Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Doc Brown was way ahead of his time...

In an article that Ari sent me, it seems that the days of committing one of the worst party fouls ever may be coming to an end. I'm speaking of course about "wounded soldiers", aka "leaving a man behind". More specifically, not finishing a perfectly good beer, leaving it to be poured out, blatantly wasted.

The article details the use of beer that didn't pass the quality test at the Coors Brewing facility in Golden, Colorado to be used as ethanol to power fleet vehicles used during the Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver, Colorado. Coors says they are the first major American brewery to make waste beer available for use as ethanol as they started this practice in 1996.

Sound familiar? See the clip below of the famed Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future (please excuse the poor image quality). When I first saw this part of the movie way back when (I was probably 7 or 8) I remember thinking that using waste as fuel would be cool and pretty resourceful, but was probably in the distant future IF it ever happened. It's happening much sooner than I thought, thankfully! Then again, when you're that age, trying to think of when you'll be nearing 30 seems like an eternity away I suppose.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

RapidForm Training - Day Two

Once again, we had Jim from JMR Systems at the LM facility for RapidForm training. This was our second full day of training as per the training schedule set forth by RapidForm and JMR Systems. As we get more and more exposure to the software, its value becomes more apparent. Today we were able to build upon our first day of training and also try different techniques to achieve similar results. You might think this is a waste of time, but in the world of solid modeling, every part is different, and what you need to do with that part has a profound effect on how you model the part. Furthermore, the geometry of a part can affect the way in which you model the part whether it's due to speed, secondary processing etc., not just what the part is going to be used for. At times, a hybrid method is needed to model parts, which is something we also covered today.


One of the main things we covered was using a surface modeling approach in comparison to modeling parts as solids as in the first day of training. It was pretty fitting that this was happening today since we were heavily involved in preparing for the surfacing of our first prototype. Having a better knowledge of how the surfaces are created, how the blend and how the reflections on these surfaces play a role in the vehicle design is yet another tool to help us bridge the gap between design and engineering.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Systemic Approach

Audi AG announced a forward thinking change in traffic infrastructure today, representative of the systemic approach to changing the problems we currently have with the way we get around. This type of change is the core of sustainability of transportation within urban areas and is already in place in several European cities in several different forms. It deals with the system as the focus, not the products we use to get around.

The way in which Audi's "Travolution Team" has made such a systemic change is to develop a system that informs drivers through the infotainment system what speed they should travel to drive through intersections without having to stop. To accomplish this, the vehicle is tied into a network of traffic lights with communication modules.

Courtesy: www.treehugger.com


If this were the medical field this would be akin to the holistic practice of health care versus more traditional, commonplace methods where the focus is on both prevention and wellness (body, mind, and spirit) through correcting core imbalances by treating with the contributing factors in mind. There is no "quick fix" in this method. The core imbalance in transportation lies within the traffic infrastructure, while the make-up of the automobile is one of the contributing factors.

We at LM are not out to change the traffic infrastructure as Audi has, but our angle of approach to making a systemic change is the way in which one of the contributing factors to our woes - the automobile itself - is produced. We are examining the vehicle as an entity with many factors that contribute to its overall "wellness". While other manufacturers are looking at just the power plant (these would be the are of medicine that treats a problem with the "quick fix" and not looking into what contributed the ailment) as the smoking gun, we're taking the holistic approach and looking at the equivalent features to a humans body, mind, and emotions - the body (mainly its shape), the power plant, and the materials/processes which make up the core of the vehicle.

Look for more of these systemic, holistic solutions as the need to revamp the way we travel continues to becomes more dire in the very near future.

Engineering Essentials - Segment Four (Orthographic Drawings)

In discussing the orthographic drawing for vehicle prototypes, I noticed that the original sketches of the side of some vehicles don't seem to match the proportions of the orthographic tape drawing. When I raised the question as to why there was a difference, Ben explained that often times when a designer sketches the side of the vehicle it isn't necessarily from a straight on perspective, but may be either from the perspective of viewing the vehicle from a slightly upward or downward angle, depending on the vehicle. For example, for a larger vehicle like a truck or SUV, you don't see over the roof line so it would be sketched from the perspective of looking up at it. On the other hand, for a lower vehicle like a 2 door coupe, in the designer's original sketches, you may see more of the roof line so the sketch would be from looking down at the car. As the perspectives change, the reflections off the body panels also change. Shading and reflections give a 2D sketch the depth to represent what the car would look like in 3D.

images.traderpub.net


http://car-blueprints.narod.ru


The difference in going from a sketch to the orthographic tape drawing is that you aren't using perspective to show a "round" vehicle, or colors or value to represent the reflections and surfaces. To represent the complex curvature in 2D on the tape drawing, essentially what you're doing is taking the centerline features and bringing them to the front of the drawing to represent a straight on view, from every point, of what the vehicle's curves look like. This is where the difference in the profile between the initial sketch and the orthographic come from. This seemed counter intuitive to me at first, but after having it explained, it makes sense that although often times you may think you're looking at a vehicle from straight on, your eye doesn't necessarily perceive the vehicle as such, due to the perspective of seeing an object from a single vantage point.

