Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fire and Steel

So the last few days have marked the first days at Local Motors of putting "fire to steel," or in another word, welding.

As mentioned, we're quickly outgrowing the utility of the foam mockup in terms of fitting components and checking the feel of certain components based on where they're located in the CAD model, since "feel" is the one thing you can't get from the computer. To accomplish this, we needed to make a rigid structure that we can quickly and accurately modify when we feel that something needs to move after testing its location.

The pictures below are the early stages of that fixture, and will soon include the pedals, the seat, the steering column and a host of other components that we will continue to layer on as we check the interface between the Rally Fighter and its passengers.

The very beginnings of the fixture - main rails placed on the floor and tack welded together.

The components from the picture above now with the legs welded on to set the floor position at ride height.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Here's the latest on the proposed "Cash for Clunkers" program that Congress is trying to pass as part of the economic stimulus package. It recently was turned down under the "Cash for Clunkers" name, but has been reintroduced with a more fancy name in order to push the bill through. It's now being called the “Accelerated Retirement of Inefficient Vehicles Act”...ah our friends on the Hill...such wordsmiths aren't they?!

If you read the attached SEMA alert, you will find that this is a program aimed at using taxpayer money to pay people for turning over their "gas guzzling" vehicles in an effort (a weak, unfounded one at that) to limit pollution and increase new car sales. With payment of only a few thousand dollars, it's hard to say that this will have the affect they're looking for in the sales of new autos. SEMA is also up in arms about this program because it affects the automotive aftermarket and the businesses small and large that supply parts for many of these "clunkers."

However, the bigger issue here in my opinion is of course, if automanufacturers actually made vehicles that consumers value for a lifetime, and possibly even that of their children, they'd never want to get rid of their vehicles. If they felt more of a connection to their vehicle, this program wouldn't be necessary. The other obvious point here is that cars need to be made with more sustainable methods and materials right from the start.

Enter Local Motors for both of these fronts.

To put it simply, our exciting design, paired with our factory build program will address the connection consumers feel to their rides, while the issue of sustainability will be covered by the utility of our vehicles and the materials and manufacturing process we use to make them. When a customer does feel that their vehicle's return is diminishing, due to the model we have established, it will be very easy to refresh the design with a new vinyl wrap, some of the latest accessories from the merchandise shop, maybe even trading in their vehicle's body or some of the components (most likely the composite panels) for a new design, and the old panels can either be chopped up and used as filler reinforcement for new parts, or recycled for other uses.

If consumers "Go Local" there will be no need for a "Cash for Clunkers," excuse me, "Accelerated Retirement of Inefficient Vehicles Act” I mean, needed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Foam Mockup/Pedal Update

As I mentioned in a previous post, we've been working on placement of the accelerator and brake pedals. Below is a photo of the pedal fixture now placed inside the foam mockup to check the placement with a driver in position, and to see how they fit relative to the engine and transmission tunnel.

You will also notice that the steering column is now in place as well to make sure that the relationship between the pedals, the column and the driver position as dictated by the digital model are correct. So far, everything is a go, but there is still work to be done on the flooring, the roll cage, the footwells, and the transmission tunnel so I can't say the pedal position is locked down just yet. To accomplish these things, the foam model will quickly need to be replaced with a more rigid and adaptable fixture for more accurate and dynamic measurements, which I will update you on soon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Classic Debate

So the last few days have been another example of that classic debate over when does design become more important than manufacturing, or when does manufacturing overshadow design?

We've been working tirelessly to determine all of the factors that will impact the body engineering and how the surfaces of the Rally Fighter will have to change if we select certain headlights, tail lights, side view mirrors etc., and as always there is a delicate balance that needs to be found between maintaining the design intent of the vehicle and manufacturing/engineering.

For example, let's say you have a tail light that is the clear choice over another in terms of how it looks (with the second choice is a good looking option in itself, but when compared to the first choice, it is inferior), but is 4x the cost, will be more difficult to source, and more complex to integrate into the body shape in production runs. What do you do? Do you sacrifice all of these engineering/manufacturing constraints solely for the right look? Or do you go with the second choice since it is an excellent blend of a good looking design, low cost, ease of manufacture, and is easily obtainable at scale but just doesn't provide the "I gotta have it" factor as much as the first choice? And even further, do you take a broader approach and hedge your bets a bit knowing that you can save cost, engineering time, and complexity in other areas of the vehicle and go with the more expensive, better looking part?

