Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 12 (December 2001)

Pedal Power

Digital tools give the Xootr scooter an added push in the marketplace

By Karen Moltenbrey

To nearly everyone's amazement, the two-wheeled scooter re-emerged last year after a decades-long absence from suburban yards and driveways, and in just a few months, surpassed in-line skates as the mode of personal transportation.

Even scooter maker Nova Cruz Products in Dover, New Hampshire, was surprised by this newfound popularity. By taking ad vantage of its digital design-driven manufacturing process, though, the company has positioned itself on the crest of this new-rave wave.

Today's sleek, lightweight, high-performance scooters bear little resemblance to their big, clunky toy relatives from yesteryear, making them as popular among adults as youngsters. In fact, just before the scooter craze hit, Nova Cruz got a head start on the competition by creating the Xootr, a high-end, port able foot-powered "kick" scooter that the company positioned as a "transportation alternative."

According to Nathan Ulrich, a founder of Nova Cruz, the Xootr concept originated during an e-mail exchange with his brother, Karl, a fellow mechanical engineer. In just a few days, Nathan had transformed their concept into a 3D solid model using CAD software from SolidWorks. The brothers then formed their company and six months later shipped its first scooter model.

"In our original business plan, we envisioned manufacturing a fairly modest volume-around a few hundred per month," says Ulrich. "Then the scooter craze hit in early 2000, and we had to ramp up in-house production to respond to the demand. So in a very short period, our company grew from just the two of us to 50 employees, and we were producing about 1500 scooters a week."
By re-purposing design data from its original kick scooter (top), Nova Cruz rolled out a new electric model in time to meet customer demand.

During this time, the company began developing its eX3 electric scooter and an expanded Xootr line. Timing was critical, as the company had to create, test, and produce its new offerings while the demand for scooters remained high.

The company accomplished this rollout largely because it was able to re-purpose a significant portion of the Xootr's digital design data for the new products. In particular, the new products incorporated the entire front assembly of the Xootr, saving both design and production time, since the original engineering models as well as the machine tooling for these parts could be reused.

Even for the new assemblies, Solid Works enabled the designers to go from concept to part in a few hours. "We can shortcut the traditional chain of sketching a part, having a CAD operator create a model, producing a drawing, and then sending it out for quote," says Ulrich.

Instead, the Nova Cruz designers create the concept, design, and solid model in SolidWorks, which runs on Intergraph and Dell NT machines containing 3Dlabs' Wildcat graphics cards. They then use SDRC's Cosmos finite-element analysis software, which runs within Sol idWorks, to perform structural testing. "I can reiterate a design 20 times in just a few hours based on the FEA results," Ulrich adds.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to using SolidWorks, according to Ulrich, was that it enabled the company to retain the design intent within the scooters. "Our products are not toys; they are cutting edge, well engineered, and look good mainly because of our industrial design process," he maintains. "The more layers you add to the process between the conceptual designer, CAD operator, and tooling operator, the more difficult it is to maintain the creativity and intent of the designer."

Furthermore, because the Nova Cruz designers are involved in the prototyping process, they can see the manufacturing implications of any change and quickly optimize our de signs based on machining costs, Ulrich explains.

"This year we sold about 30,000 scooters," says Ulrich. "If we would have made one small design change to a part that increased the overall cost by just $1, we'd have affected our bottom line by $30,000, which makes quite a difference for a small company like ours."

Key Tool: SolidWorks 2001, SolidWorks (