Thursday, September 25, 2008

Design Engineer vs. Designer

I was asked today what the difference between a Design Engineer and a Designer is.

I suppose the quick answer to the fundamental difference between these two can be stated in another "one vs. the other" phrase: Engineering vs. Art. I think this is especially true when you're talking Design Engineering vs. Transportation Design.

Now, that isn't to say that there's some shared knowledge between the two and each person doesn't possess some of the skills that the person on the other side of the label has, but each person has a particular focus on either engineering or design, sometimes supplemented by the other. This is in fact the classic definition of both the terms Mechanical Engineer and Design Engineer (Mechanical Engineer being the more broad, umbrella title which may encompass more than just design). Speaking in terms of the difference between a Design Engineer and a Designer (someone other than a Transportation Designer which would be more toward the Art side of things. Think CAD Operator, drafter etc.) the Design Engineer typically leads the design effort using engineering to decide WHAT is to be designed and the designer will carry out the actual process of designing the part given the engineering guidelines. Once again, it is possible that each person possesses some knowledge of what the other person needs to complete the task, but each has a particular focus in the overall goal.

It is this ability to cross boundaries within oneself and to create cross pollination amongst a group of Designers (of many types), Design Engineers and non technical people that makes for the most informed and as a result successful units, and that is exactly the type of team and community working relationship we hope to harbor. One such example is one that you may already be aware of if you've been reading the blogs of either Jay or Ari, in which they've spoken about our newest website utility - the Glossary. Check it out for terms not only about car design, or engineering, but anything LM!

Maybe I should add these terms to the Glossary? Hmm....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Build Program Inspiration

For anyone questioning how successful a factory-assist build program can be, take a look at what one college student is doing from scratch in his own garage. (Check out his Flikr page for more pics)

Doesn't get more DIY than setting out to build a replica using a welder made from spare microwave parts.

This just shows what's achievable if you have the desire. However, some of our fellow car lovers may not have the skill, the time, or the facilities to accomplish a build like replicating the Ariel Atom, or any other one of your favorite autos. Enter the factory assist build program. Being so close to this atmosphere for several years now, I often forget just how far people are willing to let their desires drive them, even as I traverse the same course as people like this just as I was today while mocking up the suspension in SolidWorks today. Seeing things like this is a huge source of inspiration for me as we push forward towards delivering a vehicle that someone can build at our factory and continue to work on it/modify it once they get it home without concern of getting in over their head, having put the vehicle together in the factory-assist program, building on their existing knowledge of cars, but more importantly, fufilling that desire to do it themselves.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Rally Fighter, Only Smaller!

If you've been following along with the build process on the LM Website, you will know that our team has been working hard to coordinate the milling of a 1/4 scale model between our designers on the West Coast and our team here at Home Base in Wareham.

We finally have the model in our grasp (well at least Ben and Dale do out in California) and we've put the wheels we printed in the wheel wells for a more accurate analysis.

Instead of having he model shipped to us right away, we've decided to leave the model with our designers initially so they can accurately assess the lines and make all of the necessary changes for our next iteration, of which we will also have a model made. When the designers are happy with the adjustments of the first model, final review will be in the hands of the team back here on the East Coast. Then, the changes the design team made will be paired with the suggestions of our team here and applied to the digital model for the second model.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

SolidWorks User Conference

For the first time since joining the LM team, I had the experience of walking into an industry event and having someone I had never met before recognize the Local Motors name on my shirt and immediately fire away with questions on our progress. Several people actually. From my vast experience of traveling to shows, races and exhibitions with Factory Five Racing, the best part of this is always the enthusiasm that shines through in people's faces when they are faced with the chance to speak with a member of the team. And when they find out that you're a member of the engineering team, the excitement can often increase exponentially when they realize they can have all of their technical questions answered and gain some insight into what's next.

