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Prefix Offers Conversions and Mockups for all of Transportation—Riding on Wings or Wheels
Prefix built ten Medusa convertibles last year, and company representatives call it a “stunning example of American muscle.”
Photo courtesy of PRWeb.
Last year during Auto Week, Prefix (www.prefix.com) unveiled the Medusa convertible Viper after listening to enthusiastic Dodge Viper owners who had hoped Dodge would offer a convertible (fifth generation) Viper. When Dodge didn’t create one, Prefix did.
“We secretly unveiled it and got everybody juiced up about the fact that we were going to unveil something and nobody knew what it was,” said Prefix President Eric Zeile. “It showcased to the community what we’re capable of.”
What Prefix is capable of is innovative conversions of vehicles for prototypes and one-off models, as well as concept cars and even specialty vehicle creations for the film industry (a full-scale “Deception Fighter” model was built by Prefix for the Transformers movie.)
With the Medusa convertible, Prefix—a tier 1 automotive supplier—wanted to make a statement, Eric Zeile said, showing that the company was expert at low-volume, niche custom vehicles. “We’re giving something to the market that isn’t available from a (full-scale) production standpoint,” he said.
The company built ten Medusa convertibles last year and according to company Founder Kim Zeile, Prefix enjoys a steady stream of business painting all of Dodge’s Vipers, which amounts to about 1,500 per year.
And from “Wheels to Wings” as the company motto goes, Prefix makes prototypes and mockups for all of transportation, including aircraft, train, amusement park rides, and even some of the rail systems at Disney, Kim Zeile said. The company created the full-scale prototype of the Gulfstream G600 business jet, building the entire interior and exterior of the plane, including the fuselage and all of its components.
“It’s very similar to the process of building an automobile, and when you’re sitting on the (mockup) plane, it feels like you’re sitting in a real plane,” said Eric Zeile.
With a team of nearly 300 people in six Midwest facilities, Prefix, based in Rochester Hills, Mich., offers a full range of design, engineering, fabrication, and data verification capabilities, including prototypes and the construction of complete proof-of-concept aircraft and automotive mockups.
After having gained knowledge and expertise from the Dodge Medusa project, Prefix turned to a Targa conversion of the fifth generation Dodge Viper.
“After we released the Medusa convertible version of the Viper last summer, we received many inquiries as to whether we would create a Targa—it was a natural evolution,” said Eric Zeile.
The Targa Viper conversion (about $10,000) can be completed on any new or used Gen 5 Viper, directly through Prefix or any dealership. It provides owners with a body-colored, removable carbon fiber roof panel that conveniently stores in the vehicle’s trunk for an open-air experience.
Nearly 500 Viper enthusiasts longing for a roadster version of the 5th Generation SRT Viper visited Michigan’s Prefix last year to see the company’s customized Medusa Roadster.
Photo courtesy of PRWeb.
“We had already built an advanced painting facility for the Viper,” said Eric Zeile. “Our entire organization has a vested interest in keeping people excited about this amazing example of American muscle. We have the ability to engineer and develop these types of modifications correctly, so we will continue to listen to what owners are looking for.”
Mostly carbon components go into the Viper for its strength and light-weight nature. Half of the Viper is made out of carbon.
“When we made a new lift gate for the convertible, we wanted to make it out of carbon and not fiberglass, which is heavier and doesn’t fit the theme of the car,” Eric Zeile said.
As a proud, American company executive working with American super cars like the Viper, Kim Zeile said he is proud of the quality of products and services created here in America.
“We try and support American industry when I need a product or service. Even if it’s at a premium, I go American,” Kim Zeile said.
One of the hottest new vehicles unveiled at the recent New York auto show was the Lincoln Continental. And it was created by Prefix.
Ford contracted Prefix to take the A surface data and build its new Lincoln concept car that could be taken to auto shows, Eric Zeile said.
“We take the data and do our CAD developments to create attachment points so the model can actually come together,” he said. “We’ll mill molds, lay up parts, and actually build the shell around the car and make an actual running vehicle.”
It starts with a production vehicle. The chassis is torn down but it can still drive as a “courtyard runner.” The shell is built around the driving chassis all the way from the interior to the exterior. The Lincoln featured a lot of polished aluminum, so it was milled individually and hand-sanded.
