Visitors to a private event, coinciding with the Los Angeles (California) Auto Show, were impressed by a sleek, powerful-looking concept car affectionately called Fast Eddy. The moniker derives from the late Ed Taylor, designer for General Motors (GM), cult figure for many car buffs, and father of Charles Taylor, co-founder of the Aria Group in Irvine, California.
The 21-year-old design and fabrication company has built concept cars for major automakers and helps the Singer Co. restore classic Porsche 911 automobiles. Charles Taylor and Aria’s two other Co-Founders, Clive Hawkins and Kevin Cain, are fans of the late Ed Taylor’s work so they decided to design and build a car they think Fast Eddy would drive today – a mid-engine sports car inspired by classic American designs and loaded with style and power.
The car’s front end is reminiscent of GM’s mid-engined Aerovette cars, while the rear features a tapering greenhouse look and fender blisters. Other striking details include overhead outboard air intakes, headlamps and taillamps that are invisible until illuminated, and wheels from specialty producer HRE. Aria officials envision the car being built around a carbon-fiber monocoque and carbon-fiber body panels.
“We most definitely would use the LT4 Corvette engine,” Hawkins says, citing the GM engine V-8’s output of 650hp and 650 lb-ft of torque in the Z06 as world class by any measure. The chassis is “ready to go,” he says, and the whole vehicle would weigh less than 3,000 lb.
At this point, the car is only a concept, with no engine and no interior, but Hawkins and Design Chief Nicholas David say the car was received with such high praise that the Aria Group is now considering making a limited number.
“The car has been designed with the feasibility and engineering needed to build this car and achieve amazing performance and quality levels,” Hawkins says. “Aria has the full capability to engineer and build this car.”
A key to that capability stems from Aria’s partnership with CAD/CAM experts Tebis America Inc. in Troy, Michigan.
“Aria began working with us a couple of years ago,” says Michael Thiessen, Tebis’ West Coast sales manager. “They initially purchased one seat of Tebis. They quickly became convinced that Tebis should be their primary solution going forward, and now they have four seats.”
“We started Aria to give our customers access to the best digital technology in terms of design and manufacturing,” says Cain, Aria’s chief technology officer. “We didn’t feel we were achieving the efficiency and quality we needed on CAM and programming. After nearly a year of investigation we found that Tebis was the best programming solution. As a small company, we need to watch our resources, so deciding to switch to Tebis was a big decision for us.”
It’s a decision that paid off.
“It is an extremely capable, surface-based machining software, not one that relies on mesh models,” Cain says. “Our products have highly complex design surfaces so we needed a software that could support that.”
Tebis uses a surface-based approach, Thiessen says, to enhance quality.
“The surface created by mesh data is essentially like the pattern on the surface of a soccer ball – a series of pentagons,” Thiessen says. “You can’t generate highly accurate curves. In addition, mesh creates a surface that can be very heavy.”
The representation of the part’s surface is created using many smaller surfaces (as with those pentagons mentioned earlier). This added weight can be a problem when generating toolpaths. A Tebis surface, by comparison, is light, making it easier to work with.
Better surfaces were just one factor that influenced Aria in its decision to go with Tebis. Another was automation. Specialized functions enable programmers to automate and standardize aspects of the NC programming process, allowing programmers to work faster in creating features and toolpaths without losing quality. Automation links directly with another major concern at Aria – speed.
Need for speed
“We have a focus on speed, speed of creating toolpaths plus speed of running the programs,” Cain says.
Algorithms within Tebis speed preparation and programming, even for large components and complex geometries. Simultaneous calculation processes help accelerate NC programming, and the software’s multiple setup and tool match functions can save time on the shop floor.
All the Fast Eddy body parts were programmed with Tebis, says Aria Programmer David Cardenas, created with the fastest turnaround time of any similar parts that Aria had done.
Hawkins is confident that the same sort of efficiency will characterize the next stage of the project if Aria moves to full build, which depends on interest shown in the car. Pricing for Fast Eddy is predicted to be in the range of $600,000 to $650,000, depending on hardware specifications and the total number built. Hawkins reports that Aria could produce as many as 100 of the cars, although the earliest the first could appear would be 18 months to two years.
At the very least, the concept is a promotional tool for Aria as it engages automakers, boutique builders, and restoration groups like Singer.
“It shows that we can design as a company; it’s a reminder of our quality; and shows that we can do the design, engineering, and build, even in limited production,” Hawkins says. That’s a significant benefit for a company whose work is 60% automotive.
This represents quite a journey for Aria which, as Cain notes, started out as a design consultancy, adding, “Increasingly, though, customers wanted help in bringing their designs to life. So, we got into prototyping and then into limited production.”
Today, the company has six 5-axis machining centers and other production equipment at its 60,000ft2 facility in Irvine, along with 100 employees. In addition to automotive, the company also does some aerospace and entertainment industry work.
Programming for the 5-axis machining centers, as well as other equipment at the plant, is done in Traverse City, Michigan, where Cain and his programmers are based.
“With the distance between Traverse City and California, it’s vital that we thoroughly and realistically check our programs before we release them – even more vital than is typically the case,” Cain says
Among the things Aria focuses on are safety and accuracy, both of which are heightened by Tebis simulation.
Cain explains, “We run their DMM3 premium package, with full 5-axis simulation capability.”
Tebis simulation allows users to replicate complete machining sequences in the identical virtual machine environment, even when using multiple NC machines. It lets users run virtual feasibility tests for their production department and provides support for job-cost planning – vital for small- to medium-sized shops. It also increases process safety through visualization, collision avoidance, testing, and production optimization.
“Safety of the workpiece, the machine, and of course of the operator, are vital to us, and that’s another area where our Tebis simulation with its collision avoidance capabilities really shines,” Cain states.
Tebis simulation and safety functions are designed to enable unattended machining/lights-out machining and reduce time and expense. They help prevent tool damage and expensive post-collision repairs to the machines, reduce setup and run times, and cut downtime and documentation time. Aria fully integrates Tebis CAD/CAM, simulation, and safety functions to link its CAD/CAM/NC process chain.
“We continue to do our CAD work in CATIA,” Cain says. “But it’s all pretty seamless because Tebis has an excellent interface with CATIA. On the CAM side, Tebis is a single-source solution, from programming and verification of the data, through posting of the data. Before, we had to use one company for programming and another one for posting. “
Cain says three of Aria’s floating Tebis seats “are programming seats, and one is a viewing seat that we can bring down to the shop floor for our operators. Our people have used it in the toolroom to help them decide which mill to post to a job.”
Aria personnel attended training at Tebis and onsite at their Irvine facility.
“The training was excellent,” Cain reports. “And when we had training onsite we were able to customize it. Tebis has a pretty short learning curve. Our guys became proficient very quickly – in a matter of a few months, they went from not knowing Tebis at all to becoming very proficient programmers.”