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Retrofitting vs Building - Buggy Alumni Association

Retrofitting vs Building

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Jerry
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Retrofitting vs Building

Postby Jerry » Tue Apr 17, 2012 1:31 pm

As an avid buggy builder, I was intrigued by Aiton's section in the 2012 Raceday Preview, of which I got a sneak peek (through perfectly legitimate CIA operations)

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In the past three years, we’ve seen the return of a trend that hasn’t been popular since the 80’s - retrofitting older buggies instead of building new ones. Before the move to monocoques and carbon composites, it was not uncommon for a buggy to disappear and then reappear with massive changes. Fringe and CIA were notorious for producing frankenstein buggies. Both orgs retired buggies in the 90’s which had everything replaced - including the entire frame.

So why are we seeing this trend now? Is it because of the cross pollination with derby racing, and the discovery of new wheels and rubber? Instead of every org having to make their own wheels and rubber, they now have a slew of off-the-shelf options. With a plethora of choices, and only one real way to test each option (put it on the buggy and try it out), does it make more sense for orgs to retrofit in order to experiment instead of building a whole new buggy?

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Coming from an org known for rolling buggies for years and years, that is well-versed in the art of the retrofit (we joked that when we retired Conquest '92 in 2010 there were no original parts left), it's been interesting seeing both sides as we've transitioned to a member of the frequent builder's club.

Obviously, building every year is very expensive, especially if a team wants to use cutting edge materials and achieve professional quality. It's also the best way to keep knowledge in the org, and get new mechanics experience, as working with composites is an art form I've yet to master even after three buggies.

But if nothing is wrong with the older buggies, is there really much sense in replacing them? If a team builds solid, high-quality buggies year after year, they're liable to wind up with a (f)room full of rollable, competitive vehicles gathering dust. This is why the recent loans of Insite to Apex and Perun to Delta Force made me so happy. I feel that generally, a rollable buggy shouldn't be a museum piece if there are new teams trying to join the sport. (Obviously there are reasonable extents and limitations to this, but you get my sentiment) If another team starts up next year, and is looking for a buggy, CIA's Renaissance is currently unused and could be rolled again (with modification) in a similar way.

I could write paragraphs and paragraphs on this, but anyone currently in CIA will tell you I talk too much as is. What do the past and present mechanics of the BAA have to say on the retrofit/build topic?

(Also, this forum has been eerily quiet all spring. Bring back the polls, Sam!)

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Elmo Zoneball
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Graduation Year: 1979
Location: Bottom of Flagstaff, watching the chute, collecting samples...

Re: Retrofitting vs Building

Postby Elmo Zoneball » Tue Apr 17, 2012 2:56 pm

I don't think the decision to retrofit is the same for all orgs -- there are multiple reasons why it might make sense.

Once an org has a viable monocoque chassis -- especially if it's made with high quality materials -- it is basically a brick shit house, and will remain a viable structure upon which retrofits can be attempted.

One reason for retrofitting occurs in an org that hasn't been involved for several years, and whose wheel/tire technology is out of date. That same lack of involvement also gives rise to a lack of institutional knowledge about how to build a new chassis. They are more or less put in the position of an ab initio buggy effort, which is a daunting and expensive task -- unless they avail themselves of the retrofit option to get back in the game on a budget. Retooling the existing buggy's running gear to operate on modern OTS wheels/tires saves an enormous amount of time and effort, and allows the team to build a knowledge base about the new tire handling and technology BEFORE they dive head-first into design and fabrication of an all new buggy.

(Savvy Buggy nerds have already figured out what org I'm talking about.)

In short, the retrofit approach is attractive to similarly situated orgs because it's the easiest way to "eat the elephant" in bite size gulps that won't overwhelm a nascent/rebuilding buggy program, and the lessons learned feed into the eventual knowledge needed for a fully new design/fab project, while getting the team out on the course with the least expense and effort.

