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Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Artificial Intelligence

The Silver Bandit

La Bandita from Hackrod: The first car that could be developed in virtual reality and manufactured using artificial intelligence and 3D printing.

Custom-made cars and motorcycles at the push of a button. Californian startup Hackrod plans to revolutionize the production of mobility solutions with individual designs and 3D printing. Siemens provides the company with its Digital Innovation Platform, an integrated software package that smoothly implements the entire process from design and development to vehicle production.

Imagine designing your own sports car with an app and sending it to production at the touch of a button. You don't have to laboriously select the color of the rims or seat covers at your dealer's or decide on extras such as data recorders for lap times and tire pressure monitoring systems. Instead you design the body, the chassis or the interior of the car yourself on screen. This is still a vision, but one that the founders of Californian start-up Hackrod are testing. With the help of Siemens software, they want to make this futuristic scenario a reality in coming years.

Print on Demand Dream Car

At the Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, England, Hackrod is presenting a feasibility study called 'La Bandita' in the Siemens Future Lab tent. The study is a Speedster made of carbon and aluminum that uses state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies such as print on demand. Its form was first designed in virtual space. It then received an optimized vehicle frame using intelligent design programs from Siemens Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)-software. Controlled by precise production software, it is now being realized layer by layer in a garage-sized 3D printer. By late summer 2018 the prototype should be completed.

"Hackrod represents a completely new model of industrial manufacturing," says Tom Tengan, Director of Digital Enterprise at Siemens in California. "In particular for other medium-sized companies it opens up the possibility of bringing innovative products tailored to their customers' needs onto the market without large production lines.”

Organic Design

Among the founders of Hackrod are Dr. Slade Gardner, former technical fellow at Lockheed Martin skunkworks, a specialist in additive manufacturing methods; Mike 'Mouse' McCoy, a former motorcycle racer, stuntman and film director; and Felix Holst, former head of design for Hot Wheels. The three were brought together by their passion for motorsport, innovation and technology. For their first masterpiece they have made several helpful decisions. The Speedster is wrapped in an aerodynamic, but structurally simple carbon casing reminiscent of a classic silver arrow. The vehicle is propelled by a Tesla electric drive, which is easier to integrate compared to an internal combustion engine with far fewer components and without a manual gearbox. And the vehicle’s aluminum alloy chassis is light, suitable for 3D printing, and requires virtually no welding seams or screws.

In addition, Hackrod bases its “factory of the future” on Siemens' new ‘Digital Innovation Platform,’ which integrates design, production and service programs for digitally oriented companies in a single package. Among these programs is NX software for product development, which can design generatively optimized structures using artificial intelligence. This is how the chassis for the streamlined shell of 'La Bandita' was created - with the effect that the longer the algorithms calculated an optimized support structure, the more organically its struts were arranged. "In the past it would have been impossible to design such generative designs on a drawing board," says McCoy. "Today we only enter certain parameters, and the software automatically calculates an optimized design."

Simulation software also allows the team to predict how the car will drive, which in turn reduces the number of physical tests. Additionally, data from real crash tests and the car’s actual driving behavior finds its way back into the design software. Also, cooperation on the platform is a top priority: All important changes, for example, can be traced along a digital thread for all engineers, product designers and project managers involved. "As helpful as individual software tools are, the biggest advantage is probably their integration. This enables not only creative, but also fast design, rapid virtual tests and problem-free production of the designs," says Tengan.

Overcoming the Valley of Death

For Hackrod's founders, integration of production is also a decisive advantage of the Siemens platform. It helps to overcome the so-called 'valley of death,' the transition from design intent to getting a product to market. Industrial additive manufacturing obviates the need to amortize costly tooling over a large production run and is especially useful since the organic-looking designs created with artificial intelligence cannot be realized with traditional milling or molding machines. Hackrod has developed special multi-axis 3D printers for their futuristic designs, which are controlled by Siemens-Sinumerik control units. "The 3D printer we use to make the carbon body may be the biggest in the world," says Gardner. "It is almost four meters wide, over seven and a half meters long and about three meters high. But even more important is how versatile it is. It not only prints, but also scans and then uses precision machine tools to put the finishing touches to the printed piece. This is a real game-changer."

The vision of Hackrod's founders is that customers will soon use the versatile production platform via an online portal to design their dream cars as they might on a video game. Other vehicle manufacturers and suppliers may also be able to use this platform one day to enable their customers to create individual designs and print them – a service for which Hackrod would receive a commission. "This is a completely new way of production and commerce, which has huge potential," says Tengan. "Obviously we hope that other medium-sized companies will also use the Digital Innovation Platform for their individually designed quality products."

Hubertus Breuer
Picture credits: Hackrod