*Editor's Note: This is Part two of Gary Gustafson's blog on the new Theory of Everything. To read the first part, click here.
Designing for LRMs will require great care and knowledge because the LRMs themselves will probably not be product experts, just production centers. Designers will need to think through step-function changes regarding installation of the powertrain, automated joining, and aligning the purchased components with the parts that the AM (3-D) metal and plastic printers spit out. This design approach will require an advanced ability to integrate components while still keeping things easy to assemble. For electronics on high-end machines CAN bus will play a key role. A well-planned CAN bus permits various devices to be inserted or removed as desired and offers intelligent diagnostics for those devices down to the smallest details. One forward-thinking company I consult for called Grakon is now offering CAN lighting technology for 4-wheelers and motorcycles that can include augmented left-right directional lighting in turns, brake light intensity based on deceleration, lighting integrated into the bodywork and so forth. These features could be left out on price point models or in developing nations.
As AM machines come online that can mass-produce affordably they will be akin to the personal computer in terms of disruptive effect. Clusters of LRMs will develop around metropolitan centers, each having their own specialties. As these specialty processes mature they will lend themselves to more and more complex assemblies and design engineering will morph to take advantage of them. LRMs will be capability-based and could have areas of AM capability such as aluminum, nylon, and circuit assembly. Powersports LRMs might also require structural bonding and joining because they could handle the final assembly. An alternative path would be to keep the current brick-and-mortar privately-owned stores and let them handle final assembly as they once used to handle setup. Eliminating the risk of poor final assembly via poka-yoke design is where the genius of the new field of DFLRM will shine. The processes for creating parts will be exacting. Additive-Manufactured circuit paths or flexible circuit boards could replace wire harnesses. Chassis design might become more utilitarian to facilitate final assembly by non-“professionals” but at the same time with 3-D printed polymer body panels the opportunity to stylize would be limitless. 3-D printed exhausts could be tweaked for sound quality, decibel level or power per government regulations and customer preference. Within the same vehicle type, body panels could be made thicker for utility applications or thinner and more angular for sport applications. Skid plates could be added customer-by-customer for trail riders or left off for lawn care companies. Industrial design expertise would shift from the designer doing the thinking for the customer to creating a lattice-work of possibilities that empowers the customer to do the choosing for themselves in a Virtual Reality environment. Dashboards could be produced in everything from matte black to 3-D patterns. Non-LRM accessories could be drop-shipped from anywhere (if the customer will wait) to a brick-and-mortar dealer or the customer’s home. Some customers and forward-thinking dealers will 3-D print accessory designs like guards, shields and covers that consumers “license” online.
To realize the full benefits of LRM it must be driven into the supply chain. Instead of a JIT system with semi-trailers carrying product from the supplier’s CFA to the OEMs CFA, suppliers with items like shock absorbers would open their own LRMs or partner with existing LRMs. All of the engineers involved would have to understand the limitations of the AM processes such as hot end (nozzle) access as well as having the knowledge to apply materials very broadly rather than selecting specialized ones. It would probably require the creation of a new engineering program. Adoption of DFLRM will be an iterative process because of the peculiarities of things like electronics and tires, which would still need to be purchased as a separate assembly until they, too, are designed with LRMs in mind. The shift toward LRMs might happen across nearly all manufacturing industries. As businesses organize around this model all of the pieces can fall into place. The last two hang-ups will almost certainly be powertrain and government regulations, however the day is definitely coming when engines and motors will be built with AM. But even if these issues continue to go unchecked, much could be accomplished by adopting some of the LRM approach. The first LRM motorcycle or UTV model could have an electric drive train and be very simple. It could be introduced in a limited market to capture lessons-learned early, fast and often and then expanded globally.
There are more flaws and challenges than space allows me to address with the comprehensive model. Yet the DFLRM model isn’t impossible, it’s only “not feasible” at the moment. What I described may never be fully realized as a vehicle assembly but instead adopted via sub-assemblies or accessories. All I know is that the wave of technologies coming into being will eventually make up a new Theory Of Everything for powersports.
Gary Gustafson, keynote speaker and powersports industry consultant, is president of G-Force Consulting Inc. G-Force provides New Business Development strategy, OEM account management and custom market research on topics as diverse as ATV winches, UTV power steering and the Canadian snowmobile/UTV market.