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A SolidWorks designer talks about stuff related to CAD and mechanical design

Monday, April 21, 2008

Solidworks used in designing new electric car

Piecing Together the Tango

When you’re building a car that’s only 3 ft wide — and calls for nearly 1,100 lb of batteries onboard — getting all of the high-tech componentry to fit in a limited space is much like piecing together a puzzle.

That was one of the primary challenges Commuter Cars faced when designing its ultra-narrow Tango, an urban, commuter electric vehicle that, given its unique size and shape, can fit in a 6-ft half-lane and park in leftover spaces between vehicles. “It’s a tremendous challenge to pack all of the features of a full-size car into one quarter of the space,” says Rick Woodbury, president and founder of Commuter Cars, in Spokane, WA. “Every piece has to fit in with no space left around it. There isn’t another car out there with space more at a premium than ours.”

SolidWorks’ 3-D CAD tool was instrumental in helping Commuter Cars see in advance, in a digital format, whether things would fit, before building any physical prototypes. Early on, for example, the engineering team was able to determine that the original motor and transmission design didn’t work in the space allotted. It then used SolidWorks to create a unique two-motor design, which allowed it to better accommodate the batteries and air conditioning mechanics. “We had to design the whole car around the battery compartment and what we achieved by the two-motor design was that it allowed the rest of the bottom of the car to be devoted to the batteries,” Woodbury says.

Another major design challenge was getting the weight low enough to balance the car so it has the same rollover threshold as a sports car. The Tango, which can travel from 0 to 60 mph in 4 sec, extensively employs stainless steel and carbon fiber materials. Woodbury says SolidWorks’ Cosmos simulation software will have a role in helping Commuter Cars lighten up the car’s structure a little going forward.

The Tango is priced starting at $108,000, so Woodbury says the design objectives had to strive for optimal performance along with providing a lot of the extras people are accustomed to on higher-end, luxury vehicles. “If you’re going to build a car that’s so different and so small, you have to do a lot of justifications, especially in this price range,” he says. “CAD has been a godsend.”


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