Time for a photo update showing how I built the cockpit, tube by tube.
A couple of videos posted to YouTube. #1 gives an overview of the chassis as it stands, and #2 talks about the chassis jig table.
After playing around with various kinds of hole cutters, mills, angle vises, and so on, I’ve settled on the best method for cutting fishmouths in tube ends so they fit together properly when building a tube frame with round tubing. Since the tubes will be welded they don’t have to be perfect as you would get by using a milling machine. Also, the typical joint has several tubes meeting which need to accomodate each other, and on a milling machine this would take a separate setup for each tube at each joint, taking an inordinate amount of time. Forcing Solidworks to show the correct shape of the ends of each tube requires some real work, an explanation of which I found over on the LoCost website. I’m going to provide a modified and updated tutorial here.
The first thing to understand is that each tube must be fully welded before adding the next tube. This makes the finished structure much stronger than if you tacked all the tubes in place and simply welded around the remaining visible joints. Here’s an example:
Although the following tutorial may look long and complicated, once you understand what’s going on each step will only take seconds. And believe me, it’s much faster than grinding a tube to fit using trial and error. More accurate, too.
Now it’s time to test one of the big unknowns of this project: can the top rails be formed in the shape of a complex 3D spline, and can the left and right sides be made to match? The CAD software won’t even allow a structural member in the shape of a spline, requiring them to be composed of straight sections and arc sections. Other exoskeleton cars have been built, but as far as I know always with a single curve in the main frame members. And of course a tubing bender is designed with the assumption that it will be used to form constant-radius segments. I believe this is the first car to be done this way, so I’ve put a lot of effort into the chassis jigs to get it right. The top rail spline is a key to the beauty of this design. To make a long story short, it is in fact possible to bend a 3D spline on a tubing bender. It just takes a lot of trial and error, patience, and about a day of work per rail. And luckily, overbending can be corrected by running the tube back through the bender, clocked 180 degrees.
“The pricking of my thumbs” is not entirely rhetorical. In fact I almost cut off my left thumb while building the top rails, so a word about safety. A tubing bender is a SERIOUS PIECE OF EQUIPMENT. It won’t even notice bones and flesh being fed into its’ rollers. I had already turned off the bender and reached to grab the tube as it was twisting on the way into the bender. The bender caught my glove and started pulling my thumb in, stopping at the last possible millisecond before inflicting permanent damage. It hurt and left a mark, but I was insanely lucky. So, 1.) Never wear gloves while using a tube bender. They protect you about as much as Saran Wrap, and it’s better to have your fleshy appendages dangling about unprotected to remind you of the danger. 2.) NEVER, NEVER touch the tube on the side being fed into the bender. Always handle the side being fed out. and 3.) Before pushing the “on” switch, stop, think, and say to yourself “I’m not going to become an amputee on this bend.”
To get optimal suspension geometry and aerodynamics I’ve designed the car with a front keel under a raised nose. This gives the longest possible lower front A-arms, minimizing the angle changes of the front suspension as it goes through bump and jounce motions. The raised nose clear airflow around the front wing. My computational fluid dynamics (CFD) studies show airflow around the front wing is extremely important as the wing operates in ground effect and generates downforce all out of proportion to its size. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to increase the downforce generated by the underbody and rear wing to match that of the front wing, even though those elements are far larger.
The front keel will use a stressed skin of aluminum formed to shape and riveted to tabs welded onto the frame tubes. This is the highest-stress area of the entire chassis, as under braking something like 2800 pounds of force will be transmitted through these members. You can visualize the car supported vertically on the front keel, with two more cars stacked on top of it, so this needs to be really strong.
After more than a year and a half of design and several months of tool preparation, that long-awaited day has finally arrived: the day I touch saw to metal on an actual car part. The first step is to build the front subframe that sell sit horizontally at the bottom of the nose of the car. The chassis table already has holes drilled and tapped for 3/8″ bolts locating the subframe members precisely. Here’s the first tube in place among the pins on the chassis table.
Because this looked like a lot of busy work, my first thought was to have the chassis jigs built by a local machine shop. So I bought the metal and had it sent directly to the machine shop and went over the drawings with them. They kept asking me how big various things were, when the dimensions were clearly right there on the drawing. Then it became clear they didn’t know how to deal with dimensions in meters. They asked me how to convert a dimension from meters to centimeters. “You mean like move the decimal point two places to the right?”, I’m thinking… This was not looking promising. Eventually I went home and tried to come up with a set of orthographic-projection drawings, with hidden lines removed, that they couldn’t possibly misinterpret. I soon gave up. When I went to pick up the first two jigs the next day, the list of errors was long and creative. Mounting footprint on one reversed, vertical tube holders cut too shallow and not in line, overall height incorrect, horizontal alignment out of spec, etc., etc.
Sigh. I called a local aerospace-engineer type that I know and asked him if he knew a good machinist, and he directed me to a local guy who I visited the next day. We met a couple of times and he is indeed capable of handling the project; in fact, I decided it’s really below his capabilities and ended up building the jigs myself, saving him for building actual car parts.