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A pioneer of innovation in automotive manufacturing, BAC used Generative Design to develop the world’s first multi-material hybrid carbon-composite wheel. The next step in its digital transformation is to seamlessly connect, design, development, manufacturing, supply chain management, invoicing, and after-sales product management.
Innovation, technology, and collaboration on the way to a digitized, seamless future.
Now headquartered in the Speke area of Liverpool, England, BAC employs 28 people and has customers in 42 countries across the world. More than 100 companies (over 95% UK-based) supply a Bill of Materials (BoM) amounting to over 1000 individual components.
Since it was founded, the company has produced 125 vehicles, each custom-built around the purchaser’s body. The full production run of 30 of its latest model, the Mono R, was sold out before the first was completed.
BAC was the first auto company in the world to develop hybrid carbon-composite wheels. The Mono R represents another breakthrough: it is the first vehicle globally to use graphene in the carbon fiber construction of every panel on the vehicle. Graphene is the relatively new “super material” made from carbon that is just one atom thick.
To grow, BAC understands that it must embrace digital technology. “Over the years, BAC has gone from being a design engineering business to a design, engineering and manufacturing business, and then into a customer-based business,” says Neill Briggs, BAC’s Project Director. His brother, Ian, is Creative Design Director. “Fundamentally, we are an innovation and technology business but it is getting bigger and bigger. Our exports are increasing, our dealer network is expanding, our manufacturing level is increasing and we are having to look at all areas of the business that we can digitally transform.”
Perhaps unusually for a company of its size, BAC has decided to go down the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) route, rather than opt for MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning) to help manage production.
“The ERP system is all things combined and that’s the beauty of it,” says Neill. Invoicing systems will all be computerized and, of course, we need a full CRM system for sales, service, and aftersales support. Every car is different and has a different BoM. We can track customer information in all its complexity and know the specification of any car, anywhere in the world, whenever a customer calls up.
“We are a growing organization; it’s an evolution away from spreadsheets and the classic way of doing everything manually,” says Neill.
BAC’s digital transformation is not a leap in the dark.
It built its business on the foundation of Autodesk applications and software, including Inventor (CAD), Vault (Product Data Management), Fusion 360 (Generative Design), Moldflow (Injection Mold Simulation), and – an essential for designs in which aerodynamics are so important – Autodesk CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics).
“It was Autodesk’s development package that allowed us to evolve our product, to make it better,” Neill explains. “The wheels on the car are a good example of how we used the Generative Design software to improve the component. We are now on the fourth iteration.”
The first, fully alloy wheel, was designed primarily for customers who wanted to race their car. At the time, it was the lightest 17-inch alloy wheel in series production – but that wasn’t enough for BAC.
“In 2014 we embarked on a collaborative R&D project with performance wheelmaker Dymag on a carbon hybrid wheel,” he continues. “It uses two different materials in two applications: the rim is made from carbon fiber and the center section – the spokes – are made from forged, machined aluminum billet.” The two parts are joined using a patented process. That design was two kilos per wheel lighter than the standard alloy construction – but they also have to work on the car. For the next generation, BAC used Generative Design to go even further, using the right material in exactly the right place to achieve stiffness and performance targets.
“The parameters included the wheel envelope: where the upright sits, where the suspension arms are, where the brake disc is, the bodywork, and so on. We also constrained the visual: the design team wanted to maintain the five-spoke appearance,” Neill says, “so that forced the algorithm to look in other areas to try and save weight.” Additive manufacturing was rejected because of cost.
The latest, Generative Design, wheel looks like a natural evolution of the original carbon hybrid design but it has achieved further weight saving: around 1250 grams per unit, amounting to five kilograms for the whole car. It is lighter, stiffer, performs even better in use – and it looks good, as well.
Each vehicle builds on the experience gained with its predecessor. While the cars do not, as yet, have digital twins in the BAC servers, Vault enables individual BoMs to be generated, stored and accessed, easily.
“All the different parts of the business can generate their own BoM or parts list, whether it be a commodity, production, service, or any other BoM. We have a cross-functional team at BAC and this digitization helps to integrate all areas of the business and promote cross-functional working,” Neill explains. Most of the company’s senior innovation designers have been with BAC for 10 years or more; they have evolved with the business and understand what it’s about.
“They contribute to the business and allow us to transform and change, digitally,” Neill continues. “When we set out, we targeted the optimal partner for our product design and development suites of tools and Autodesk were the obvious choice. As we have transformed other parts of the business we have been very pleased with how Autodesk applications feed into other systems. We have been able to bring the purchasing people closer to our designers and customers, as well as our suppliers.”
BAC regards it as vital in the process of digital transformation to understand who the recipient of information being generated is and how it will be used and to make it easier to deal with. The Autodesk solutions blend well with NetSuite, which allows the Innovation team to share their information into other areas and allow those areas to be a lot more efficient in working with the supply chain, to turn the 'wheels of industry’ faster, and get more cars produced.
The CRM system that BAC will have with the integration of Oracle NetSuite, working seamlessly with the Autodesk software, means the specific BoM of each individual car will be stored in that system. The service team will be able to access full information on the exact specification of particular vehicles and to capture data to facilitate predictive maintenance and replacement part requirements.
Next steps on an unrolling road
“Full digital twinning would require many sensors on the car, which we don’t currently have but which we plan to have in the future. The next part of our digital transformation will mean that we will be able to do exactly that. But we can already access the car from the other side of the world, via the cloud, and get the data we need,” Neill continues. As the company has expanded, so did BAC’s capabilities, into for example simulation, using CFD for thermal analysis, stress analysis, and generative design.
“Digital transformation for us has been an evolution – an evolution of an intended, strategically laid-out process,” says Neill. “We have, over the years, used many CAD systems while working with consulting projects for major manufacturers and we knew that, for our product development, and innovative business we had to work in the digital space.”