Finished "space buggy"

Space Buggies

By admin, January 5, 2015

Three custom “space buggy” rail cars refined and built in short order

In 2001 In 2011 a small company bid a project for the Space Systems division of a huge aerospace contractor. The company proprietor was then in a severe accident, and I assumed most responsibility for the company’s daily work. I was soon contacted by the aerospace customer about the bid. Upon review, I realized it was significantly underbid, as many details were not finalized. Attempting to fulfill the bid seemed a disaster!

Space buggy CAD

Space buggy CAD overview

I explained my position. They needed the items quickly, but I assured them I would help finalize details, re-bid quickly, and the company would commit to deliver on schedule. I felt confident that appropriate delegation, sub-contracting, and job management could bring the project in on time.

I worked out many details with their personnel, rebid the project, and assured them I would do everything within my ability to see they were satisfied. I insisted, however, that we needed favorable financial arrangements to commit to the performance they required! A representative flew in, toured the shop, and met me in person. They decided to accept my bid and place their trust in my ability to fulfill the job.

Right after bid acceptance I had CAD files to sub-contractors I knew I could trust to excel. In return for their commitments, I assured them of COD payments. That got their attention!

Making It Happen

I knew I had to greatly streamline manufacturing. We purchased and modified off-the-shelf components wherever possible. I ordered steel sheet and plate laser-cut exactly to size and shape. Hole locations were laser-scribed to minimize layout. Structural shapes were cut and coped using a six-axis laser to minimize fit-up. Other shops rolled us angle and sheet sections.

Laser cut plate

Laser cut plate expedited assembly

Laser cut structural

Laser cut and coped structural shapes saved fit-up time

We assembled weldments from plate and forwarded them to contractors to finish on their CNC machines and chromate and powder-coat.

Machined weldment

Tricky shape without CNC!

Finished weldments

Finished weldments with chromate and powder coat

As parts flowed in, I organized daily work for best efficiency. Fabricators and machinists stepped up to my challenges, rapidly assembling components.

Welders assemble baseplate

Welders assemble baseplate of space buggies

Sub-frame comes together

Sub-frame comes together

We had some glitches getting components aligned without distortion, but we managed to successfully meet specs to mate with other parts. I suggested possible improvements to avoid these problems in the future.

Shell assembly

Shell assembly caused us some grief!

Once assembled, the three buggies had to be completely sandblasted (on a mountain top in winter!) and epoxy painted.

Sandblasting completed

Sandblasting completed

Moving section after paint

Moving section after paint

In parallel with daily management, I designed electrical panels and drive system mechanicals, located and purchased stocked components, and built panels and installed them. I tackled myriad small issues, working seamlessly and efficiently with the customer’s professionals to assure they knew every obstacle and issue and we all agreed on how to address them. I forwarded digital photos several times a week so they knew exact status and could spot any conflicts with other systems going into the units.

Drive panels

My drive panel for gearmotor

Gearmotor installation

Gearmotor and electrical cabinet installation

Axle bearing and drive

My wheel, axle bearing, and silent-chain drive design

Finally, all of the assembly and detailing work was complete, and we tested each unit in the shop.

Don’t Forget the Railroad!

I also worked with a logistics firm to arrange shipping three oversize loads across the US. I arranged for a railroad materials supplier to obtain correct specialty components and deliver them−precisely on time−to a contract site 2500 miles from us. And I ensured the installation contractor (who had never worked with rail) had all details to install a specialized railroad system.

Three completed units

Three completed units before shrink-wrapping for transport

The buggies were delivered a couple weeks past the original date, but the customer was entirely satisfied due to numerous design changes. Their project manager said he had never received such service from a contractor and that my efforts far exceeded expectations.

The Final Result

The purpose of the “Space Buggies” is proprietary, but you can see a public aerial view of them on Google Maps and develop your own theory of their use!