Clean Motion was founded in 2010 in Lerum, Sweden with the idea of developing a vehicle somewhere between a conventional car and scooter that was sustainable and affordable for a large majority of the world.
This philosophy is based on reinventing every part of the product with multifunctional design, simplification and a lightweight approach.
Inspiration strikes in the strangest places. Ask Göran Folkesson, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Clean Motion (Lerum, Sweden) and the visionary behind the electric composite pod, known as the Zbee. Years ago, he took his kids to sailing lessons and watched them handle an Optimist dinghy, which resembles a float-ing bathtub. Its composite or fiberglass hull weighs only about 35 kilograms and is easy to operate, which is why the Optimist is pretty much the standard starter boat for sailors around the world. Made of compos-ites, lightweight and easy-to-operate, Folkesson knew the Optimist provided clues to the mobility issue.
“When this all started, I had been thinking about creating something much more energy efficient than a traditional car,” says Folkesson. “Then I took a couple of trips to Asia and realized three-wheelers are also an extremely important part of solving urban mobility requirements.”
Originally post World-War II technology, the three-wheeler, popularly known as a “tuk-tuk” or auto rickshaw, can trace its roots to the 1948 Piaggio Ape (Ape means bee in Italian), the Italian answer to simple post-war transportation. At the time, it was an excellent transportation solution. It was sturdy and could carry a load of peo-ple or goods. It had a spare tire, was cheap to operate and relatively easy to repair.
Seventy years later, three-wheelers like the Piaggio Ape are still tooling around megacities throughout India and Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, many of these tuk-tuks are still running polluting and noisy two-stroke engines.
Folkesson knew that changing mobility wasn’t a one-man task, so he started a think tank of like-minded individuals from the automotive, engineering and product life-cycle management (PLM) worlds. Drawing inspiration from the Optimist and tuk-tuk, the founders of Clean Motion started their digital journey with the intention of inject-ing a healthy dose of disruptive innovation.
To start, the team tackled the obvious: how to make a three-wheeler lighter, cleaner and more energy efficient without losing the attributes that worked, like simplicity, versatility and affordability. This was around 2010, years before electric vehicles were trendy. But the team moved forward with various design iterations and proto-types and by 2013, they had their first European Union (EU) approved vehicle type and validated digital twin. By late 2013, the Zbee, which comes with either a rear seat or a cargo space, was on the market.
There are about 400 Zbees on the streets, including a successful taxi pool in Stockholm, Sweden and a growing fleet business in New Delhi, India. Today you can spot the Zbee practically everywhere, from Johannesburg, South Africa to Tromö, Norway. Many global daily users have already combined to trim a total of 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution off their carbon footprint.
“From birth, we have been digital,” says Folkesson. “This has been a core advan-tage. We could have never achieved this working in traditional ways.”
The fact that many of the engineers on the team were digital natives impacted the entire Zbee design and development pro-cess. Because the team was so small – only about 10 people – everyone brought some-thing to the table, including development tools. Coming from automotive and product lifecycle backgrounds, Folkesson and Niklas Ankarkrona, the chairman of Clean Motion, realized early on the advantages of central-izing the entire development process on Teamcenter® software and NX™ software, CAD module, part of the Siemens Digital Industries Software portfolio.
Some of the other engineers like Jesper Martaeng, chief technology officer (CTO)/technical director and Jörgen Johansson, global manufacturing manager, who had experience using Siemens tools at a major automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM), knew they could take this much further than just creating a good NX CAD digital twin.
“We had a lot of ideas and were looking for strong partners,” says Ankarkrona. “We wanted to focus on creating an efficient product development process and digitalizing the manufacturing process, so we looked at existing solutions and saw Siemens and thought, ‘Well, this is very interesting.
’“We have more areas where we want to digitalize. When our products are out in the field, we want to collect all that data and feed it back into our digital backbone. We want to do optimization and see things before they happen.”
One of the areas where Siemens digitaliza-tion tools made a difference was the weight of the Zbee. This critical design and analysis work was completed by an enthusiastic composites expert, Michael Inegbedion, who is an analysis and computer-aided design (CAD) engineer, using Simcenter™ 3D software along with the Fibersim™ portfolio, both Siemens products.
“There is a seamless connection from your first design in NX to storing your data in Teamcenter to doing your analysis in Simcenter,” says Inegbedion. “It looks like one software. You can change things directly in Simcenter 3D, your simulation software, yet you are working with your NX model. You don’t have human interfer-ence like moving things around or converting from one format or another. You don’t lose data intelligence.”
Working from an NX digital twin, the Zbee team used advanced engineering solutions, including Simcenter 3D and Fibersim com-posite tools, to analyze ideas and optimize the final design. Inegbedion was able to strip the Zbee design down to its essentials. He analyzed his composite structure in detail – shaving precious grams where needed with-out sacrificing the structural integrity of the pod. (The Zbee weighs 280 kilograms, so there is minimal need for bulky, expensive and resource-demanding batteries.)
