Sunday, December 21, 2008


In keeping with my frequent posting plan (8 months isn't that long), I figured the automotive industry conundrum is enough to make me start typing again...

Having spent just over 7 years in the auto industry of Detroit between 1994 and 2002, I have a love-hate relationship with "American" car companies.

In the early 90's I was working as an aerospace engineer in a tough market. Working without a raise at a pretty low rate for 3 years in a row got me looking elsewhere. An ad in the LA Times (pre, etc.) was looking for engineers to take jobs in the automotive industry. I guess some sort of state grant in Michigan paid to bring some more troops to design and engineer the next great thing in automobiles, which is more or less the same thing they have always made. I had an interview, then was sent to re-programming training session that pretty much taught you have to do manual drafting, which I already knew, and never had to use afterward. After these two weeks, we were shipped off Detroit. Or in other words, I drove out there with my car filled with basic living items. Luckily I had a friend in San Diego whose parents and brother lived in the same area I would work. I arrived the day after Thanksgiving, 1994. I got a room with them and started my next level of training. This was CAD training. This was very valuable.

For about 2 weeks, we were getting trained in CATIA V4, which was far more advanced than anything I ever did in AutoCAD prior. We would design in full 3D. At the time, little was done in solid modeling, mostly just surfacing, which is a very valuable skill to know. After the 2 weeks were up we were supposed to be placed as a contractor in a Chrysler facility. Someone must have forgot to tell Chrysler, as they weren't really interested in hiring 2 weeks before Christmas.

In the interim, the suckers like me who made the trek out were demanding some sort of position until Chrysler would commit after the start of 1995. One of my fellow trekkers was placed at a plant that was molding the composite body panels for the Dodge Viper. He knew I had experience in composites, and called me to see if I wanted to come out there as well. I did and I did, Thus started my career in the auto industry. Funny thing happened. I was around a bunch of guys with the name engineer in their title. It took a couple weeks to find out, but eventually I learned that very few people who were called and engineer actually had an engineering degree, or even any post high school education. Turns out you could work your way up from the shop floor. Even the chief engineer was not an engineer. I was the only one with an engineering degree in the whole plant. I later came to realize, with good accuracy, that anyone who would answer the phone "engineering", was not.

To keep this less rambly, let's just say 7 years, about 6 different companies ranging from manufacturing to racing, to advanced vehicle design, gave me a pretty good feel for what the industry is all about. I planned on a maximum of 5 year, so I outlived my original plan by a couple years.

How does this relate to the bailout? Well, knowing how the companies viewed development, advanced technologies, efficiency, lightweighting, and how they all relate to profits, it's no surprise that they are in the situation they are in today. Do I have any sorry feelings for the companies? No. Do I feel for the people who are dumb enough to still work there? I guess I do. Too many people are too trusting of their employers. Obviously the ones promised a nice retirement for 25 or whatever years of service should be entitled to it. Should they have been promised this in the first place? Probably not.

Having had so many advanced projects involving light weight structures canceled while in Detroit, I'm pretty sure the same fate was met by those who worked on high efficiency powertrains. The Big 3 just didn't give a shit. If it didn't make a large profit, or didn't allow them to make more big piles of shit by offsets with smaller cars destined for the rental fleet, they wouldn't do it. A 10 year plan at one company to develop light weight chassis designs was dropped after 3 years, when a profit could not be made immediately. I think their stock is running at 38 cents a share right now. What a bunch of losers. Literally.

My bet is that we will see, for sure one of the 3 gone in the next couple of years, either by acquisition or solvency. No one will miss Chrysler. Next to go, but might just pull through is GM. Ford should be safe, they were the only ones to have some vision of the future, though a really poor one. Would there not be such huge ripple effects should all the companies go under, I'd say let them all disappear. I'll be happy if one disappears and the other two stay scared.

They technology is there to do amazing things. Denying it over and over again will only allow your competitors to leap frog you. Guess what, it happened a long time ago, and you'll never catch up.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Axio Products for 2008

3dyn customer Axio has announced the latests designs in its line of high quality storage and carrying products. Axio manufactures backpacks, briefcases, as well as motorcycle tank and tail bags. The entire new line can be viewed at

3dyn has worked with Axio, a division of Harodesign, for the past 3 years. We have provided concept modeling, production CAD modeling, display models, and production tooling. Each year, the details are refined, and added features are included, making a fantastic product.

Monday, April 7, 2008

2008 Aircraft Interiors Show

April 1st through 3rd brought the annual Aircraft Interiors Show in Hamburg, Germany. While I guess this might not sound too exciting, its been quite a good business for 3dyn. We have been working with a large supplier to the industry, Cutting Dynamics Inc. of Avon, Ohio, for about 3 years now.

