One to one discussion with John Suh
Vice President & Fouding Director of new Horizons Studio at Hyundai Motor Group
Today every single part of the economy has to take into consideration two major change factors: the global digital transformation and the imperial necessity to address climate change, the environment and the whole planet. It is obviously for our collective benefit but just vital for the future generations.
The industry is certainly where the challenge is the most demanding given the nature of the production activity and the capital expenditure associated. Reinventing the sourcing, manufacturing and reusing/recycling processes, as well as the adoption of new durable materials and agile tracking methods through the whole supply chain are now key issues which are not an option anymore to limit human’s resources consumption. That poses the question of the addition of smart passive and active functions to materials while limiting their impact during their whole lifecycle.
Vice President & Founding Director of New Horizons Studio
Hyundai Motor Group
John Suh is vice president and founding director of New Horizons Studio, which is focused on thedevelopment of Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs), including the concept vehicle Hyundai Elevate. New Horizons Studio is expected to push the extreme limits of vehicl e development, building vehicles to traverse off-road terrains with unprecedented mobility, through a combination of robotics and wheeled locomotion technology.
John has held several leadership roles at Hyundai Motor Group since 2011. He served as founding director of Hyundai Ventures, and then led Hyundai CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences) as its founding director based in Silicon Valley. He brings over 35 years of expertise in the automotive and emerging technology sectors, including roles at Stanford University, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC; formerly, Xerox PARC), and General Motors Company.
John has a BS degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University and an MS and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. John has numerous technical publications and has six patents and patents pending in the fields of robotics, artificial nose technology, and location based services.
The New Horizons Studio is a team within the corporate R&D working on the development of alternative mobility solutions. It addresses future customers who want or need to access inaccessible terrains with conventional cars. The Elevate concept is a vehicle combining robotics with usual cars design aiming at answering “How to make a walking car?”.
The Elevate leverages on two main objectives: explore and access. It first addresses the need to access areas damaged by natural or human caused disasters, especially in emergency situations. In a second time, the goal is also to explore unknown places, including in Space for example.
The Elevate concept raises two questions: What is a car and how is it used?
There are multiple ways to consider Sustainability by design. It can be with eco-design: choosing the materials from renewable resources or recycled material, implementing a circular value chain, or we can design for an easy disassembly or repair, or we can also design for longer durability.
The environmental issues and the climate change must be tackled, it is our responsibility to try to do things differently. And enabling robotics in the car is a big issue and sometimes it hides other problems such as the value chain and the sourcing.
In the design of the Elevate concept, there are then two dimensions:
The new capabilities of walking going over inaccessible places
The materials, the sustainability aspects, and the manufacturing processes.
Regarding the second dimension, there are several topics: bio sourcing materials, biomimicry, bioinspired design, eco-friendly processes, sourcing…
The challenge with composite materials is that they are difficult to recycle, but their light weighting properties and stiffness bring a higher value towards environmental challenges. The use of plant-based materials is currently investigated, especially for structural composite materials to enhance their recyclability, while keeping their original properties that make composites interesting materials.
In addition, especially since the pandemic affected the global supply chain, the local sourcing is becoming more and more important and plant-based materials could be a solution. Indeed, thanks to the development of agriculture everywhere, they are very likely to be available locally.
Composite materials can also play a role for non-structural parts and the New Horizons Studio is starting to have a look at the functions that can be implemented and performances that can be achieved with advanced composite materials.
When the use of a vehicle is changing, we can expect the needs to change as well. In the present scenario, we are looking at a niche market. The Elevate sales are expected to be ten times lower than vehicles from a conventional car manufacturer.
This drastic drop has a direct impact on the manufacturing process, in need of a reinvention. A shift in production, towards highly automated and flexible micro factories, with a low carbon footprint, has begun. Any plant can produce less than capacity, but it would lose a lot money. With more agility, and the equivalent square meter size of a large grocery store, micro factories would be the solution to handle these smaller volumes of production while remaining profitable. However, there is quite a gap between what we want to achieve and where we are at now.
Today, we need to be more open about how we handle production, and how we want it handled in the future. The challenge is to follow the example led by the semiconductor manufacturing industry with fabless business models. The designers have to adapt to a set of design rules and think their design according to the factory where it is produced. Today, factories are owned by car manufacturers, and the automotive sector is quite set in its ways with a controlled manufacturing process: first design, then production, then assembly. But going outsourcing would be a cultural shift for automotive designers. From the start, assembly must be taken into consideration. The design of the product will need to integrate the assembly process and feasibility to facilitate its automation later on.
We are currently looking for more sustainable resources such as recyclable, renewable materials as well as renewable energy. We are wondering what are the materials and the manufacturing methods that are new and different. The injection of the assembly/disassembly methods in the design phase comes after and we are looking for automated and cost-effective ways of assembling cars, this is what is called Design For Automated Assembly.