Fusion 360 Drives Orange County Chopper Design
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on January 09, 2017 | | 12206 views

You might recognize Orange County Choppers (OCC) as the custom motorcycle manufacturer that fueled the series American Chopper. Though the Discovery Channel series now only runs in syndication, with a significant audience abroad, the work that OCC performs hasn't stopped, as the New York-based company continues to design and build one-of-a-kind bikes, choppers and hogs for a wide variety of clientele.

The Fusion 360 motorcycle designed and manufactured by OCC. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
The Fusion 360 motorcycle designed and manufactured by OCC. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

In the process, OCC has found itself a new tool for its design and production arsenal, Autodesk Fusion 360, which OCC Senior Designer Jason Pohl said has given him the ability to wear, not just the hat of a bike designer, but a machinist as well. ENGINEERING.com spoke with Pohl to learn just how the cloud-based CAD suite has changed the way he makes made-to-order motorcycles.

Building OCC

OCC was founded by Paul Teutul, Sr., and his son Paul Teutul, Jr., in 1999 when Teutul, Sr., took his love of motorcycle riding and combined it with his skill in ironworks. After his business was featured in a magazine ad, it was picked up by the Discovery Channel as the basis for American Chopper.

It was around this time, in 2003, that Pohl joined the team. According to Pohl, the elder Teutul hated the series pilot, responding to the first episode, “Oh my god. It's going to ruin both of my businesses. This is the worst thing ever.” Nevertheless, the show and the business took off, giving Pohl the opportunity to apply his fine arts background to designing themed motorcycles for brands and private clients.

“It's easy to go to the dealership and buy a motorcycle, but the problem is that you'll go on the road and pull up to a stoplight where there are six other people at the stoplight with the same bike, the same paint job, the same parts,” Pohl said. “What we do is individualize custom bikes for people. It's a niche market. There are not a lot of people that do exactly what we do now.”

Design in the Cloud

Pohl's design work begins with quick, 10-minute sketches on pieces of paper before he reports to the OCC team for design feedback. Once these drawings are complete, the rest of the design work is done with CAD.
Pohl’s sketch of the Fusion 360 motorcycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Pohl’s sketch of the Fusion 360 motorcycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

“We don't just do a paint job on a bike. Then we'd be a paint shop. We build bikes from the ground up. I utilize the software around me to be able to do that,” Pohl explained. “For the guy who builds our frames, I give him blueprints. I give him actual 3D models with measurements, and he builds to that.”

Previously, these 3D models would be made in SOLIDWORKS, but, earlier this year, Pohl was turned on to Fusion 360, which he suggested had a more seamless workflow and was quicker to manage, due to the cloudcomputing that powers it. “I used to be a SOLIDWORKS guy, but then I just switched over to Fusion 360 because it just runs quicker and cleaner. It has a little bit more power to it,” Pohl said.
Because Fusion 360 runs in the cloud, it’s possible to collaborate on projects and run the software on mobile devices. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Because Fusion 360 runs in the cloud, it’s possible to collaborate on projects and run the software on mobile devices. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

“As far as the engineered parts that I know that I am going to have to machine, I'll model those in Fusion 360, and then that's already ready to go into CAM. It's a watertight solid model, ready to rock and roll,” Pohl said. “For the other stuff, like sheet metal, I use 3D Studio Max. I render it out in 3DS Max with the V-Ray render engine, and then I get something that's pretty and has solid models to it and get that approved by the client. Once that's approved, we're ready to pull the trigger and build the whole thing.”

The 3D-printed fairing for the Fusion 360 motorcycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
The 3D-printed fairing for the Fusion 360 motorcycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Pohl said that his first project using Fusion 360 wasn’t just a single part, but an entire motorcycle—an all-electric bike designed with the Fusion 360 team at Autodesk. One major goal of the project was to create a lightweight motorcycle that embodies the concept of “fusion.” The result was a 240-pound bike with an all-billet aluminum frame, carbon fiber wheels, a dirt bike sprocket, a sportbike front end, a snowmobile shock system and a 3D-printed fairing made with PC-ABS plastic.

Pohl believes that T-spline modeling may have saved him at least a day’s work compared to his previous CAD software. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Pohl believes that T-spline modeling may have saved him at least a day’s work compared to his previous CAD software. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

In the case of the bike's fairing, Pohl pointed out that the design process would have been more time intensive with SOLIDWORKS, as he would have had to use three different features to rotate, move and scale the model before exporting to Mastercam for manufacturing. With Fusion 360, however, the use of T-spline modeling made for a much more efficient click-and-drag process to manipulate the position, shape or size of the component.

From CAD to CAM

Pohl said that making the switch from one software to another is never immediately easy, but that it wasn't difficult to get the hang of Fusion 360 relatively quickly, particularly given the software's customer support and the large user base that creates video tutorials online.

Now that he has picked it up, Pohl said that it's even allowed him to expand on his abilities from pure CAD modeling to actually programming machine tools—something that he previously had little experience with.
It’s possible to switch modes from CAD to CAM within Fusion 360. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
It’s possible to switch modes from CAD to CAM within Fusion 360. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Within Fusion 360, it's possible to move from one design mode to another without ever having to leave the software. This means that Pohl is able to model a part with the software's CAD tools and then switch to CAM mode to actually plan the toolpath for CNC machining the part or shift to 3D print mode to prep a model for 3D printing.

“Before, when it came to the manufacturing equipment, I was just a modeler. Now I’m able to be a machinist. I take the designer hat off and put on the machinist hat and I’m creating my own G-Code,” Pohl said. “There are different modes in Fusion 360 where the toolbars change and when you go into them. You just jump back and forth between Patch mode, Model mode, CAM mode.”

“One person told me to just let Fusion do what it wants to do with the toolpath,” Pohl added. “It kind of takes the thinking away. You're still able to adjust the feeds and your speeds on what you want to cut, but, really, it's smarter than I am. What I’ve found is that I just trust the software and run the program, run the toolpath, and get an awesome result.”
The Fusion 360 motorcycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
The Fusion 360 motorcycle. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

The entire frame of the Fusion 360 motorcycle was machined inhouse, while the fairing was 3D printed by Autodesk at its Pier 9 facility. The files necessary for manufacturing processes, however, were made with a single software.

The Future of OCC

The Fusion bike is just one of the latest choppers that OCC has made. According to Pohl, the company is now branching out from custom motorcycles to an entire line of OCC motorcycle parts. These add-on parts can be bolted directly onto Harley-Davidson bikes as a form of customization. Because OCC is not yet scaling up its manufacturing process, all of these parts, too, are CNC'd inhouse using Fusion 360.

“In the past, it's always been one-off custom stuff, but now we’re making fixtures the right way, as opposed to the quick way to get the project done,” Pohl said. “We're using pins and a whole lot of machining tactics that we actually didn't utilize before.”

For American Chopper fans who may not be in the know, OCC is not only in syndication, but runs a successful web series. At OCCShow.com, OCC streams live segments that Pohl said reaches millions of impressions and views.

Autodesk has sponsored ENGINEERING.com to write this article. It has provided no editorial input. All opinions are mine. —Michael Molitch-Hou

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