It makes imminent sense to design cars or other products in Asia for cars that are sold in Asia. GM did that with Buick and ended up with a different look and feel that was a huge hit in China. It doesn’t make so much sense, however, to offshore significant amounts of design work to low-cost countries like Vietnam, which lack skilled and experienced design engineers. Nissan has put together a team of 700 Vietnamese engineers in Hanoi to design basic auto parts. According to a story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “The Vietnamese engineers, many of whom have never driven a car before, earn about $200 a month—about a tenth of what their counterparts bring home in Japan.” Sure new software programs are a help, but there’s no replacing years of hard-earned knowledge on materials’ and other technology. Even experienced engineers sometime stub their toes because of poor knowledge of how a part design can affect tool costs, to say nothing of how a poor design can cause partial or total tool failure. Nissan/Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn gets a lot of props on Wall Street, but his approach to low-cost engineering is naïve and foolhardy.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.