“Weight and energy management are almost synonymous because the amount of weight you have will directly affect the amount energy you spend to move it,” explains Inegbedion. “Composite technol-ogy is one of the most effective measures for managing weight yet retaining even better stiffness properties than materials like aluminum and steel. You can go way down in the weight of your products. And sometimes it is a lot more beautiful.”
Another Zbee credo is an idea that the team likes to call “sophisticated simplicity.” This is apparent in the Zbee’s core design. With only 270 parts, the Zbee is not overdesigned, to say the least. Compared to traditional cars, which contain thou-sands of parts, the Zbee is designed to be easy to build and maintain while retaining its urban-hip looks and zippy performance.
Creating the Zbee was a lot of hard work, but when the team had the first working model, the next question was how to build it. Since the Zbee was based on composites and a simple design it pointed the team towards a new and different business model: the micro-factory.
“If you have a product that has only 270 parts, you could have a resource-efficient production facility,” explains Christoffer Sveder, sales and marketing at Clean Motion. “And if the vehicle is an out-of-the-box solution, why couldn’t the factory be like that as well?”
“By using composite technology, the invest-ments required to set up manufacturing are much lower,” adds Folkesson. “So very early on we looked at a concept of creating a micro-factory.”
But going from a visionary business model to a digital factory to a physical factory required some simulation work from another young development engineer. Samuel Johansson ‘s job was to design a digital factory twin for Zbee production using Tecnomatix™ Plant Simulation soft-ware, NX Line Designer and Tecnomatix Process Simulate, all part of the Siemens portfolio.
“I made some factory simulations to come up with the most optimal factory layout,” says Johansson. “We tested over 100,000 different variants using the Tecnomatix Plant Simulation software. It is quite powerful and easy. We could have never tested all these variants using normal calculations.
“Siemens has a great training environ-ment so with a little help I could figure this software out myself. It is a little bit like playing a strategy game on your computer. Sometimes you build a city. In this case, I am building a factory.”
Thanks to Johansson’s work, Clean Motion offers customers two digital twin micro-factory designs along with the digital twin plans for the Zbee. One plant digital twin, aimed at European and Western markets, contains more robotics and a slightly more sophisticated structure. A simpler more labor-intensive plant model is available for markets like India and Africa, where the micro-factory could be a sustainable investment, creating local employment and economic development. The Zbee team is currently working in India to get the first micro-factory up and running. A second site in Indonesia is in the works.
“It is a digital key to the future,” adds Ankarkrona. “The Zbee is not only clean transportation. It is also a venue to self-sufficiency and economic and social empowerment."
Clean Motion runs a fully operational micro-factory in Trollhätten, Sweden at the former Saab site with a production capac-ity of approximately 250 vehicles annually. There a small team led by Jörgen Johansson, global manufacturing man-ager, which assembles and tests every Zbee prior to shipment.
“When I joined seven years ago, we produced one Zbee a month, mostly for prototyping purposes,” explains Jörgen Johansson. “But we wanted to make production leaner. So early on, we came up with the idea of minimal parts and dedicated stations. We knew we needed to make it easy to assemble.”
Today it only takes two days to make a Zbee. Nine body parts are glued together in the dedicated composite gluing room and the frame is moved from station to station to complete the systems, including brakes, steering, electrics and battery. Each Zbee runs through a quality test on the onsite test track. After passing the test, the team puts a green stamp on the window and it is finished and delivered to the customer.
“We are increasing our volume quite a bit,” adds Jörgen Johansson. “We need to auto-mate. We need a robot to glue the body to get the quality we need. Especially in Sweden, the cost in man-hours for gluing is not ideal.
Clean Motion is also taking the services model seriously. Working with partners, the company is investigating opportunities to sell prepackaged fleet franchises with the fleet management software and con-nectivity and apps to go with it. Especially in India, this type of business model could offer clean and sustainable transportation for short distances connecting fixed points like metro stations and malls and other local destinations.
“In the future, we won’t have space for personal vehicles,” says Folkesson. “If you look at most cars, they are used about one hour a day. They stand parked 96 percent of the time. This consumes too many resources. We need to look at shared mobility and mobility as a service, and mobility as a service does require connec-tivity to run electric vehicles efficiently.
”We knew that small and lightweight would be good,” adds Ankarkrona. “But Zbee is not only a vehicle. How can we integrate this? So, we added connectivity. Today our Zbee idea has evolved into a fleet solution to tackle urban mobility issues.”
Clean Motion has lots of ideas in the pipeline, including an energy-autonomous solar Zbee, which Folkesson calls a “killer product,” and a standardized battery swapping program. Given the company’s early success, don’t bet against these ideas coming to fruition.