GrabCAD spoke to Marcus Knobloch, Project Coordinator and Researcher at Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology in Germany, about their concept vehicle Kulan. Kulan was created by a consortium of 14 companies to explore the future of environmentally friendly farm utility vehicles.
What is the background of this project?
"Kulan" is the name of an onager living in Asia. We decided to call our vehicle "Kulan" because there are some commonalities between the animal and our "car": both can carry big loads and are very reliable. Kulan is neither a car nor a tractor. In fact it is something in between; a "little helper" to be used in farms. Also, it is not yet a complete product. In fact, it is a technology demonstrator/prototype at the current stage of development. We are, of course, looking forward to commercial production. At this stage, our goal is to show what farm utility vehicles could look like in 20 years.
In 2012 14 companies and two research institutions decided to join forces - Polylab is the result. We founded PolyLab with the goal to start research and development projects. We came up with the idea to build Kulan as some kind of kick-off project to demonstrate to everybody the competencies of each company in the Polylab network. For example, one company designed one part, another built the tool for production, and a third made it. So every partner in the network was responsible for at least one part. When we reached the first goal, we presented the competences of all member companies at several trade fairs, we had articles in newspapers, and so on.
We decided that Kulan should be used for small and medium farms to transport all the things a farmer needs on his farm (e.g. to feed the animals, to clean the stable, to harvest fruits, etc.).
The advantage of Kulan is that there is no noise and no exhaust fumes that disturb the animals because it is 100% electrically powered. Soil compaction is not the main problem, but the lighter an e-car the further the range. Kulan can go up to 185 miles on one charge.
At the current stage, we are looking for industrial partners who are capable of manufacturing the vehicle, together with the network of companies behind the concept.
How did you arrive at such a clean and functional design?
We decided to create a design that is eye-catching on the one hand and minimalistic on the other. Because the design is minimalistic, you can easily modify the layout for different applications. The general public has been extremely interested in our vision of light-weight concept.
What else is unique about Kulan?
Kulan is electrically powered with two motors in the rear-wheel hubs (2 x 2 kW). It is not solar-powered, but of course you can use solar power to charge it.
Top speed is 30 mph. You can also use engines with much more power, but in our case 4 kW were enough. Kulan can carry up to 2,200 lbs, its own weight is just 660 lbs.
The frame is made of steel tubes. Although this is not the lightest material it is one of the cheapest and strongest. There are different kinds of fiber-reinforced plastics (e.g. the springs). The load area is a sandwich with an aluminum foam core and with a liner made of reinforced polyurethane (density 0.8 g/cm³). So there are different parts, that demonstrate the competencies of our network members.
What challenges did you face?
Coordination of the project between 14 relatively small consortium companies and two research foundations (both with their own interests) to create this prototype. We had about 20 engineers working on this project. We learned that you can grow stronger together as a team despite having separate organizations around the table.
Collaboration projects like yours are rare. What are your thoughts to encourage this?
To our mind, a good way to promote innovation is to connect and share creative and manufacturing potentials. To begin with, the basis for working together in a competitive world is mutual trust. Independent research foundations and/or universities can play the role of coordinator and intermediator and help to create and shape this trust within a collaboration between lots of companies (we, here at Fraunhofer IWU, played this role within the PolyLab). Also governmental support, e.g. financial, can set a stimulus for working together beneficial. You usually have a coordinating governmental institution, that secures the distribution of money and monitors the progress of the collaboration project.
Think across the "standard“ disciplines and areas. Get connected in order to create unique innovations that you wouldn’t be capable of realizing on your own. Everybody will win from such collaboration projects.
Thanks for the interview, Marcus, and good luck with your future projects!
Every class of technology undergoes an era of innovation and disruption. For PDM systems, we’re in such an era today. Lifecycle Insights' Principal Analyst Chad Jackson put together the perfect buyer's guide to help you weigh your options.