Such is the life of a team of designers and engineers who work closely to bridge the gap found in the current auto manufacturing model. Highly frustrating at times, and comes with no shortage of long, passionate discussions, but a welcomed alternative to the far more complex and costly option of the current model where a design is "thrown over the wall" and the engineering team has to fully develop new solutions and vice versa.

Fact of the matter is that there is never a definite answer to this question in general as it's always a case by case basis. One thing is for sure though, and that is that when you come to a crossroad such as this, something has to give and you need to find the best compromise as there is NEVER a "perfect" solution, where a "perfect" solution would be defined as one where no possible alternative presents itself without trade-offs.

In my experience, using this frame of mind, you will ALWAYS find a great solution if you do the research, test a few theories, and get feedback from both sides of "the wall". At some point, you have to realize that you need to freeze the design because you will totally blow your budget and time line if you're constantly redesigning to meet the criteria of the latest solution. Draw a line in the sand and move on to the next decision, because the word "done" in the automotive design world is most certainly a relative term.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pedal Update

As promised in a previous post, we are placing the accelerator and brake pedals in the Rally Fighter to determine their location in regards to driver comfort, spacing around the engine, relationship to the floor design as well as that of the firewall and possibility of integration to the mounting brackets for the steering column.

As mentioned in said post, this work is being done in the digital realm by reverse engineering the pedals and placing them in the 3D vehicle model. However, one thing that you simply don't get (even when you've placed a 95% male model into the driver's seat) is "feel" for pedal location.

This is where testing/mockup needs to be done in the physical sense. Of course, this will be supported by the initial data in the computer model, but the final determination will be based on a gut check on how the pedals actually feel based on the computer models. Therefore, we are in the process of creating a fixture that will allow us to place the pedals in our mockup and adjust as necessary, then update the 3D model. Some of the bracketry, tubing etc. may even be directly integrated into the chassis design if we like the relationship between the driver location, the pedal position and the placement of the steering column.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Electrical and Body Engineering Updates - Computer and Wheel Bearing

Now that our E320 has been sent off for reverse engineering of the engine management system in an effort to pull out the ancillary systems to just running the engine (anti-theft, window controls etc.), a critical part of fitting the new system into the Rally Fighter will be identifying which Benz components will stay, and those that will have to be added. One thing that will more than likely need to stay is the computer. Therefore just like with the pedal assemblies from my last post, it was required to draw the computer and enter it into the 3D model for packaging. Later, it will be paired up with the remaining wiring once the system has been stripped down to the minimum equipment required to run the engine.

A critical part of determining the final body shape is the suspension geometry and making sure that everything will fit under the wheel wells both at ride height and at full compression. As I've mentioned, we will be simulating the suspension travel in our model and already have with a mockup suspension, but now that we have the actual components that we will use in the Rally Fighter, I have been drawing/scanning them and getting them ready for the model and the simulation. The image below is the wheel bearing/hub assembly which was drawn from measuring the actual part and it will be mated to the spindle, which was scanned then entered into solidworks due to its more complex geometry.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Getting Ready to Drop the Hammer...

...and hit the brake too, although I'd much prefer to be on the gas!

Dave and I have been super busy in the development of the Rally Fighter, particularly on the necessary CAD work required to get both the chassis and the body to a stage where we can begin tooling development. While Dave has been focusing most of his efforts on the suspension (more on that to come) I've been continuing with scanning and drawing various components that we will be integrating into the chassis and body development.

One of the first steps towards tooling for both the chassis and the body (more so the body in this case) is to set the H Point (the Hip Point of the driver). Before determining the final H Point a lot of things have to be considered: head room, visibility, how the driver will be affected in a crash at certain positions, driver position relative to the steering wheel, driver comfort, and Heel Point.

In relation to the latter two, it was necessary for us to determine where the pedals will be located, so I had to draw them and then put them in the model along with the 95% male model already placed in the model. The final positioning not only relies on the relationship with the driver, but with the firewall, the engine, and the flooring. It has a great deal of influence on how each of these is placed, so each of these things has to be carefully weighed before determining the final location for the pedals. Below you will see the images of the pedals (the final positioning and discussion on how that determination was made is soon to follow).