking for. Comparisons will always be made; it's human nature. People want to feel a connection with their car and as a result, drawing some parallels with another vehicle, a certain place (physically or in time), or a certain emotion provides that. If a person can see himself in a car based on one of these things it can be the deciding factor in the success of how a design is received.

This explains the success of the PanTerra (designed by community member Filski), LM's first design competition winner; it invokes these elements in a wide range of people as witnessed by the comments on the entry page, the number of votes and the number of "I want it" votes it received. From Filski's renderings and profile pictures, you get a sense of the environment that the vehicle will be used in and who drives it. I hope this type of design continues with our next competition for the Miami Road Racer. Congratulations to Filski from everyone at LM!


Maybe someday people will by duplicating LM designs?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bad Karma

Despite the pending lawsuit against Fisker Coachbuild, Car and Driver reports that the Karma is undergoing testing and the California based plug-in hybrid can now be ordered.

The lawsuit filed in mid April by Tesla alleges that Henrik Fisker fraudulently agreed to take on the $875,000 design contract for Tesla's electric powered sedan (the White Star) to gain confidential design information and trade secrets to build their own EV sedan. Henrik Fisker had remained silent until recently, when he fired back by saying the the lawsuit was "nonsense".

A few things about this scenario are particularly intriguing to me:

1. This is a new era for the hybrid/EV market. The technology is emerging as such a powerful alternative to fossil fuels that there's a strong enough market opportunity to cause people to sue eachother, battling to have the upper hand and lead the revolution on the competition.

2. Having seen the Karma in person, you can clearly see Fisker's ties to BMW and to Aston Martin (he designed the BMW Z8 and the Aston V8 Vantage) since certain aspects like the front fascia and rear badging are very much Z8 and the lines are similar to the Aston. These are two VERY popular designs, so it's no wonder that Fisker took certain cues from each vehicle to build his own. It also makes sense from having seen the result that if Tesla feels as though what they got from Fisker (intentionally sub-standard or not) will not be able to compete with the Karma, that they undergo a redesign.



3. I had the opportunity to meet Henrik Fisker and to discuss the Karma, sustainability and EV solutions in general over lunch in February and he seemed true to his word. He said at the time that he was booked with orders through mid 2010 and planned to produce 15,000 vehicles per year (very interested to see how he will accomplish that), so in the current Car and Driver article I've cited that states 500 orders and a rate of 1,250 cars per month, his claims hold true. Also, I'd like to think I'm a good judge of character and in the few hours that I spoke with him, this type of behavior didn't seem to be in his character. Not to say that Tesla's claims are totally unfounded, because I don't have all of the details and I'm sure they wouldn't stick their neck out if they didn't feel they're claims were somewhat justified, but from his record, the level of intelligence he seemed to exert as I spoke with him, and the fact that I'm sure he was well aware all eyes were on him during his time at Tesla and certainly even more so when he introduced his own design shortly after, he would not intentionally try to hoodwink Tesla by performing sub-standard work and then design his own car. His name is attached to both cars - in the design of the Tesla White Star, and LITERALLY on the Karma! Why would he intentionally tarnish his good reputation just as he was undergoing a movement to lift it up even further by starting his own car company?

In any event, the key here is point #1 - this is proof positive that things in the hybrid/EV market are heating up! We'll be sure to follow this case and many others as we make the move to go local and to go green.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Coupe Has Been Reshaped



This is a great commercial! I saw it last night and just had to comment on it. I was pretty inspired especially since we just completed our first design competition and have announced are second, so we're getting closer to the design we'll build, and as a result, the clay model stage is nearing.

As I've mentioned, great design speaks to your innermost senses, a lot of times drawing on history. Your own or that of the world in general.

Since we as people are continually evolving, drawing upon our experiences to make changes/adjustments and acquiring certain tastes, we expect the same from our vehicles. This ad shows that pedigree of the BMW Coupe. Sure, they still offer the traditional 3-Series Coupe (and now the 6-Series, and revived the 1-Series), but classifying the X6 as a newly "reshaped" couple is very innovative, particularly in today's world of SUV's, SUT's, CUV's, SAV's...the list goes on. This is just one way that BMW has distinguised the X6 from the competition. Having seen it personally, and having read the performance reviews I think it's worthy of the Coupe classification. I love how the narration is simply that "The coupe has been reshaped." The models they show in the clip are all BMW coupes, but they don't mean just the BMW coupe has been reshaped, but the whole idea of what a coupe is in general is what has been reshaped. Love it!

Therefore, kudos to BMW for their inspiring innovation and bold positioning. Look for this type of highly inspired marketing and engineering from the LM team and our design community.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Information Sharing - Part II

Late in the day Friday I received a great .STP file from Matt Haase at AM Equipment. I spoke with Matt mid last week (which is what prompted my first post on "Information Sharing") and just a couple of days later, he had taken the criteria I had given him and researched the system that would best suit our needs, and emailed me a working 3D file that I can open in SolidWorks and set the preliminary position of the wiper system. Once we have the windshield and body design Matt can then take my model and optimize the system for the correct amount of sweep (among other things). Am Equipment will also conduct the necessary testing for our future Federalization effort and test the system according to the FMVSS standards.


