In a sport that has been exclusively dominated by gas powered engines, Alta Motors proved its electric motorcycles could rival the bikes produced by OEM industry leaders. To establish their competitive advantage, Alta Motors utilized Carbon’s CLIP technology for both functional prototyping and production. Using Carbon’s RPU material, Alta prints road-ready parts to streamline production and unlock new geometries that will power the world’s fastest motorcycle.
Lining up in a starting stable 20 feet off the ground, former pro racer Josh Hill flicked the throttle as he prepared to launch into the Red Bull Straight Rhythm. This supercross-inspired event takes place on a half mile track that pits the nation’s top riders and factory teams against one another. While Hill was no stranger to races of this magnitude, this time he was taking on his competitors on an all-electric motorcycle manufactured by Alta Motors.
Taking place this past October, this was the largest debut of Alta’s technology, and the race’s estimated 5M viewers were not to be disappointed. In a sport that has been exclusively dominated by gas powered engines, Alta Motors proved that its electric motorcycles could rival the bikes produced by OEM industry leaders.
“Announcers were dismissive of electric at the beginning of the event, but by the end, they took us as a serious competitor. That was a career defining moment for me.”
Alta Motors' Co-Founder and CEO
THE CHALLENGE: BUILD THE WORLD’S BEST MOTORCYCLE
In 2010, when Marc launched Alta Motors with co-founders Derek Dorresteyn and Jeff Sand, their goal was to build the “best motorcycle that’s ever been built.”
Alta Motors started with a steadfast commitment to defining and redefining what “best” means for an electric motorcycle. “We defined ‘best’ by the way the current customer defines it – not cleaner or greener, which are usually qualities for electric,” Marc explains. “The customer defines ‘best’ as going faster, feeling more confident, and safer.”
“There are 300 million motorbikes and lightweight vehicles on this planet and at some point in the next 20 years, they’re all going to transition to electric.”
To execute on this grand vision, Alta Motors engineers and designers focused on every aspect of the bike’s performance – its ability to land the biggest jumps and race at the highest speeds, while being durable, reliable, and low maintenance.
A RACE TO MARKET
When developing the initial Redshift prototype, Alta’s founders and engineers felt pressure to accelerate development cycles. Unlike those working on more mature combustion technology, Marc notes, engineers in the electric technology space are making dramatic improvements through focused innovation. Reflecting on the industry, he observes, “We’re at a stage where you’ll see new products, new segments, pop up constantly.”
Jim Robbins, an engineering program manager at Alta notes, “There’s incredible time pressure…for any startup, the time to market is the most important thing. The pace of innovation is just increasing over time. And the tools in the marketplace are allowing this to happen.”
“The speed of development is a competitive advantage, and I think it’s increasingly a core competency.”
As a small startup, Alta is already nimbler than most large, established OEMs. Marc notes, “The faster we are, the more competitive we are.” Alta’s facilities are, he explains, “organized for speed. That’s why we have in-house rapid prototyping capabilities – so that engineers can get the parts they need and try out new ideas without waiting days or weeks.”
THE SOLUTION: ROAD-READY PARTS ACCELERATE PRODUCTION
To establish their competitive advantage over incumbent motorcycle industry leaders, Alta Motors utilized Carbon’s CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) technology. With the help of service bureau The Technology House (TTH) in Streetsboro, Ohio, they’ve been able to quickly churn out functional prototypes. Now the team can move from CAD designs to real life validation before investing in tooling costs for injection molded production parts.
Using Carbon’s Rigid Polyurethane (RPU) material for diagnostics and charger housings and Elastomeric Polyurethane (EPU) for wire seals and grommets, Nick Herron, a mechanical design engineer at Alta Motors, describes the process: “We’re able to iterate with TTH over the Internet. We send them CAD files, get parts, and iterate on them quickly. When we get parts from TTH, we do fit and mechanical tests; this is the first level of validation. Shock and vibration, ingress protection – this is a second level of validation.” Only after the prototype parts have passed these validation tests, does Alta kick off tooling for the production part.
Alta’s engineers stress that CLIP’s product solutions demonstrate superior mechanical properties and surface finishes relative to other technologies. Nick states, “The material properties are a lot closer to manufactured parts, which gives us more confidence as we go into production. The parts aren’t brittle so we can do inserts or thread form without stripping or shattering the parts. We can seal grooves and keep out water, conduct pressure and spray testing, and ingress testing. With CLIP we have a lot more confidence when we go into production.”
Jim has found that with CLIP, the production cycle from prototyping and design, to validation, and finally, production, is more streamlined and efficient.
“The additive process allows us to iterate in days, and kick off tooling within weeks. In the past, soft tooling a component would take weeks and trying out different concepts would require a new soft tool every time.”
To shorten the production cycle even more drastically, and avoid tooling costs, Alta is experimenting with printing parts for production. Currently, the company is working with Carbon on production-worthy components that will go directly into the bike.
NEW GEOMETRIES FOR A FASTER, LIGHTER BIKE
As CLIP unlocks more opportunities for production, Alta Motors engineers can quickly test and experiment with new form functions that were impossible to achieve with injection molding. One such part is a high voltage connector that will consolidate two components into one. Jim notes, “We can print components that can’t be tooled. We can combine different features and components into one part that can be printed.” Marc also holds high hopes for even greater design efficiency as the CLIP technology evolves. He says the company is experimenting with designs that reduce the number of parts by making one part that can do the job of six. “All of our designs are at the intersection of intuitive design and robust functionality,” Marc concludes. “We look for opportunities to streamline design to improve usability for our customers and ensure the highest quality in our manufacturing.”
In 2016, as Hill charged to the finish line, he firmly established Alta’s place as a formidable competitor on the racetrack and in the motorcycle industry. After winning in early round races, Hill ended the night in 4th place. Not satisfied with anything less than the best, Alta Motors – with the help of Carbon’s CLIP technology – is doubling down on design and innovation to earn the top spot in motocross.
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