FROM A casual glance, there appears to be little in common between door and window hardware manufacturing and racing V8 Supercars. However, the pair are actually intrinsically linked at the heart of what drives them both.
The intense research and development program that fuels the design of ALG’s products is not only similar to Erebus in its influence over the company’s success, but also in its process.
Both ALG and Erebus choose to base their entire R&D team in-house and place vast emphasis on R & D because both recognise it is the process that lays the foundation of their businesses.
ALG has a dedicated team of 12 industrial designers, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers who work solely on R & D for brands including Doric and Cowdroy. David Winston, head of R&D at ALG, says the team work full time on new concepts for the company, starting at the research stage.
“The first stage is researching the problem to determine the needs of our customers, as well as the needs of the end user” says Winston. “We also try to understand emerging trends and how living spaces are evolving.”
“We then generate a wide range of concepts using CAD software to explore and visualise ideas. Our ability to 3D print in-house has allowed us to rapidly test and communicate ideas.
“One of the important concepts for Doric is the idea of fail fast. We try to explore a broad range of concepts and rapidly test them through prototyping. This allows ideas to be quickly evaluated and rejected if need be, with successful ideas collaborated into a final solution. By reducing the risk of trying ideas, it encourages our design team to be more creative in their approach. We use this as a way to really drive innovation.”
“We’ve had the 3D printer for just over a year and it has adapted the way we do design and develop products. And the speed too. We can turn around concept ideas within a couple of days, whereas it used to take three weeks to CNC prototypes.”
“Once we finalise the 3D printed parts, we use CNC prototyping to test all aspects of the product. Production materials are used to accurately test the products performance. We’ve got a really great testing facility so we do all our testing in house through Azuma Design. Testing allows us to validate the products performance and identify areas for improving the product before we go into tooling.”
While they may be used for vastly different purposes, Erebus’ R&D operations plot a similar path to ALG.
“Pretty much all of our R and D is done in house,” says Erebus team manager Ben Croke.
“We have a specialist R&D engine guy who works full time on that side of it. Then the chassis, damper and suspension R&D is done in-house here by our own engineering team.
“The engine work is always ongoing. We’re always trying to get the best out of that, so we’re working on internal and external parts that will ultimately give us a better lap time. In terms of the chassis and suspension parts, we prioritise things from data we have from previous events. We look at where we might be lacking compared to our opposition and try to improve that part of the car.”
Like Doric, Erebus starts with an idea, before modelling it on a computer and printing it in plastic.
“It will always be done as a concept first as a cad drawing. Then we’ll model it out of plastic with a 3D printer. Then the part will be produced. We would then typically test that part at a test day, firstly to see if it’s an improvement, and secondly to gauge its reliability.
Croke agrees that the 3D printing technology has made a big difference to the way the team develops new products.
“We’ve been doing the plastic printing for the last two years. We started with one printer, we’ve now got three of them. It makes a big difference to the way we do things. It’s one thing to look at it on a computer screen, but we can now actually hold it in our hands and sometimes even fit the plastic part to the car to make sure there is clearance. It’s a huge benefit for us.”
Both companies are developing personalised concepts and believe the most effective method of doing this is in-house.
“Doric sees R & D as being really important in our marketplace and we try to always work closely with our customers to meet their requirements and develop bespoke hardware,” says Winston. “So where a lot of our competitors are developing global products and saying, ‘you can either have x or you can have y’, we work with our customers and say, ‘Okay, what are your needs and how do you intend to use the product’. We ask about their process and try to design around all the points where they will interact with our product, such as installation and service.”
“We feel our products form only part of the bigger system and therefore we’ve got to have very close contact with our customers. We’ve need to have a deep collaboration to be able to design the right products that they need for their systems.
“There are also a lot of regulations in our industry. So we work closely with our regulatory body and that’s why it’s important that in-house, we’re developing products that meet those requirements.
“Our design team are taking things from the initial concept, right through to the production components. I think it’s important that the design team is involved and understands the implications of design on all stages of the process. This helps drive better product design.”
Erebus’s close-knit engineering team takes a similar approach, with weekly meetings to target the most crucial areas of potential development.
“We have an engineering meeting once a week and we’ve got an action register that they work through with all the ideas, deciding what’s a priority and what’s down the list a little bit further and what our target areas are,” says Croke.
“Our engines were originally made in Germany, but we found we could do a better job with the knowledge and the guys we had on hand. We did a better job ourselves.
“Time and cost is a massive benefit, and then you’ve also got the quality side of it too. You’re your own quality control and not relying on an external quality control.
“We have a really heavy emphasis on R&D at Erebus. You can’t sit still in racing. If you do, you’ll go back fairly quickly, so you’re always looking to evolve, make your car a better car and ultimately improve your performance.”