“We made it and painted it a show finish. It was a pristine vehicle and everything worked,” Zeile said.
The outer lens component of a headlamp was 3D printed for the Lincoln. Some of the inside parts were also 3D printed, depending on location and intricacy.
“You don’t have to make a cast urethane mold of every single part,” Zeile said. “Sometimes you can use a 3D printed part and just sand it, but it depends on the volumes. If making three versions of the lamp, it’s more cost effective for us to make a mold of that part and then shoot three parts because then you don’t have to sand all three.”
The Roots of the Company
Prefix Corporation was conceived in 1979 by Kim Zeile. Armed with a mechanical engineering degree from Valparaiso University and 18 months experience at Saginaw Steering Gear, Kim Zeile set out to bring his entrepreneurial vision to reality. Industry at the time was broken up into highly specialized groups—mechanical design, electrical design, machine controls design, and hydraulic controls design. Whenever a problem arose in one of these areas, a specialist was assigned. Zeile perceived this as inefficient and set out to train himself to be knowledgeable in all areas. With his multifaceted background, Zeile marketed himself to special machine manufacturers as a professional troubleshooter. The name of the company came from an idea that if you utilized Zeile’s approach, he would be able to pre fix your problems.
Over the next five years, Zeile kept very busy traveling the United States consulting on all types of specialized equipment. Significant programs include connecting rod and piston assembly systems for GM, transmission assembly and test equipment for both GM and Ford, radiator guard machining line utilizing first-ever air castor transfer system for Caterpillar, piston assembly and test for Mercury outboards, and, most notably, the controls design and installation of the entire lights-out packaging assembly line for the original IBM personal computer. Spending the better part of a year at IBM and learning what this new personal computer was all about led Zeile in to the next significant phase for Prefix.
The IBM personal computer was going to revolutionize the home and office, but Zeile felt that there was application in the manufacturing area and set out to find these applications. The first such application was the design and build of a jet engine nozzle adjustment machine controlled solely by a PC. This machine worked sufficiently well that a patent was granted. Other noteworthy projects included design of a continuous horizontal casting system for metals, development of a SPC system for tracking wheel alignment data in assembly plants, and design of computer controls for a thermodynamic aero buck for Chrysler. Throughout this period, Zeile’s passion for cars kept him looking for opportunities to apply his unique skills to assist in the design of automobiles. The combination of computer controls systems and love of cars led him into the most significant development of his career, the PVM. Prefix would change its focus one more time.
The PVM, Programmable Vehicle Model, was conceived and developed (by Zeile) as a tool to be used by automakers to speed up the development time of new models. In the old days, as designs progressed, the automakers would construct seating bucks out of wood and foam. These were crude representations of the interior package of the proposed vehicle. The typical seating buck would take six weeks or so to build, and most often were already out of date by the time they were finished. The PVM would change all of that. Designed as an adjustable seating armature controlled by stepper motors, complete with a software package that allowed the user to quickly and easily modify the interior package dimensions, the PVM changed how vehicles were developed.
Courtesy of the Prefix Corporation
A recent Lincoln Continental mockup shown at car shows in New York and Shanghai was made by Prefix and featured some 3D printed parts.
Photo courtesy of Lincoln.
All of the lighting mechanisms and LEDs for the mockups are made by Prefix as well and are full functioning. Using a software program, an iOS app, and an iPad or iPhone, the lighting can be controlled and even programmed to turn on for five seconds and then turn off. It can also be programmed to fade in and out, and cue the low beams, high beams, and turn signals to come on.
“That programming is just done for the prototype because they want to test and validate their design,” he said. “It’s constantly needing to be changed, and we can test the output of how much brightness the lamp has and we can do that on the fly with the iPhone or iPad.”
Automotive lighting is becoming jewelry for cars, and Prefix (www.prefix. com) has an entire department dedicated to lighting.
“The (auto) industry has moved from incandescent lighting, to high-intensity discharge lighting, to LED lighting, and now even lasers are coming up,” said Kim Zeile. The company is also investigating using laser lighting as some European countries are doing, he said.
“It’s an ever-changing business and lighting will likely move to a more single source where there’s only one light source or a few light sources which then projects through fiber optics. This saves weight and complexity and energy and everything else—that’s what it’s all about,” Kim Zeile said.
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