Therefore, this is one example specific to the LM prototyping process of how obtaining supplier information is more readily available and can be put into place early in the R&D process, which for us will be a great benefit. Now I can simultaneously load several components into the SolidWorks chassis assembly and position them so that they all work together in harmony. For example, saving the time of modeling the body to fit the chassis only to find that I have to change it to now accommodate the wiper system in a way I did not originally anticipate.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Let the Education Begin

Today was an educational one in so many ways, but the one thing that I wanted to share with everyone was that we are staying true to our value of educating not only our customers and community members, but our own staff as well.

Early in the afternoon Dave Riha gave a tutorial on plasma cutting and welding to our fearless leader Jay, and our newly arrived and very talented designer, Ben Messmer.

L to R - Ben Messmer, Dave Riha, Jay Rogers

We'll make fabricators out of them yet!! Stay tuned for updates on the further training of the LM team both in each member's area of expertise to further their stranglehold on particular skills and in cross training to develop ancillary skills to complement our core competencies.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Leave the Driving up to Us - Part II

I read an article today about a man who won a chance to have an Audi R8 at his disposal for two days. It's a perfect case in the point that I made last night - there are definitely people out there who still love to drive; and by drive, I mean in its purest sense. Remember that first day you got your license? I bet you went out with no real mission in mind and just drove around, just for the fun of it. That's what this guy did when handed the keys to the R8 (wouldn't we all!) and it seems that he does the same thing with his other cars, which are far less advanced and/or glamorous than the new supercar from Audi:

"I live to drive. It's one of the biggest pleasures I have," asserted Bud Moyers. "Tractors when I was a kid in Iowa, tanks in the Army, 18-wheelers, motorcycles, the big fire engines we call pavement queens--pretty much anything with wheels, I've driven it."


One statement Moyers made about the R8 also stuck with me:

"It's got the whole Audi thing. You think where you want to go, and it goes."

This got me thinking about not just how important it is to get what you expect from a vehicle, but also from the vehicle's supplier. As education about automotive knowledge and the LM vehicle specifically is a cornerstone of our business, so is the education of our customers about Local Motors as a company and what they can expect from us. So may times at previous employers I have seen problems arise when a customer experiences something they weren't expecting, and in the worst case, something that blind-sides them.

For example, when they order something that has several parts to it and they finally take shipment and certain key parts have been back ordered and the possibility of this was never mentioned in the several correspondences they had with the supplier. This type of problem spreads to all areas of the business and could have been easily avoided if on that very first visit or call to the company about their order the person speaking with them had mentioned it.

You train people how to treat you. Therefore, we will not only be educating our customers on what to expect from their car, but from LM as a business - then deliver on it.

Leave the Driving up to Us

An excerpt from an article I read on my daily check of what's new in the automotive world:

"Real-world testing will begin this summer on a sophisticated active safety system that analyzes multiple collision threats and helps drivers avoid accidents. It is designed to assess the risk of swerving and hitting another vehicle versus braking hard when a frontal collision is imminent. The system will 'warn drivers when they are about to leave the roadway, are in danger of colliding with another vehicle while attempting a lane change or are at risk of colliding with the vehicle ahead."

How much further will things go before someone puts and end to this I have to ask myself?

What I'm referring to is the penchant to take more and more control out of the driver's hand in putting it in the "hands" of a computer. There is an alarming increase in the number of these types of systems becoming standard and even required. My concern is that with implementing these types of features, we will soon be purchasing "transporters" not cars.

Courtesy: www.worldofstock.com

It takes the driving out of driving. There's no real connection between man, machine and the open road anymore. This is simply more motivation to return to a more holistic experience when you turn the key. That is if cars still need people to turn them on, or do they just drive around on their own nowadays?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Information Sharing

I was conducting some research on parts yesterday for the LM Prototype and after speaking with a supplier, a thought occurred to me:

Access to supplier information - CAD files specifically - has become much easier in recent years and even seems to be an emerging standard in some fields.


Thanks to the internet and advancement of computers/electronic data, the barrier to obtaining technical data and electronic part files has been smashed down like the Berlin Wall.


In engineering, there are so many resources to obtain electronic data from the suppliers themselves or services like 3D Content Central, or through membership in such organizations as SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association), where even the large auto manufacturers share certain files. Many wholesale supply companies even have CAD data available for many of their parts. One example includes McMaster-Carr.




All of this is a good thing for business, particularly small businesses like LM (Small businesses - less than 500 employees - make up 99.7% percent of the American workforce) because it allows us to check a part's compatibility before making investment in what could be the wrong part, obtain files or parts we'd like to use and design around them (and eventually decide to use them or not), saving time we'd normally have to spend waiting for the part, then reverse engineering it among several other reasons.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Today, new information is out on the new GM Duramax turbo diesel engine. As previously mentioned, we first heard about this engine in an issue of Diesel Tech Magazine, January 2008, which I touched upon briefly in a previous post.

