Felix Holst and Mouse McCoy are the force behind a new start-up that is rethinking how car manufacturing happens. Called Hack Rod*, it is a cloud-based platform that allows any backyard tinkerer to design a vehicle to his or her exact specifications. Then it helps select the right materials and find the suppliers needed to turn the dream into reality.
Race car engineering has always been a mysterious process. To make a car handle properly, the chassis must be able to withstand the loads placed upon it by the suspension, brakes, and engine. In the era before carbon fiber, fabricators used steel, aluminum, titanium, and magnesium arranged in triangular configurations to make a chassis that was both strong and lightweight. The 1959 Maserati Type 61 was perhaps the most famous example. It was known as the Birdcage Maserati because its chassis was made from nearly 200 pieces of chrome-moly steel tubing welded into a complex lattice. The finished product looked very much like an elaborate cage.
Holst and McCoy are both sports car addicts. Holst was in charge of the Hot Wheels division of Mattel. McCoy was a film maker. They met on the Hot Wheels For Real project — a seriously silly idea to recreate in real life the famous Hot Wheels loop the loop. Their common interests led them to start imagining how cars would be built in the future.
The difference between Holst, McCoy, and Giulio Alfieri, the engineer who conceived the Maserati Birdcage, is the digital world that has evolved since 1959. Holst and McCoy wanted to leverage the power of computers and 3-D additive printing to create new ways of designing and building a custom made vehicle. Somewhere along the line, they realized that their ideas applied equally well to almost any kind of manufacturing. “Hack Rod is not about a car,” Holst says. “It’s about a platform. The platform is connected and does all the work for you.”
They began collaborating with Autodesk, a company that specializes in cloud-based tools that allow developers to design, test, and fabricate new products using one digital tool. The duo took an instrumented hot rod to the Mojave Desert and put it through its paces. With help from Autodesk, the dimensions of the car and its components were scanned into a cloud-based data set. Once that is done, the computer can sort through millions of possible configurations to determine the best possible design to fit the parameters required.
“For 100 years, mass production has been set up to build one thing lots of times,” Holst says. He points out that automakers are configured specifically to build and sell a certain amount of nearly identical cars in order to minimize production costs. “You can have different wheels or different fabric in the interior, but at the end of the day, it’s the same thing.”
Hack Rod wants to introduce mass customization into complex, sophisticated manufacturing. If successful, the cost of producing one finished product will be the same as producing thousands. 3-D printing eliminates most of the cost of prototyping and creating an assembly line. “Before, we couldn’t have manufactured a generatively designed component because you couldn’t do it using traditional means,” Holst says.
But Hack Rod has more in mind. It wants to democratize design so that anyone with an idea can turn that idea into a finished product. “You drag a menu down and choose ‘rally car,’” he explains. “Okay, here are three suspension setups and engine locations. A few clicks and that geometry’s locked into my design. After that, it’s for me to decide what else I want, and that geometry infinitely adjusts to allow you to fit all your other components.”
The Hack Rod platform, once perfected, will include links to suppliers who can 3-D print the components to make the design a reality and ship them directly to the person designing the product where they can be assembled into a finished product. All the hard work of managing a supply chain is handled directly by the same platform that manages the design phase of a project.
The founders of Hack Rod see their creation as a way for creative people who may not have an engineering degree to have their ideas added to the mix and possibly bring new and better products to market. Those ideas could impact any number of industries from transportation to renewable energy to airplanes to cargo ships. The possibilities, like the permutations in the design process itself, are endless.
By the way, here is a prototype sports car chassis as rendered using the Autodesk platform. Looks somewhat familiar, doesn’t it? Maserati’s Guilio Alfieri was way ahead of his time!
This post was sponsored by Kickstart Search; photo credits: Hack Rod, Autodesk