Therefore, the tape drawing is used in conjunction with the original sketches as a tool to grab data to model the vehicle's curvature in 3D. If you were to skip the orthographic tape drawing step in the design process and model in 3D CAD using only a designer's hand sketch, the vehicle may come out looking somewhat flat due to the notion I mentioned of sketching from what I'll call from a perspective view. The orthographic tape drawing is a data point to represent the exact curvature of the body in four views (front, back, side, top) critical in avoiding a flat design since it represents these views with all of the packaging constraints in addition to the curvature at the center of the body.

Not being an artist, and not having formal transportation design training, this was very interesting to learn and I hope to continue to further my knowledge of "the other side". Although I may never be the one to create the sketches or tape drawings AND engineer the vehicle (although the thought does interest me), having an understanding of this process is critical in our ability to destroy the convention of design and engineering collaboration (or lack thereof), and as a result our ability to deliver a differentiated overall customer experience, not just a differentiated product.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Carbon Composites Update

In my continuing research of composite materials and how they are useful to the LM manufacturing model, I read an article in Automotive Engineering International today that discussed Caparo's (the company that developed the T1, a super light weight F1 inspired road car) development program of carbon composites.


The Engineering Director of Vehicle Products at Caparo is Ben Scott-Geddes, McLaren's former Head of Composites and Body Structures and most recently Head of Advanced Concepts. The article is the summary of an interview conducted with him regarding Caparo's recent movement to take the knowledge of carbon composites and adapt it to manufacturing at "prices appropriate to volume vehicles."

Scott-Geddes makes an excellent point when he states that a lot of the cost of carbon composites is due to the fact that the manufacturing methods currently in use are not well suited for volume production since they were originally developed in the aerospace industry for low volume applications. He and his team have set out on this path of innovation by analyzing the areas of automotive manufacturing to determine the areas where carbon composites can be most useful and developed new compositions and production techniques more applicable to vehicles produced at volume. They are also developing a "variable matrix" composite, blending several materials in a single part based on what will yield the strongest, lightest part fit for the application.

This is great news for a company like ours as it gives us yet another data point to examine in our development of a new way to produce vehicles in addition to those we have already researched, namely FiberForge. It's these types of alternative materials and forming techniques that will allow us to offer a differentiated product, so we will continue to research them even well into production as the technology evolves.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lines of Communication

Today was a day of more than just keeping the lines of communication open, but continuing to build working relationships with the people that will be critical in supplying us parts and services to build our first prototype.

In order to build on a newly formed connection, I payed a visit to a potential parts supplier that will provide us with many of the critical components we will use in the build up of our first prototype. The purpose was not only to put faces to names, but to establish accounts and terms of service - two things that I feel are very important to accomplish via face to face negotiation whenever possible. This shows a high level of commitment, and appreciation for the work done by those you're dealing with - very important, particularly in the infancy of a partnership.

I also made contact - with our designer Ben Messmer's assistance - with a potential contractor that can assist us in brining our design development to the next level and ready it for production.

There will be much more to come on who these people are and how/what they will supply us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Engineering Essentials - Segment Three (Dissimilar Metals)

The other night I replaced the Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS) on my car. The bracket holding the sensor in place was made from Aluminum, while the bolt holding it to the transmission housing (also Aluminum) was made from Steel.

When designing systems in which conditions like this exist, certain precautions have to be taken to avoid dissimilar metals corrosion, also known as galvanic corrosion. For galvanic corrosion to occur, two different metals must be in contact, subjected to a corrosive or conductive environment (such as salt covered roads) causing a flow of current between them. The current flow will increase the chance for the metal more likely to corrode to do so and the opposite applies for the more corrosion-resistant metal.

To prevent galvanic corrosion between materials like the Steel bolt and the Aluminum bracket and transmission housing, one technique is the use of coatings, like Zinc. The reason here is that Zinc is higher than both Steel and Aluminum on the Galvanic Series.


