Lean mobility

By Lauren Duensing

Startup company redefines commuting with the fun utility vehicle (FUV)

April 2018 - Prospective car owners often have compiled a wish list of features before they head to a dealer’s lot: a big SUV or minivan with room for a growing family; a look-at-me sports car with tons of horsepower, tight steering and paddle shifters; or an electric vehicle to help them say good-bye to stopping for gas. But what if your perfect ride doesn’t exist? Mark Frohnmayer, founder of Eugene, Oregon-based Arcimoto, saw that as a challenge.

Frohnmayer conceived the fun utility vehicle (FUV) in 2007 after he sold his company, then “went looking for a vehicle that didn’t exist in the marketplace,” says Eric Fritz, Arcimoto’s marketing lead. Frohnmayer is a lifelong environmentalist and transportation enthusiast and “he wanted an ultra-efficient vehicle. To him, that meant electric, right-sized for typical everyday driving and affordable enough to be adopted by nearly everyone,” Fritz notes.

The FUV started out as a napkin sketch and has been through eight generations of prototype development over 10 years. The version that is headed to production is one-quarter the mass footprint of the average passenger vehicle, one-third the price and 10 times more efficient at 230 MPGe. It can go from zero to 60 in 7.5 seconds and up to 80 mph, and its low center of gravity, light weight and anti-dive optimization provide an agile and responsive ride.

FFJ 0418 bending image1

BLM Group's LC5 features both tube and sheet laser cutting in a single system.

“Some of the major vehicle refinements along the way included moving from a rear-wheel chain drive to dual-motor front-wheel drive, continuously changing and repositioning the battery bay to optimize stability while accommodating the latest in battery technology, and moving from a steering wheel to handlebars from generation seven to generation eight,” Fritz says.

That steering control switch was an “aha” moment for Arcimoto, he notes, because “it allowed for more upright seating and better ingress and egress, shortened up the vehicle, and decreased the overall weight, improving all aspects of the vehicle, most notably maneuverability and range.”

City dwellers are ideal FUV owners because they will appreciate its small size and motorcycle classification, which allows them to easily maneuver through traffic and park almost anywhere. However, the company is seeing spillover into many other customer groups including travelers looking for a compact get-around vehicle to tow behind their RVs; older motorcyclists who have become more concerned with the safety, balance and stability of their vehicle but who still want a thrilling ride; and families looking for an affordable and efficient second vehicle, according to Fritz.

Starting up

As the FUV’s design evolved, Arcimoto needed a facility capable of series production. “Since we are a startup company, ground up is the true definition of how we are developing the plant—it’s very exciting.” says Tim Hynen, director of manufacturing. The factory “has allowed us to begin the production phase of manufacturing by using automated equipment and reducing the amount of direct labor costs going into our vehicles. Our biggest challenge is incorporating the equipment so it works together and figuring out the flow of the processes.”

Arcimoto purchased an LC5 combination laser for tube and sheet and an E-Turn bender from BLM Group USA, Novi, Michigan. “The sheet/tube processing, along with the tube bending capability exceeded all other pieces of equipment on the market,” Hynen says. “From the quality in the manufacturing of the equipment and the different software capabilities, it was an easy decision to team up with them. A deciding factor for me was the interfacing capability to perform these processes robotically.”

The LC5 is both a production flat sheet cutter and a production tube cutter, says Andrew Dodd, North American sales director for BLM. It can process tubes up to 4.75 in. diameters with a fiber laser source of up to 5 kW and can adjust instantly from sheet to tube without the need for additional setup or tooling.

FFJ 0418 bending image2

The expandable frame can accommodate removable enclosures and bolt-on accessories to transport bulky items like bikes, surfboards and golf bags.

“It has full automated loading and unloading for the tube side and the flat sheet side,” Dodd says. “It’s like getting two machines in one, and you save some money because you share the laser source between the two of them. It’s perfect for a startup company that’s got complementary volumes of tube work and flat sheet. It fit exactly with Arcimoto’s needs.”

The E-Turn 52 is a CNC all-electric bender and will bend tube up to 52 millimeters in diameter, Dodd says. “It’s a left-hand/right-hand bender so it can bend in both directions in a single sequence.”

Complex bends

Hynen says the LC5’s flexibility enables Arcimoto “to manufacture every steel and aluminum fabricated component on our vehicle. Being able to switch from sheet to tube allows us to be very efficient with our manufacturing processes.” The FUV has a lot of complex bends in its upper frame, and Hynen notes that the two BLM machines are able to communicate with each other to streamline processing. “The way the software works with the tube laser translates over to the tube bender very nicely.”

The LC5 also has a modular design, which allows companies to customize the machine for current and future production—adding capabilities as requirements change. Dodd says Arcimoto chose a base machine and “is going to add some sheet automation to it this year as they grow production. At the moment, it’s a simple machine with a shuttle table, but they’re going to add an automation tower that will hold various sheets of material that can be automatically chosen and placed into the machine.”

The FUV is built on an aspiration—one that raises the bar for environmental efficiency and mobility—and that mission carries over into its manufacturing design and operation.

“The production facility is being built for overall lean manufacturing and minimization of any wasted motion or fabrication steps,” Hynen says. “The LC5 and E-Turn 52 streamline production with their built-in manufacturing flexibility. Our engineering group is able to take advantage of the features and capabilities of the equipment and design for overall efficiency.” FFJ


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