Sliding sideways at full steering lock.
A thunder cloud of smoke streaming off the rear tires.
The howl of a straight-pipe monster screaming under the hood.
RPMs held at the limiter like a Doberman snapping at the end of his chain.
Such an aggressive sport, and yet it requires finesse. Fine-tuned control. Precision coordination.
Motorsports engineering and technology meets the ultimate in adrenaline-filled beauty.
We’re talking about drifting. If you’ve never seen the sport, look it up. You will find things done with cars that don’t seem possible.
In this series, we’ll be talking with Rob Parsons A.K.A. the “Chairslayer.” To make a long story short, Rob was injured five years ago in a dirt bike accident which left him without the use of his legs. For someone with Rob’s sense of adventure, this could have been a devastating loss; however, his sense of adventure seems to be matched with a capacity for perseverance. He wasted no time, and in the past few years Rob has hand built a pro-quality drift car from the ground up, all from the seat of his wheelchair. He has designed and pioneered a hand drive system which he claims allows him to drift even better than before the accident. If that wasn’t incredible enough, Rob is using his vehicle as an adaptive clinic to allow others in similar positions a chance to do something they never thought possible.
In our last post, we talked about the Chairslayer Foundation and how Rob Parsons is changing the world around him. This time around, we’re going to talk with him about some of his ongoing projects, and how he uses SOLIDWORKS to bring them to life. He and his business partner, Andy, currently run a shop in Grand Junction, Colorado, where they work continuously to “build adaptive products for people in wheelchairs who actually do stuff.”
What’s your favorite SOLIDWORKS feature?
“I’ve been using SOLIDWORKS for 9 years. I love sheet metal and I love the weldments. My background started hugely in sheet metal fabrication, laser cutting and forming and doing it precisely. I really enjoy teaching younger minds how the k-factors and bend deductions actually work in real life. So many people who use SOLIDWORKS to create sheet metal parts have no idea what that’s about, why you use it and what’s it for.”
Was the entire car designed using SOLIDWORKS?
“The entire car with respect to: the tubing, the weldments, the roll cage, the clutch system, anything that had to be made out of metal – anything I actually had to fabricate was drawn in SOLIDWORKS first. All my sheet metal brackets, all my gussets, the full tube frame, some of the suspension arms. A lot of the parts I needed to get machined, I created in SOLIDWORKS and sent them to laser cutters, water jets, and truss brakes.
You recently mentioned some progress on your new clutch system. Tell us a bit about that.
“I have my original clutch in the car and I used it for two and a half years. Not the first prototype I made, but the very first working concept and idea I made worked in my car flawlessly for two and a half years. We’ve been improving it on the bench ever since. The new one is twice as fast, twice as small, and more adaptable to be put into any vehicle we can put it into – anything with a hydraulic clutch system. The clutch system itself is electronically controlled. We’ve been working on a specific handle for the hand control that controls clutch engagement and disengagement, up-shift and down-shift on the electronic shifting system, as well as adjustments on the handle itself for when the clutch engages and disengages and how you can flip it. It’ll kind of be like a Formula 1 steering wheel, but on your hand. There’s a bunch of adjustment in it. That’s kind of where we want to go with our projects. In this case, our basic version would just have clutch control and then up-shift and down-shift with a button. I’m testing the new system out at an event soon. Hopefully everything goes well with it and it works as I planned. I’ve put a lot of time in to it. Especially the electronic side, so I’m hoping I don’t have to make too many changes afterwards.”
Tell us a little bit about how you’re working to change the game in roll cage kits.
“We’re looking at 3D scanning full interiors of cars to build roll cages so we can send out kits that fit better than any available on the market. I think we can make a big impact with a really high quality, tight fitting roll cage for new cars and old cars. What we’ll do is 3D scan the car and use SOLIDWORKS ScanTo3D to import. Then, we’ll create plans for where the roll cage is going to mount. From there, we’ll create a weldment around that in a 3D sketch, as well as create sheet metal parts for the mounting brackets and gussets that would attach to the body of the car. What people do now is spend thousands of dollars getting a custom roll cage built, because most people who build roll cages measure and design and lay everything out by hand. What I do is take my coordinates by hand and then draw the roll cage in SOLIDWORKS. Being able to have an actual scan of what the car body looks like on the inside makes it so much easier to just draw sketches around that body and make the roll cage fit perfectly. The tighter the roll cage fits to the main body of the car, the safer it is. Also, in the event that you actually roll the vehicle over, you’re not going to ruin the sheet metal as much (or at all), and you can use the same car again.”
I would imagine that one of the biggest challenges in the fabrication stages was your limited mobility. How did SOLIDWORKS help you fabricate more efficiently? Was there ever a time where you used SOLIDWORKS to figure out what the next steps were and how you were going to do them?
“That’s a great question, because after what happened with me, I despised getting in and out of the car. Particularly if I left a tool out of the car and I needed to get it and I’m by myself. It’s extremely annoying, and I can particularly relate to this when I was designing my roll cage – I remember it very vividly. I only had to get in to the car once with a piece of paper, sit there and get my widths, heights, lengths and points for where my roll cage was going to mount, and then I just got out and started drawing it on the computer. Once I drew it in SOLIDWORKS, I bent everything and it fit like a dream. I didn’t have to get in and out of the vehicle. I would put one piece in and I would notch it, it’d fit. I’d put the second piece in, I would notch it, it’d fit. It took away so many steps and so many movements I would’ve had to do to get to a final product. I was able to do everything far quicker and more accurately without having to get in and out of my wheelchair or move something heavy around that I didn’t need to move around.”
You’ve managed to do so many things in the short time since your accident. It was only five years ago. How did you get all of this down in five years?!
“I have no idea how any of this has got down so quickly! I look back at this and I can’t believe it either. I’ve started a non-profit; I invented this. How did this all get done?! I think about it every now and then and I’m like, ‘Holy crap. We’re making moves.’ And for some reason the next thought I think to myself is, ‘I’m not doing things fast enough.”
So you sleep in the car?
“Yeah, exactly! You can look at it like it’s my laboratory and I’ll lock the doors and I will not come out until I say ‘Eureka, I’ve got it!’ Maybe this is why I get so much done! I just say, ‘Okay, I’ve got this, this, this, this, this and this’ and I try to do them all at once. I’m always constantly pushing what I’m doing.”
With that unyielding mentality in mind, what’s on the slate for the next five years?
“My partner and I are going to change the way things are done in wheelchairs, and change the products people purchase for wheelchairs to help them do whatever it may be. Obviously starting with hand controls, but our goal is to create adaptive products for many applications. We want to help as many people as we can, and we want to make it an affordable thing. There aren’t very many people around who have good health insurance, and it’s just insane how much money these companies charge for simple products we know for a fact don’t cost that much money to make. For instance – a wheelchair for $10,000? Are you out of your mind? That’s how much they cost! That’s what the insurance companies pay out! And if you don’t have good health insurance, you have to look for a lower quality wheelchair or something that isn’t exactly what you want. It’s crazy, and we’re going to change it.”
As always, thanks for reading! And an extra special thank you to CADimensions, Inc. Senior Application Engineer Jesse Sprague for introducing me to Rob and writing the fantastic series opening. If you or someone you know has an amazing SOLIDWORKS story to tell, please reach out to me at SOLIDWORKS.Social@3DS.com and we’ll get to work!