Often, when we relax we are at our most creative. That was certainly the case for Ecospin founder, Paul Loomes. Breakthrough Magazine found out how daydreaming on his anual holiday led to the creation of a business that has serveral international police forces amongst its customers.
Paul Loomes spent 30 years working in the car design industry on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s had a hand in the design of some of the most familiar icons, including the Porsche Boxster and the original 3 Series BMW; plus a host of other vehicles from companies such as Rolls Royce, Ford and Jaguar. But Loomes' leap into entrepreneurship has led to the creation of a vehicle unlike anything he has worked on before.
Back in 2009, Loomes was taking a break and enjoying some contemplation time. It was while floating in his hotel pool one day that his mind turned to Electric Personal Vehicles (EPVs), an area that had interested him for some time.
The most widely known vehicle in this category was the Segway, a product Paul loved. But, as he ran his designer's mind over it, he couldn't help spotting the flaws in the Segway concept, particularly regarding its use in a utility application rather than purely for leisure.
Loomes could see the advantages that a naturally balancing vehicle would have for many users and also how the addition of proper brakes and steering would also be an advantage in many scenarios. He had the beginnings of an idea, that would eventually go on to become the Raptor.
Refreshed from his holiday, and excited by his idea, Loomes began to explore the EPV market in more depth. He quickly established that a large part of the market was in patrol and security applications. He also realised the market was huge and was one well worth entering if he could come up with the right product.
With this further insight, Paul started to develop his idea and set the design criteria.
The most important requirement was that the vehicle was robust. It would ultimately be a tool; its users would not be treating it gently, and it certainly could not let them down. This was something Loomes went to great lengths to ensure in the design of the vehicle. All elements needed to take ruggedness and reliability into consideration with the principal areas such as the choice of frame materials and body composites being critical.
For its intended customer base, the vehicle also had to be relatively conservative in shape. Spoilers and fairings were not something that would be appropriate for a work tool.
Other requirements included security features. Lockable compartments - which could not be accessed if the vehicle was left unattended - were required to secure items such as firearms and evidence.
Flexibility was also vital, with a need to be able to incorporate additional elements like sirens, lighting and, in some applications, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. This required capability in the electrical wiring loom and the ability to physically mount a broad range of equipment onto the vehicle.
Then, with nothing suitable available offthe-shelf, the entire powertrain - the batteries, motors and their controllers - had to be designed specifically for the Raptor.
The batteries needed to be modular and easily changed. The Raptor can hold up to three batteries to offer a balance between cost, range and speed. One battery may be sufficient for patrolling somewhere small at a walking pace. While to reach the full speed of 25mph and the maximum range of 45 miles, a complete set of three batteries are needed.
Being able to swap batteries easily means the Raptor can continually be utilised, where required - perhaps for shift use. Instead of having to plug the vehicle in when it has used up the charge in its batteries, they can be swapped for a new set while the exhausted set is charged off the vehicle.
However, probably the biggest challenge Loomes faced, came when he made the bold decision to take the Raptor through EU type approval, which was required to allow the Raptor to be driven on public roads. The vehicle would be the only one in its class to have this approval and so would have a significant advantage over competitive vehicles.
However, type approval is not a simple undertaking. It is what all car manufacturers have to go through when they develop a new vehicle. The Raptor had to go through the same testing regime as the latest model from Ford.
The type approval is carried out by an organisation called MIRA, and the Raptor ended up spending a year at the test facility. It was subjected to every test a car goes through.
The highly comprehensive programme checks areas that you would expect such as braking efficiency and acceleration. It also examines components such as the chassis and wheels for their ability to manage stress forces. And it even checks the vehicle's response to electromagnetic waves - to ensure interference will not cause a dangerous reaction.
The process doesn't end with the testing at MIRA's facility. Operations at the manufacturing site are also assessed, to ensure that all vehicles manufactured at the facility will be to the same standard as the one tested.
The Raptor eventually achieved its approval, and after a four year period of intensive design and development, it was launched in 2016. Since then the Raptor's client list has attracted some high profile names, including Google, Gatwick Airport, Media City and even Coronation Street, and vehicles have been sold in ten countries. But, sales have not come from the areas Loomes initially expected them to.
While the decision to go for type approval cost Loomes well into six figures, it has proven to be a worthwhile move. Rather bizarrely though, despite being an approval for the EU, its biggest impact came from the Johannesburg Police in South Africa. They adopted EU type approval as their standard in 2001 and so the only ESV they can use is the Raptor. This is just one of several markets that gaining approval has opened up for the company.
So far, the UK makes up only a small part of the Raptor's sales. Loomes is still trying hard to crack the UK police forces, customers who were high on his mind throughout the design process. It's incredibly frustrating for Loomes. Financial pressures are often cited, which he appreciates, but, there is clear evidence that the use of EPVs can ultimately bring savings.
An average beat bobby will walk eight miles on their beat. A test in France compared three months of patrolling with an EPV with three months without. The study showed the officers had covered five times the distance over the period, but even more significantly that the crime rate in the area tested had dropped by 11% when EPVs had been used.
While Loomes may not be selling many Raptors in his home country, he is sourcing as many components as possible, over 80% in fact, from here in the UK. It makes practical sense for the business, but, as you can imagine, as a manufacturer of electric vehicles, the business's carbon footprint is important to Loomes too.
Drawing on his experience in the car industry, Loomes follows a similar production model to that of many vehicle manufacturers; having components made further up the supply chain, ordering them on a just-in-time basis and then carrying out the assembly, testing and shipping from his facility in Leicester. Again, this is a good approach from a business perspective, giving the company flexibility to react to fluctuations in demand.
But it also made achieving type approval easier by having in-house control over the production processes that MIRA needed to asses.
It's clear from our conversation that Loomes' experience in the car industry has been a real benefit to the Raptor project, but some areas have presented a steep learning curve. The sales and marketing aspect of launching a product is the area where Loomes feels he has had to learn the most. He admits that perhaps he didn't appreciate how much it cost to sell vehicles when he set out on his journey.
So his tip to others embarking on their journey would be to ensure they fully understand their route to market, how their business model will work and what will be required to make sales. And never to underestimate it.
Loomes' approach is enabling his business to take on big players in his sector. There are several multi-million-pound competitors - including Segway - where the Raptor is winning orders they simply can't get. What does Loomes put that down to? Hard work, perseverance and innovation.
Ecospin has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.
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