As seen in the table, the metals higher on the table offer protection to those lower on the table. This of course works in theory, but as anyone that's worked on cars that have been subjected to corrosive environments like here in the Northeastern United States, if those coatings are compromised, the results can be pretty nasty. For example, it can cause bolts to break when you apply torque to them in trying to remove them, one of the least cool parts about working on cars. However, like with the VSS the other night, there's always more than one way to skin a cat...if you have the right tools that is!

Wheels

As I research suspension packages, brakes, and how to package these components inside of a wheel and tire package, I am constantly keeping my eye on what's available in the market, and how using an available wheel design will work with our vehicle design. If you've ever done some research on aftermarket wheels, you will know that there are thousands upon thousands of styles available.

However, since wheels have so much to do with a vehicle's appeal and performance, as we continue the design process, we will have to see if we can match an existing wheel to the original design intent, or have a wheel made specifically for the vehicle. Since the tooling costs for such a part can be pretty high and the time to get a first article might take some time, this is something we will look closely at for the prototype and decide if we should use an aftermarket wheel and once we enter production, have wheels made.


This article details some of the "sexiest" wheels from the writers of Car and Driver.

Here's a quote from the article that gives a very accurate description of the importance of wheels on a design:

"Despite much evidence to the contrary, wheels do more than just collect brake dust. Wheels are highly functional and critical in ensuring a vehicle’s sex appeal, which ultimately sells most of the cars on this list. Sometimes wheel designs can be more iconic than the cars they carry, such as those found on the AMG Hammer from the late 1980s. Consumers look to wheels as a way of personalizing their vehicles, and manufacturers offer an abundance of different wheel styles per vehicle at a premium, as do aftermarket companies that move billions of dollars in wheels every year."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Karoshi

This is a Japanese term used to describe death from over work.

Recently, one of the top engineers at Toyota passed away at the still young age of 45 due to over work, logging in an average of 80 hours of overtime in the two months leading up to his death. The engineer (whose name is not being released at this time) was the lead engineer in the development of a new hybrid Camry. As I've mentioned in the past, things in the alternative fuel source segment of the industry are heating up, but this is an example of the highest order - paying the ultimate sacrifice to deliver a product.

I am well aware of the efforts it takes to deliver a new, game changing design, so my heart goes out this this man's family.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Design Inspiration (Continued)

In a continuation of yesterday's discussion, we had a discussion of just how important it is for all members of the team, engineers and designers alike to make sure that both sides know how the design is progressing in order to avoid the disconnect present in so many auto manufacturing companies as I've discussed in the past. This is especially true since this is the first exercise of its type for LM, and we need to avoid setting a bad precedent for future designs, of which there will be many.

After said discussion, Dan and I were talking about the gravity of melding the design constraints with the engineering constraints to avoid what he called the "Silly Putty Effect". By this what he meant was that if you do not keep the engineering constraints like packaging, proportions for right sized components like the engine, wheels and tires etc., the way in which the content (and the amount of content) you originally planned for may not be reasonable, which stretches the design, making the area that was the central part of the design - the meat of the design if you will - very thin, like when you take a ball of Silly Putty and stretch it. If you aren't careful, and you have to stretch the design too much to meet engineering and production constraints you didn't plan for, your "Silly Putty" will eventually snap.

Courtesy: www.sandia.gov

This is the difference between someone seeing the vehicle design initially and being excited about it enough to purchase one and having their expectations met or exceeded and seeing the car in person for the first time and being displeased with the changes and even worse, when they get in the car, if they have trouble getting in or out let's say (something they will obviously be constantly reminded of) it could totally ruin their experience. That's not what we want. To be successful, we need to deliver BOTH a game changing differentiated design, and a well engineered vehicle.

To meet our goals, it will take many discussions like we had today, which at times will certainly have their difference in opinions, and their growing pains, but as long as we continue to have interdisciplinary discussions on a continual basis, there will be no stretching of the "Silly Putty" when we have the vehicle in front of us at full scale.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Design Inspiration

Today, in a preliminary meeting of the design process for the first LM prototype, we decided that it's of utmost importance to stick to the design inspiration as we develop the design rather than arbitrarily saying, "Change this line to look like this," "Make the lights bigger," "Resize the radiator opening." etc. Often, the original design inspiration gets lost easily during the prototyping phase when engineering constraints enter the equation. This is an area in which we have chosen to differentiate ourselves from the large OEM's in order to deliver a game changing design, and methodology of building breathtaking cars.

