The VW Microbus Gets Revamped As an EV with Generative Designed Parts

VW and Autodesk work together to create an electric microbus that includes parts created through generative design.

Volkswagen Group recently unveiled the results of a special project with Autodesk showing how technology is transforming automotive design and manufacturing processes. An engineering team from Volkswagen’s Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC) reconceptualized and retrofitted an iconic 1962 VW Microbus with cutting-edge technologies such as electric propulsion and generative that are likely to play a big part of the auto industry’s future.

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC
Volkswagen Group’s re-conceptualized 1962 Microbus. (Image source: Volkswagen)

To rapidly design and manufacture the vehicle, the team leveraged generative design through Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software. This approach allowed them to input design goals into the software, which explored all the possible solutions and generated alternative designs.

 By, using generative design, the team was able to:

  • Create new wheels 18% lighter than a standard set
  • Re-imagine the steering wheel, external side mirrors and the support structure for the seating area
  • Reduce the overall development time to manufacturing time, shortening the 1.5 year-cycle down to a few months

The team focused on maximizing strength while minimizing weight. Autodesk collaborated with VW’s IECC to revamp several components of the electric vehicle. One of the critical aspects in designing electric vehicles is finding weight savings wherever possible, since the less an automobile weighs, the less energy required to propel it down the road. Reduced energy consumption provides greater range per charge, one of the critical considerations for consumers when evaluating electric vehicles.

The generative design process was created to allow the computer to meet strength requitements while using the least about of material. “Generative design approaches design challenges holistically, by considering the load cases, manufacturing methodologies, and materials simultaneously,” Paul Sohi, technology evangelist for Fusion 360 at Autodesk, told Design News. “Generative design is able to produce parts that are ready for manufacturing straight out of the tool.”

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC

Generative design was applied to the wheels to achieve a weight savings of 18%. (Image source: Volkswagen)

The IECC team applied generative design to the wheels of its 1962 Type 2 11-window Microbus, completely rethinking the structure because lighter wheels not only reduce the overall weight of the car, they also lessened the rolling resistance on the tires. The new wheels are 18 percent lighter than a standard set, and the overall development time from design to manufacture was cut from 1.5 years down to a matter of months. “Generative design is able to produce parts that are ready for manufacturing straight out of the tool,” said Sohi. “In the case of VW, this is what we did to ensure the wheel met all the requirements set by VW.”

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC

Volkswagen wanted to put a generatively designed object in a place where people will touch it, both to show off its intricacy and beauty, but also to give a sense of the strength of these parts. (Photo image: Volkswagen)

Generative design was also used to re-imagine the steering wheel, as well as the support structure for the rear bench seating and the external side mirror mounts. “Different materials were used depending on the application. The wheels are cast in Alu T7, while the mirrors, steering wheel, and seat bench area are made of high-strength 3D printable plastics,” said Sohi.

VW, Volkswagen Group, generative design, EV, Innovation and Engineering Center California, IECC

The vehicle’s external side mirror mounts were reimagined with generative design. (Image source: Volkswagen)

Some of the components for the bus were created to provide a symbolic example of the power of generative design. While the steering wheel is not a particularly heavy component, it is the primary touchpoint for the driver. “People aren’t really accustomed to touching mounts or supports,” said Erik Glaser, principal product designer at the Volkswagen Group. “We wanted to put a generatively designed object in a place where people will touch it because not only is it intricate and beautiful, but it can also give a sense of just how strong these parts can be.”

The swiftness of the design and production of the VW bus suggests this form of manufacturing could possibly be rolled out for production. The question remains whether generative-design parts could be used in high volume production. If so, would the parts be produced by additive manufacturing or traditional manufacturing? “That’s a question for VW,” said Sohi. “They’ve expressed interest in the continued use of generative design for applications beyond what we worked on here, so hopefully this was the first step to many new things.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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