The event I'm speaking of is the North Eastern SolidWorks User Conference. A good deal of this attention was due to some of our suppliers, JMR Systems (the Value Added Reseller for RapidForm) and Paperless Parts (VAR for the ZCorp Scanner and Z510 Printer), namely Jim and Jane Greene (JMR Systems)/Maarten Houben (RapidForm), and Jason Bassi and Rob Masek of Paperless Parts spreading the word of how we've integrated their systems to develop our first prototype. To date, the working relationship with each of these suppliers has been a good one and their products have helped us produce prototype parts quickly and effectively allowing us to maintain our goals of time, budget and scope during the development process as many of my previous posts have shown.

In speaking with both teams today, and after they had a chance to see how successful we've been in using their products and how the reps from other companies in attendance could relate to our story, I was privy to other technologies they're currently developing that may help us not only in the realm of prototyping, but production.

Stay tuned for more news from the field as these types of events and newly established engineering networks are solidified.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Help from the Feds

In my effort to keep a close eye on what other car manufacturers intending to change the game are up to, I discovered today that the larger auto manufacturers, and most recently some of the loan industry and insurance industry giants like AIG aren't the only companies receiving help from the Federal Government.
reports that you can now add Tesla to that list

Now, I have to say that of course in the case of companies like AIG, the government isn't "stepping in" to help Tesla in a time of turmoil like we've seen over the past few days, but rather as an effort to turn a new corner in the way we make automobiles. The U.S. Department of Energy has granted Tesla Motors a guaranteed loan (along with other private financiers including Goldman Sachs Group) to help them build their $250 million manufacturing facility.

This government assistance is yet another interesting new trend we will have to continue to monitor as it seems that the Feds are considering offering such loans to companies manufacturing fuel efficient vehicles and vehicles using cutting edge technology.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It Cuts Time and Saves Cost

As I mentioned in my last post, I reverse engineered the tire we're going to use on our prototype and mated it to a wheel that I downloaded from 3D Content Central. Well,
today I have that wheel and tire (in 1/4 scale) in hand! I hit start on the printer just before leaving for the evening, and in just over 4 hours received an email right from the printer that the model had completed. When I arrived this morning Dave was already removing the wheel and tire from the printer, and shortly after that, it was ready to ship out to Ben so he could place it on the 1/4 scale model.

With every part we print, I am continuously amazed at the level of detail that carries over from the digital model to the physical part. This is especially true for the wheel and tire since I modeled them at full scale (the tire is over 30 inches in diameter) and then scaled them to 1/4 of that size. Every little detail right down to the fillets I made (1/4" radius at full scale) to create smooth transitions where the nubs of the tire meet the tube portion of the tire show up in the model.

Take a look at the images below for a comparison of the digital model in SolidWorks and the actual part from the ZCorp printer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Putting the Printer Through Its Paces Yet Again

Now that we are in the phase of milling scale models of the Rally Fighter, it's time to fire up the ZCorp Rapid Prototyping (RP) Printer and make some parts.

Specifically, instead of paying the milling company to mill the wheels into the model, or even paying another supplier to have the wheels made with a stereolithography (SLA) machine, we are putting our investment to work for us and printing our own wheels and tires.

The tire is modeled after the wheel we currently have in our shop and it's what will be used on the first actual prototype, so it made sense to use it for the model as we make the necessary changes to the body for packaging all the necessary components and to get the best possible look at how the tires will affect the styling of the vehicle. Since we don't have a wheel selected (or designed for that matter in the event we decide to tool up and make a wheel specific to the Rally Fighter) for the prototype, I used another readily available resource - 3D Content Central - to pluck a wheel of the correct size that had already been modeled in SolidWorks, saving a significant amount of time. This could not only significantly derail both our engineering and design team from our critical path, but do so on an item that wouldn't be for production and would require several hours of design time since the wheels would have to match the overall feeling and function of the vehicle - a pretty difficult and daunting task, especially when the styling is still in flux.