Sometimes this is easier said than done, but we have our community of designers to thank for making our job a little easier by submitting great designs with a full background on their design inspiration. Also, thanks to the community, we are able to traverse the course of design together to maintain this intent and hit our engineering standards. This will allow us to deliver a vehicle that does what it looks like it should do. This is the difference between "playing" and "posing".

So what is the design inspiration for our first prototype?

That you will have to stay tuned for...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dealer Experience

I found an article today from Dealer Magazine's website which details tips on how dealerships can improve dealership management and profitability. The author suggests three possible solutions:

"A change in perspective, a leadership shift in focus and most important, process management improvements."

The article then goes on to explain a few tips on how to do so. Although I've never worked at a dealership, all of them seem pretty obvious to me. Things that should be automatic.

Those things aside, I think the most important thing here is to provide that shift in perspective. I've always despised going anywhere where I'm being pressured into a sale. More often than not, it detracts from my desire to put down my hard earned cash, particularly when it comes to cars. To me, a car sells itself. If you want to buy car x, y, z, then you will do so based on what the car says, not the salesperson. Also, create a positive environment filled with people passionate about cars, not so much taking (not to be confused with making) money. The sales staff should be there to simply guide you on the purchase. For example, they should assess what you plan to use the vehicle for, and suggest for or against certain models or even options within models to fit your needs, not theirs.

It's this type of shift in perspective that we will provide in offering better vehicles and in offering a better total customer experience.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Deliberation

Today marked a big milestone in the history of Local Motors.

It was a day in which the entire team deliberated on which design to build for the very first prototype. This included PR personnel, the web team, the designers, interns, owners, advisors and engineers. When you think about it, this in itself is a pretty amazing feat in the automotive world. Not to mention the fact that a significant portion of the discussion also involved input from outside sources from our community of designers. This is just another way we differentiate ourselves from the common auto manufacturer, and will continue to do so with every meeting like this when it comes time to decide the next ground breaking, game changing LM design.

I was glad to see that we are a team made of individuals that have the ability to think across the spectrum of design and engineering to make decisions that benefit the overall being of the company.

Congratulations to the LM team and to our designers!

"Green-backs"

Over the weekend I learned of a few unsuspecting (at least to me anyway) new backers of the green initiative, which for this post, I'm dubbing "Green-backs". The first Green-back is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his purchase of a Tesla. Not so surprising being that he has the responsibility to set the tone for the initiative in "Cal-e-for-knee-a" as he pronounces it, and not so much because of his background in bodybuilding and the movies as a tough guy action hero, but because of his previous choices in automobiles like HUMMERs (several), and being spotted in a 6.1L V8 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 as early as this weekend. He also has his own jet.


The other Green-back I wasn't expecting were the writers of GQ magazine and their glowing endorsement of cars that aren't hybrids, but very efficient. They seem to know their audience (and some of our customer group at the same time I think) very well, which is reflected in the statement, "If high performance or design is not that important to you, buy a Prius." They gone on to say that "...if you want to have a more balanced approach, consider one of these nonhybrid, but surprisingly efficient cars." The cars they reference are the MINI Cooper S ($21,200, 26/34 MPG city/hwy, 0-60 in 6.7 sec, 172 HP, 177 ftlb), the Porsche Cayman ($49,400, 20/29 MPG city/hwy, 0-60 in 5.8 sec, 245HP, 201 ftlb) and finally the MB E320, which if you've been following my blog, you will know uses our power plant of choice for the first LM prototype - the Bluetec V6 Diesel, which powers the over 3700 lb E320 from 0-60 MPH in 6.6 sec, has 210 HP and a whopping 400 ftlb of torque. Here's what the writers had to say about it:

"Diesel cars are the norm in Europe, but in the U.S. they still hold the stigma of being loud, sluggish, and stinky. The E320 Bluetec will make you a diesel convert, however. It's quiet, clean, and powerful, and has a hybridlike fuel economy. A full tank will take you almost 700 miles."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Maybe you'll see the LM prototype in a follow up article in the pages of GQ in the near future.

Lastly, another reason why I think they may be speaking to some of our potential customers is that the article isn't just about well designed, high performance "green" cars, is that the whole article (the automotive part is only a small section) isn't trying to suggest that you alone can save the planet, but you can make some small adjustments to help out and improve your already well designed, high performance lifestyle. It's aptly titled, "You can't save the planet. But you can eat better than you ever have, travel like you've always wanted to, and surround yourself with beatiful things - and still help out with the environment." (Check it out on pg. 85 of the July 2008 issue)