As fuel prices continue to rise, airlines pass the savings on to us. A way to combat this, is by decreasing the weight they haul up into the sky. While ideally you would get the passengers to each lose 20 pounds, it is apparently more feasible to reduce the weight of the aircraft itself.

The first step is to reduce the weight of flying structure itself. This would be the fuselage, wings, empennage (horizontal and vertical tails), landing gear, etc. This is the responsibility of aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus, on the larger end of the scale.

While planes take up to 10 years to develop and can be in service up to 30 years, its not always so easy to predict what lightweight materials and processes may be available in future years. They try to be on the cutting edge, but federal regulations, durability concerns, and of course, cost, always play a role.

One of the areas that is a bit easier to keep up with evolving technology is in the interior. Aircraft interiors are normally purchased, or leased, by airlines from interior suppliers. You typically buy your $200M aircraft with no seats, not trim panels, no rest rooms, no gallies and no carpet. All of these are specified and purchased separately by the airline.

Like shoes, there are many varieties of aircraft interiors. There are cheap uncomfortable ones, medium priced ones that last a long time, and ridiculously expensive ones that you can fall asleep in. The aircraft interiors show displays them all; from complete assemblies to fabrics and leathers, to entertainment systems, to foams and nuts and bolts.

Cutting Dynamics had is first display booth for 2008. As a supplier to the aircraft seating industry for 20 years, Cutting Dynamics has surpassed 100,000 seatbacks per year, and countless other components for everything from the cheap seats to the penthouse loungers. At the 2008 show, I helped set up the booth and played salesman for 2 days during the show. Now I guess I play salesman every day to some degree, but I had to wear a suit for 3 days, so that is really a life changer.

We met with lots of people, I think we tracked at least 120 separate companies that seemed to have some sort of genuine interest, some on the purchase end, but also some that had some goods or services we thought were could be interesting to us. As an expert in composite design and construction, I was available to discuss Cutting Dynamics' strategy for developing the next generation of composite seating products.

What we displayed at the 2008 show were some of our recently developed designs which utilize thermoplastic molding of carbon fiber. Typically what has been used for composites is known as thermosetting resins. An example is epoxy. Epoxy resins are activated by mixing two compounds, typically known as the resin and hardener in its simplest nomenclature. Once the two components are mixed, they react give off some heat, and eventually harden. This material is permanently hard, or set. In the case of thermoplastic resins, it is hard at room temperature, and can come in many forms, pellets, sheets, powder, etc. When heated to high temperatures, such as 600 F for the materials we are using, it becomes liquid, then re-hardens when cooled. This can be repeated over and over, but there will be some degradation each time.

The advantages of thermoplastic processing is becoming more and more interesting to both aircraft structure and interior manufactures. Processing times are much quicker than with thermosets. While there are some fast curing thermosets, typical processing of thermoplastic composites can be under 5 minutes. A standard thermoset prepreg could take up to 2 hours to cure in an oven, thus requiring more time, or more tools to meet high volume manufacturing requirements. Additionlly, pending requirements have made the reaction of materials to fire much more strict. Thermoplastic resins will meet the FAA's requirements for Flame, Smoke, Toxicity (FST) and newly added Heat Release where current thermosets will not. Add to all of this reduced cost to manufacture, greater durability and recylability, and thermoplastic composites are a clear winner.

I am looking forward to working with some of the people we met over the 3 days we were at the show in Germany, and also to return next year.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Out with the '07s to make room for the '08s

2007 was a busy year for us at 3dyn. Working with customers in the space, aircraft, motorsports, and consumer products industries, we have a very wide range of talents and abilities. The car shown in this post is an "Extreme Gravity Racer" commissioned by Zero Emissions Racing of Irvine, CA This particular model was designed by Aston Martin designers Julian Wiltshire and studio boss Marek Reichman. 3dyn took their surface data to create high density foam master models, high temperature fiberglass molds, and finally pre-preg carbon fiber body shells. The cars are fully functional, with high-performance downhill mountain bike disc brake systems, rack and pinon steering (with carbon fiber, F1 style steering) and 4-point safety harness. Short of the purchased bicycle components and formed clear canopies, 3dyn created all components in house, the majority being either carbon fiber or aircraft aluminum.

Not only did 3dyn create the black Aston Martin shown above, but we also built two more just like it in White and British Racing Green. To top that off, we also build 4 models designed by the Lead Studio Engineer from Bentley, Jim Shaw (shown in British Racing Green, to the left), and 3 models from Porsche Design Senior Designer Mark Clarke (shown in Matte Black and Titanium below to the right).

3dyn has been involved with gravity racers for the past 2 years, but will not participate for 2008, as new commitments have precluded us from being able to build another 10+ cars this year. However we may still assist in the design process, if needed. 2008 should be "electrifying" for Zero E Racing.