Stay tuned for some images of how the RP wheels turned out!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Latest Scan Data - Prototype Engine

Here's a glimpse into one of the things we've been working on for the Rally Fighter:

In a few short hours using the Z800 scanner from ZCorp, we had the entire engine along with the exhaust manifolds, air boxes, turbo, intercooler and radiator hoses, and engine covers scanned into the computer. In order to make the scanning process move along faster, and still have the critical data (the extents of the engine, engine mounts, flywheel, and mating flange for the transmission) necessary to mate other components to the engine and package the suspension, chassis etc. around the engine, we masked off the inner portions of the engine. Normally, to reach these inner areas of the engine, some of the components would have to be removed from the engine to expose the area to the scanner, then you'd have to either scan the parts separately and mate them to the main engine scan in the computer, or put them back on the engine and continue scanning. Since we are not concerned with most of this geometry, it was faster to mask them off, while still maintaining the critical data for our needs.

We can now mate the transmission to the engine and insert them into the forthcoming chassis, and package the rest of the components around them. Having the components that the geometry of which cannot change allows us to mate those parts that have negotiable geometry around them for the most rigid, safe, and easy to produce components packaged in the most space efficient manner.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Q and A with One of the Best

After some time of remaining idle, Gordon Murray - engineer responsible for one of modern day's best supercars, the McLaren F1 - answered questions posted by users of the NY Times' Auto section. Some of these questions range from how he'd improve the McLaren F1 to compete with more modern supercars of today to use of turbine engines as power plants in the next generation of auto manufacturing.

However, one question (and more importantly, the answer) is very encouraging to hear from one of the world's greatest engineers/designers of cars that have been highly exotic, sparing no expense to achieve one single goal: performance. Here it is:

Q. How do you deal with the extraordinary differences across American cities? Take our two most famous: New York and Los Angeles, one a subway city and one a car city, have very different needs from personal cars. Can the same car work for these two cities and all the variations in between? Why?
— Posted by Lauren

A. I believe, as you do, that different cultures and city requirements will need different versions of a generic city car design. Our manufacturing technology is totally flexible in order to satisfy this requirement.

This reaffirms the tone Gordon took in an interview I was privileged enough to listen in to while I was at Art Center this past winter, in which time I was also very surprised to hear that someone whom you'd think was only concerned with high performance at any cost due to his background, and would assume he'd have the ego to boot, was actually very humble and embarking on his own project of a car that's much more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

His answer to this question above was also something he talked about in that interview and I think that the key word is "flexible". Rather than making new parts or using new technology for one specific part or one specific build as in the supercar world is going to make all the difference for ventures like Gordon Murray's and Local Motors' and their impact on how we manufacture automobiles and what we drive in general.

Again, when someone of this background recognizes that there has to be another way and puts forth his own efforts to do something about it, it's time for everyone to listen. Glad to see that even the elite of our business see eye to eye with our philosophy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Finding the Good

There's a lot of cars that I'm not a fan of, but I'd never go to the length some vandals did in the suburbs of San Francisco, going as far as throwing rocks, and even setting fire to several Toyota Prius'.


However, the good in this situation, for Toyota at least (not so much for the Prius owners) is that they're doing something right. Usually if there is this much hate for something, there's someone out there that has an equal amount of love for the certain product.

If I read a story in the near future of a Rally Fighter being set ablaze, I will of course feel for the owner, but still be able to find the good in the situation as we are targeting specific niche markets. This is, in a sense the definition of a niche market - you love it or you hate it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Yet Another Engine Alternative - EcoMotor

I did some reading today on yet another new engine alternative on the rise. The engine is from a company name EcoMotors. This engine could quite possibly be a great fit for the LM business model since it is configurable according to an article on,

"According to EcoMotors, it can be adapted to use any combustion system, including compression ignition and spark ignition, and can be operated on a wide variety of fuels."

and it offers superior efficiency at over 130 hp/liter.

