Design Engineering

Auto Design 3.0

Mike McLeod   

CAD/CAM/CAE Automotive rapid prototyping reverse engineering Zcorp

Custom car maker embraces “crowd sourcing” and rapid prototyping to speed vehicle development.

If you’ve ever wanted to design and build your own concept car, Boston-based Local Motors is giving its customers that chance. Unlike a traditional automotive company, the niche car maker operates on an “open-source” model. Amateur and professional community members submit their original car concepts to Local Motors’ design competition for other members to comment and vote on. If a particular design receives enough approval and buzz, its designer wins a cash prize and his concept is selected for eventual limited production run (2000 total).

Engineers then tweak the design for manufacturability and the community proceeds to choose the best off-the-shelf components (e.g. a diesel engine from BMW or a rear end assembly by Ford) to suit the car’s designated purpose. Finally, a local micro factory is established so buyers can participate in the assembly of their custom vehicle. The company says it can go from design concept to finished production in approximately 18 months.

To date, the company has several candidates (including the Boston Bullet, Green Apple and Miami Roadster) but the Rally Fighter — a P-51 Mustang-inspired Baja racer — was the first offered for sale. Designed for off-road rally racing, the street-legal car features an 18-inch-travel suspension and a 430 HP Chevy LS3 small-block V8 engine. The niche car sells for US$59,000 and customers can select color and custom skin decorations, among other options.

To help compress production schedules, the company uses Zcorp’s ZPrinting and ZScanning to develop custom parts. For example, Local Motors needed a driveshaft yoke to accommodate the Rally Fighter’s off-road-ready suspension. The company’s engineering team purchased the closest-off-the-shelf part they could find and reverse-engineered it,.


Using the Zcorp’s ZScanner 800—a rebranded Handiscan from Lévis, Québec-based Creaform — the team captured the surface data from the off-the-shelf yoke, converted it to a SolidWorks CAD virtual model, changed several dimensions, and added connection brackets. The team then used its ZPrinter to print a concept model to ensure proper fit. The physical model included fine detail such as thin splines that connect it to the driveshaft.

“The ZScanner and ZPrinter helped us move quickly from concept to final tooling without sending the CAD model out to a machine shopt,” said Mike Pisani, Local Motors’ vehicle engineer and lead builder trainer. “That step would have required the machine shop to go through at least two revisions of tooling and production and would have forced us to go through several redesigns, costing us an extra three to four weeks of lead time and $2,700.”

Local Motors also uses ZScanning technology for vehicle packaging (i.e. ensuring all parts fit properly in the chassis). The Local Motors team scanned the gas tank, engine and steering column, incorporating the volumes into the SolidWorks model of the car. In addition to ensuring accuracy, this step also enabled Local Motors to customize connections to the chassis and perform critical ergonomic studies, such as driver/steering wheel interface.

According to the company, measures like these enable it to spend a fraction of what the large automakers spend on developing a car: $2 million to $3 million and 18 months versus $200 million to $300 million and five to seven years.


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