Vehicle Development, Simplified: The RapidFit Smart Cube
Using a combination of 3D-printed parts and a fully modular approach, RapidFit’s smart cubing system empowers automotive brands to speed up their engineering and development process. Whether that’s for an Aston Martin DB11 or the iconic London taxicab. Discover the future of vehicle development, as seen through the eyes of RapidFit head Filip Dehing.
Where does the concept of the Smart Cube come from?
To answer that, we need to step back for a look at the industry we’re serving. A study by Merrill Lynch looking at the automotive market in 1999-2014 came to an interesting finding: it was the brands with the highest replacement rates which commanded the highest market share. In other words, if you want to sell more cars, you need to combine a great design with a really short time-to-market, hence speed up the development process. And if you don’t want that to encroach on your profit margins, it wouldn’t hurt if you could decrease the tooling costs too.
The need to bring newer developments to the market consistently, at lower costs, means that the automotive industry is under pressure to make the vehicle development process leaner, faster and more flexible. That’s the need which the Smart Cube was made to address.
What’s different about the RapidFit Smart Cube?
The key characteristic of the Smart Cube is that it’s fully modular. You can easily exchange and update separate modules — anything from a dashboard to a handle — and keep the tool up-to-date through new CAD revisions and design maturation. A traditionally-constructed cube, on the other hand, is essentially a single assembly of milled aluminum. Not only is it extremely expensive, it’s also intrinsically costly to modify. Our Smart Cube on the other hand, enables such modifications at a low direct and indirect cost, thanks to the modularity and printed end elements. Such updates can be performed ‘offline’ as the cube stays at the customer’s disposition.
That’s why the Smart Cube is a real game-changer. It allows our customers to start using the cube much earlier in the development process and to continue using it throughout production. They can update parts as they go along, without losing time or money in reconstructing the entire cube. One of our customers is the London Taxi Company based in Coventry, UK. When the company recently relaunched the taxicab as a fully-electric vehicle, the project was typical of the electrical vehicle development world — throughput time was extremely short.
For the London Taxi Company, the Smart Cube was instrumental in bringing a new vehicle concept to the market in record time. My team at RapidFit is thrilled to be among the enablers for the relaunch of such an iconic car.
How do you start developing the cube?
Everything we do is customized, and no two projects are the same, but they always follow the same structured approach. We always start the design process by talking to the customer about their ideas and requirements. We’re looking for any details the customer can give us to make it easier for them to accurately measure and check the quality of the parts.
Based on the customer’s CAD, we define together which parts will be included in the Cube as this will ultimately define the cost of the Cube. For each part, we will then define which sections are to be simulated, and how the part needs to be located. For holding the actual parts, no compromises are made: we ensure that all clips and details are fully represented in the Cube.
Then we design the fixtures to meet the needs of the customer, using CATIA or NX in combination with the Materialise Magics Suite and in-house developed design automation software.
The biggest difference from conventional cubing is that we can do up to 80% of the engineering based on preliminary CAD designs. We can even produce the Cube on preliminary CAD, because nearly all subsequent modifications are small changes to individual modules. Since these modules are 3D-printed, owing to the nature of 3D Printing the costs of the modifications are low and predictable. The Cube can be made available to the customer starting in the early stages of the development, all the way down to the production stage where it can continue its life as a production gauge.
The Smart Cube’s contribution for reduced time-to-market is clear, but what role does it play for the quality teams and program management?
The automotive industry is used to having a variety of fixtures, development bucks, cubing systems and so on to assess how accurately single parts and assemblies fit. The Smart Cube lets you replace that entire toolkit — a very costly and cumbersome toolkit — with one solution that combines a majority of the functions, including those of a production gauge. Our customers use the Smart Cube from design and development right through production.
What’s more, our modular approach allows different teams working on the vehicle design to collaborate more effectively. You build your Cube at an early design stage, and continuously evolve it with CAD updates. This way, you have an early entry point to start prototyping and visualizing the separate aspects of the project. Our approach really pushes the different design teams to collaborate.
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