The engine is also reported to be easily configured into multiple sizes by assembling them like LEGO's, a report from Business Week says, using the base two cylinder configuration to creat 4, 6 and 8 cylinder engines. This is where the benefit to LM could be realized. We could use the 6 or 8 cylinder engine for a vehicle like our Rally Fighter - a larger, high performance vehicle, or use the 4 cylinder engine for a smaller, economy car. For this reason, the engineering team will keep a close eye on this power plant as a solid option in the event we decide to change the current system, and/or for future vehicles.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Part Selection

The engine arrived some time ago, and over the last couple of days, we've been making preparations to have the engine scanned and ready for insertion to the updated model in SolidWorks (as seen in Vehicle Build Process). This involved installing some of the parts we had to order separately from the engine, and also removing some from the complete vehicle we already have in the shop for benchmarking in addition to updating the scanner software, installing the IR targets for the scanner etc.

Having a complete vehicle has (and will continue to have) a profound affect on our ability to assess which parts come with certain assemblies, and those that have to be purchased on their own. Therefore, as I said, some of the parts we need to get the engine to a running state did not come with it from the factory, so we are making careful notes on such parts and ordering accordingly. Despite the fact that production is quite some time away, we can place orders for parts accurately and quickly when the time comes if we are diligent now.

Conversely, some parts we purchase may not be used in the prototype, or may come with other assemblies, so we will keep track of these parts as well. In the case of such parts, not using them is often a decision that must be made after purchasing the part, installing it and finding that it simply won't work for any of a number of reasons - too heavy, too expensive, interferes with another part etc. However, all is not lost on such parts since it is often a means to an end, and it provides a great deal of learning. Sometimes learning what doesn't work is how you determine what does work.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bad Company

Recently a British newspaper, The Telegraph released it's "100 Ugliest Cars" list. Obviously, this is a list any automaker would want to stay as far away from as possible.

What I can't understand is the ranking of some of these vehicles. For example, how does the Subaru B9 Tribeca (#99)

or the Aston Martin Bulldog (#88)

just to name a few (the list is ridden of eyesores such as these) score higher - much higher - than the likes of the Rolls Royce Phantom (#28)

or the latest rendition of the Range Rover (#20)

or, and this one blows my mind, the Porsche Cayenne (#5)!!

I could have easily selected 10 other cars that don't belong on this list. Instead, I urge you to take a look at the list as I'm sure you will have to laugh at some of the rankings certain vehicles garnered in relation to others.

When I first saw that the Pontiac Aztek took the top spot, I just had to check out this list to see what came behind it, agreeing that the Aztek is up there in the ugliest cars ever, but I knew there were some others that should be on the list. However, I certainly didn't expect the rankings that followed, certainly not the Cayenne at #5, or the placement of the cars above, or the various BMW's sprinkled throughout the list.

Even though you always have to take things like this with a grain of salt, it drives me to make sure that there is no possible way that the LM vehicles could be in the company of the vehicles on an "ugliest cars" list as we enter the early stages of milling models and finalizing the exterior design of this first prototype.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


A few quotes from Jim Vondale, Director of Ford's Safety Office, plucked from an article on

"...the short-term cost of redesigning vehicles for the global market would be more than made up by the long-term savings of harmonization.

"We think it's very important to have a single set of requirements that can be enacted globally," he said.


It's no secret that one of the major problems of current auto production is complexity. Much of this complexity is driven by having to pass multiple standards from separate governmental institutions, and from different governments all together (ie: the United States vs. Europe). When an auto maker develops a new platform, some of the existing parts they have in their inventory may not work in the new model (as far as crash testing, EPA standards etc. are concerned), and furthermore, a platform developed for the United States for example may not pass the necessary regulations in European nations.

This lack of global standards also leads to a lack of sustainability. Although large auto manufacturers can retrofit their platforms to pass standards, this leads to a huge increase in expenditures of time, energy and money to develop new systems.

According to the article, Vondale says that 40 countries have signed on to a program 10 years in the making to standardize regulations. No word on if or when it will go into effect, but if it does, when you pair that with LM's mission to address both these issues of complexity and sustainability with the current paradigm, we will be in an already great position, if not a leading position to prosper globally, not just in the United States.