That's one reason retrofitting can make sense. Orgs in different circumstances may have other reasons for doing the same thing.
"I love the smell of solvents in the morning -- they smell like... victory."

shafeeq
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Organization: CIA
Graduation Year: 2000
Real Name: Shafeeq S

Re: Retrofitting vs Building

Postby shafeeq » Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:22 pm

Building is expensive. Wheels (at least from one well-known supplier) are expensive. If a team could only afford one or the other, which one should they choose? This raceday provides some opportunities to compare both options.

Teams that build every year don't always improve each time - eg: Fringe & PiKA seem to take ~3 tries to turn out a new A buggy. Retrofits usually aren't as good as something built right the first time, and that makes them pointless for a top team.

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TommyK
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Re: Retrofitting vs Building

Postby TommyK » Wed Apr 18, 2012 11:26 am

Pointless Shafeeq? I think the following buggies from top teams have all some kind of major retrofit, usually for wheel adaptation from pneus to xootr style and consequently put up impressive times as A team buggies or been used as proof of concept for future iterations SDC: Rage, Fringe: Bachi, Spirit:Haraka&Fuko, Pika: Zeus (rear wheel transition?)

the cook
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Re: Retrofitting vs Building

Postby the cook » Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:11 pm

For the Zoo

both Jerboa and Jama made the big to small wheel transition, both placed 3rd at some point thereafter. Jama had a whole new body and Jerboa was structurally completely rebuilt.

Colugo made a 2 wheel to three wheel transition (y'all didn't get to see the two wheel version), then a transition from heavily smashed to sorta fixed, and won the race.

Skua also saw replacement of all except the monocoque and pushbar when transitioned from 8" to 7" Xootr size wheels in 2008

ipmcc
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Real Name: Ian McCullough

Re: Retrofitting vs Building

Postby ipmcc » Wed Apr 18, 2012 1:59 pm

It's a complex equation, and I think practically speaking it mostly plays out based on the balance between need and resources.

Based on my time with the Zoo buggy program, building a shell is expensive, and labor intensive, but potentially learnable from scratch, even if there's a time gap in institutional knowledge. On the other hand, I always perceived wheel making to be much more of a black art, where a gap in institutional knowledge could be a much bigger detriment. (I also thought, perhaps foolishly, that the chemicals/processes involved in making wheels were more likely to kill me more quickly than the chemicals/processes involved in making a shell.) The third component is the mechanical parts. That part came easy to me, but I can see how it might not come easily to a team with fewer engineers at its disposal.

A new, nascent or recently-resurrected organization has to solve all three problems at once in order to build from scratch. The ready, commercial availability of reasonably competitive wheels takes away one of these problems. If you have a viable shell that needs only mechanical parts, or a steering system that needs only a shell, that's half the problem to solve. For bootstrapping a team, I think that's pretty significant.

For a more established team, I think it becomes an issue of rebirth vs. evolution. By refitting, you evolve -- you get to tweak one variable at a time. It's safer and arguably more scientific to approach it that way. Some aspects, like shell design, aren't readily tweak-able without re-build level effort/resources. I suspect that for these established teams, deciding each year's activities will come down to what change they think will yield the best bang/buck, and what resources are available to them at the time.

shafeeq
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Organization: CIA
Graduation Year: 2000
Real Name: Shafeeq S

Re: Retrofitting vs Building

Postby shafeeq » Wed Apr 18, 2012 5:32 pm

Good point, Tommy. I'd overlooked all the wheel size conversions and was thinking of the more drastic cases, like Rubicon, Barrier, Lunatic, Stealth, Surgery?

Conquest might actually be an anti-example of a retrofit - even though the majority of it was replaced after crashes or as parts wore out, the replacements did more or less the same job as the original. Depending on what the team was smoking at the time, the new parts might have been lighter or heavier, more fragile or more durable, faster or slower, than what they replaced.

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SigNuSi
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Re: Retrofitting vs Building

Postby SigNuSi » Wed Apr 18, 2012 5:41 pm

"...you're telling me that there is literally shit flowing down the back hills?"


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