Courtesy: www.thedieselpage.com

Since the small displacement V8 will fit in the same space as the gasoline powered V8, it will be used in GM 1/2 ton trucks. Interestingly, the author also mentions the hope that they will begin offering the engine as an option in some of their passenger cars. This seems very plausible from what we've read and certainly what we saw at the New York International Auto Show - all the major manufacturers are beginning (or have already begun) to offer many of their passenger cars with diesel power plants as optional equipment. Most of which are of the V6 variety, so if this V8 with its massive amount of torque (520 ftlb) and horsepower (310) is offered in the market of V6 cars, it could change the game a great deal.

This announcement comes amidst the announcement from President Bush today on Good Morning America that he's troubled by rising gas prices and plans to review some proposals to relieve the crisis while warning that there isn't a quick fix.

Again, as we've seen recently, the shift to diesel can alleviate some of this pressure, although it may not be the best long term solution, so we will press on with the search for diesel power as well as a long term solution in the form of alternative power plants such as the Scuderi Engine, which I've also blogged about recently.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Location, Location, Location

If you were starting your own business, when it came time to decide on location would you...

Open a tanning salon in South Beach Miami, FL?

Start a Scuba Diving equipment shop in the land-locked mid-western part of the United States?

Or how about an electric car company in Greenland (population density of 0.026 people/sq. km - the lowest on a list compiled from the United Nations World Populations Prospects Report)?

Just days ago Tesla opened their first dealership in Los Angeles at one of the city's most congested intersections.


"Close to the crawling 405 freeway and the congested corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards, the Tesla factory store makes a potent statement for gridlocked Angelenos to buy an electric car."

This is an excellent move by Tesla. The rent is probably insanely high, but if you're going to get your message across and position yourself in the right location to sell the type of car they're producing, this would be the spot.

We will be taking a similar approach, but on a larger scale in that each vehicle will suit the location. We won't select the location based on design, but base the design on the location. This allows us to be successful in any area and have near infinite possibilities of location.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sustainability and Design - Part III

Today I came across yet another case in the point of sustainable design drawing on human emotion and nostalgia.

As you will see in the article (Titled, "Heritage as Inspiration"), BMW M1 has been redesigned to mark the 30th anniversary of the legendary sports car.


To quote the article,

A particular forte of BMW Group Design is to draw on its own powerful history and actively feed this into the design of the future. The BMW M1 Homage is a design study in the tradition of a BMW Turbo that represents a contemporary take on the BMW M1 and the mid-engine concept. This tribute exhibits an EMOTIONAL design that showcases technology and integrates it into the overall aesthetics of the vehicle.


From the photos, you can clearly see that the new M1 Homage definitely draws from its roots, just as many of the designs we've seen in either our design competition or in the checkup portion of the design website have done.


Therefore, I see great things coming from the LM design community not only on this first design, but in the distant future! It will be interesting to see how the design on the 30th anniversary of LM will draw upon its roots!


The New Automotive Mecca?

Yesterday's news about Randy Moss announcing Moss Motorsports got me thinking.

At first I thought that the team would be based out of New England, but this is very unlikely and will probably be in the Mecca of NASCAR: Mooresville, NC. However, that thought inspired others leading me to assess the growth of motor sports and the interest in performance automobiles in New England over recent times.


Most recently (other than Moss' announcement) came the announcement of the Fenway Sports Group's (a marketing subsidiary of The Red Sox parent New England Sports Ventures) purchase of 50% of NASCAR's biggest team, Roush Racing (home of the Busch Series winner, Carl Edwards) in February, 2007. Pick up a copy of April's installment of Fast Company Magazine for more of FSG's ventures.

Courtesy: www.ovalfan.com

In 1995, brothers Mark and David Smith began in a small garage what would become the world's most successful manufacturer of component cars, Factory Five Racing. Every year FFR hosts an Open House which grows yearly and currently sees about 200 FFR faithful in attendance and the headquarters in Wareham, MA.

The year 1990 brought NASCAR (and several other racing sanctioning bodies) to New England in the form of New Hampshire International Speedway (Now New Hampshire Motor Speedway). Each of the two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races NHMS hosts each year sell out and have attendance that exceed the NFL's Superbowl. In addition to NASCAR, according to the NHMS website, "the track hosts several regional professional racing series, including the NASCAR Camping World Series East and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Amateur series events are sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America, Loudon RoadRace Series, Vintage Racer Group, U.S. Classic Racing Association, and the World Karting Association. Racing schools are conducted throughout the year by the Richard Petty Driving Experience and Penguin School."

Courtesy: www.seowebworks.com

As you can see, this is a wide range of racing levels, all supported by the same track, which until it conception, left New England racers (of which the numbers have grown significantly over the last 10-20 years) to travel mostly outside the New England area to get their "fix".

For drag racing fans, there's New England Dragway in Epping, NH which has been open since 1966.


Now add Local Motors to that mix and I begin to wonder, "Is New England the Mooresville of the Northeast, the Northeast Mecca of performance autos?"

Stay tuned as the growth continues!