Most of us don’t think about all the testing and development that goes into a product, we just buy it and expect it to work. But developing and manufacturing a product that “just works” when it is launched into the general public requires significant behind-the-scenes testing and proving, especially when the product is mechanical in nature.
If you’ve ever wondered what kind of product testing goes on behind-the-scenes, then this post is for you.
The earliest versions of the RazerLift were cobbled together in my garage in the years leading up to 2014. The first minimally operational unit was mounted on my vehicle toward the end of 2013, though it was not nearly roadworthy enough to stay there; I returned it to its test bench.
Despite the fact that these early prototypes were constructed of a patchwork of mismatched parts, and were nowhere close to being ready for mass-production, a surprising number of technical lessons were learned during that process. One of the biggest lessons was that we really needed to get the drive train right. After all, the motor needs to provide an impressive amount of torque; almost as much as a small car engine, in fact.
Design work on the next generation prototype was begun by Tangent Engineering around late 2014. The next unit was primarily focused on testing the design at full capacity, but we also began turning our attention to mass production. Tangent used some industry-leading Finite Element Analysis (FEA) software to build a virtual computer simulation of the unit and “test” it under various loads. This approach – using computers to simulate reality instead of jumping straight to physical building stuff – can be a very effective means of streamlining development and testing. Tangent uses software packages such as SolidWorks and ANSYS which are considered some of the best tools for this type of work.
And the fact that Tangent is ISO certified means that they are careful to ensure the highest standards of analysis are applied.
Two Alpha prototypes were built around early 2016; one was mounted on my vehicle and the other was first mounted on a test bench and then subsequently mounted on a second vehicle. In combination with shop testing, the two Alpha units have seen roughly 2.5 years of road testing covering most of North America. In the summer of 2016 my family and I drove across Canada and back (Alberta all the way to Newfoundland) over the course of 7 weeks. The other unit was driven down the West Coast of the US, across the Southern States, and back up the East Coast before returning to Alberta. The units have also been cycled hundreds – if not thousands – of times across the last 2.5 years.
In fact, it was my vehicle with the Alpha unit that attended the NTEA Work Truck Show this Spring with Bruce of Solid Rock Solutions. At that show alone the unit was cycled up and down repeatedly all day long for three days straight. That’s a lot of cycles!
And because the units are primarily located in Alberta, Canada, they have endured multiple Canadian Prairie winters. You cannot get much better climate testing than annual weather cycles in Western Canada.
Throughout all that testing the units have operated almost flawlessly. On one occasion your’s truly thought it would be a good idea to make some adjustments to some settings in the unit. I have a small dent in the side of my vehicle as a constant reminder of the error of my ways. That’s the only time it has acted up, and the wise folks at Tangent helped correct me foolishness. Oops…
Other than user error, though, the units have operated reliably. Their only shortcoming is the fact that they were unable to lift as much cargo capacity as we intended. Again, lessons learned.
Two and a half years of road testing is a remarkable proving ground, and it also provided some insights into necessary design changes, especially given that we are going to focus on the commercial market first. In the Fall of 2017 Tangent was once again commissioned to advance the design. The two main focuses were to increase the maximum cargo capacity to 150 lb, and get the design ready for mass production. Our Beta units represent the first low-volume production units to come off the assembly line at August Electronics. The first unit was mounted to a Hank’s Plumbing van, as I wrote about previously, and the second unit went straight to Tangent for shop testing where it is currently assembled and testing is underway. The unit with Hank’s Plumbing has been in the field for several months now and was tested up to nearly full weight capacity before it was commissioned. Some small problems were discovered near the max capacity that required a slight redesign of a couple of components before the remaining 11 units could be built, which explains the delay between the first unit and the rest of the Beta units.
Even before the Beta units were constructed, Tangent did some sweeping tests on the motor that we intend to use for the production models. Although the max cargo capacity for the RazerLift is set at 150 lbs, the motor was tested up to an equivalent of 190 lbs, and cycled numerous times at that weight. We did experience a failure in the motor at these extreme loads, but that failure is just as likely to have been a result of a failure of the test stand to hold the entire assembly as it is to have been a failure of the motor assembly itself. The broken component was replaced and cycle testing continued at max capacity. The motor was cycled over 2,000 times at (or beyond) max weight capacity. Once the broken part was replaced there were no issues with the motor as they continued to cycle it. Testing was eventually stopped simply because – once again – the test stand itself was failing under the high loads. It was beefed up a couple of times before we decided to just build the entire Beta assembly and test it as a unit on a brand-new, purpose-built, test bench.
In the next couple of weeks the remaining Beta units will be delivered, assembled, and installed on test vehicles in the field. In parallel, Tangent will continue doing shop testing on the unit in their possession over the next few months. Some of our many tests include:
- Max capacity cycle testing (we are targeting 10,000 cycles – finger’s crossed).
- Cold temperature testing in an environmental chamber.
- Overload and collision testing.
- Firmware testing to ensure the board can handle unusual field scenarios.
- Destructive testing. This should be the most fun test of all! I’ll do my best to get some good video footage to share.
- And more…
We are targeting a three month test period during which time we will also turn our attention to small design changes to reduce manufacturing costs. And, of course, tweak the design as needed based on results from testing and industry feedback regarding ease of installation and user-friendliness.
So there is still testing to do, but lots of testing has already been done. We need to ensure that we have adequately tested this revolutionary product before launching it into the market. While other new products often take an evolutionary step forward by leveraging the success of a previous, and technically similar, product, we don’t have that luxury. Rather, the RazerLift represents a revolutionary step forward. There is no previous product for us to learn from and build on. This is not an extension of an existing technology. This is such a fundamentally unique approach to cargo management that we are charting brand new territory.
Which is why we need to dedicate more time and attention to testing and proving the RazerLift than might be typical for other products. That’s not to say that other manufacturers do not adequately test their products – I’m certain they do a fine job – just that they don’t need to test what has already been proven. The bar is set higher for us because of the novelty of the RazerLift. Once we are completely confident in the design and its ability to withstand the rigours of work life in the Canadian climate (and beyond), and we know that we can confidently stand behind our warranty, then we will begin manufacturing and delivering our first units to our customers in larger volumes than the Beta units.
We are working as fast as we possibly can, but not so fast that we are cutting corners. If you would like to learn more about the development process, or would like to pre-order some units, don’t hesitate to contact us.