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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's a Miracle

This week marks a huge milestone for the Smyth Performance G3F kit car.  It is always a little stressful when the hand made prototype is converted to computerized tooling and parts.  Making things by hand is very time consuming as you all who have followed the project on the Smythperformance facebook page can see.  The last months have been a two pronged effort as we work toward the shippiong of the first kits.  First we were driving the hand made car to assess the basics of the car's handling and braking, and concurrently we were drawing the car parts on the computer so that they could be replicated and manufactured easily.  It may take a year of feverish creativity to nail a design in practice, but once you document the work on the computer you can make as many of them as you want fairly easily.

 This is where the miracle happened.  After spending two months working with Rick drawing the parts we had to pony up and order the steel from the laser cutter and the tubing supplier.  A laser cut tool was also ordered that was drawn to hold all the tubing in place.  If the drawing is wrong, all the tooling and parts are is a big deal.

The parts came in...I tacked the steel together in the computer cut jig...and it all fit perfectly.  Phew.  The miracle of computer aided manufacturing is still cool to me after 15 years of seeing it happen live.  To the right you are looking at five plates, three tubes and a lower vw suspension part that all came together the first time...a miracle.

You hear in the press about full digital design and fast prototyping in the new product world today....and it is is a great way to get there.  But in my world of products with a bit of passion behind them, I can't do it.  The art side of the product has to be done by hand to me...and then digitized at the end.  The number of running changes to the car over the last year and a half has been staggering.  We changed more each week than most companies do in months.  If we waited each revision for laser cut prototype parts rather than just cutting what we want with the plasma cutter here, we would be sitting around doing nothing half the time.  In house laser cutting or a small cnc plasma is great...but you still have to draw the parts in order to use the cnc tools and cutters....time that I think is better spent "playing" around with the actual car in front of you.  Cut, tweak, grind, use foam, wood, whatever you like...just prove the concept works aesthetically and functionally before you digitize.

The result is an intant transition from hand built prototype to full production kit.  The first two customers have started cutting their jettas already, and I will ship them the rear frame assemblies shortly after test fitting them both to my car.  Since all the items that make the car function are off the shelf vw items we don't have the "will it work" risk that most guys do...we started with a running car and we simply moved a few things around which was the key to the business model.  Our job is to provide a front and rear frame extension and a nice body that allows our guys to transform the boring economy car into something special.  Since the frame is the guts of the car we are thrilled that the parts now go together for our welders like a nicely cut puzzle.  So after a fun development ride you will only see crisp clean parts being assembled out back in the pictures...  The foam and creative mess of the last two years transforms into a real professional operation that will be fine tuned to deliver consistent and reliable welded and molded parts.  The show changes a bit now from "what the heck is mark doing today" to "what an interesting car and process".

Making the same car parts every day is not as fun as the wild man an a warehouse so the emphasis going forward will be a focus on the people and cars they are building.  So look for Clint and John's builds out there as number one and two customers and have fun, I know they are...and even though they can drive the cars every day if they want,  in the toy car business the fun building with family and friends is the real goal.

Mark Smith

1 comment:

  1. Mark, I love having witnessed this whole process, and getting to build a cool car at the end of it is like icing on the cake. Thanks for documenting your thoughts and methods...for those of us who will never start a car company from scratch like you've done, it's just fantastic to be part of this thing!