What goes into designing new Mack trucks
The design process behind current and future Mack® trucks is a fascinating combination of engineering, creativity, function and cutting-edge technology. Lead designers Vince Lokers and Luke Yates tap into their extensive industrial design backgrounds to create beautiful Mack machines with enduring aesthetics that perform in a variety of applications.
Visitors to the Mack Design Studio experience a sensory explosion of color, sound, touch, smell and sheer brilliance as the future of radically re-envisioned trucks takes center stage. Located on the Mack Trucks campus in Greensboro, North Carolina, the industrial design studio space looks like a combination of showroom and a large test laboratory where every possible millimeter of a truck part is created, reconfigured, tested and challenged, while at the same time recognizing the essence of Mack’s 120-plus-year heritage.
Yates, who has been a designer with Mack for 12 years, leads the team focused on the truck exterior, while Lokers, with 15 years at Mack, currently heads up the team developing the interior design.
Interior designer Tom Deboves refines a cab interior.
The truck matters
The two leaders collaborate with each other, so the interior and exterior reflect the overall vision and function. The day-to-day design work also incorporates brainstorming about the future while preserving the past design of all things Mack Trucks.
The overall design team are all specialists in their own fields and work in a highly confidential, closed-door environment. “We are on the front lines of development and are working three to five years ahead of production. That’s why we must lead with a clear design vison that’s also well connected to all parts of the business,” Yates says.
“We don’t follow trends. We look forward, ahead of the trends, to sketch a vision for the future,” Yates says, pointing to an enormous, wall-sized video screen. It displays an artist rendering of a year-2050, freight-carrying concrete truck operating with not-yet invented technology. With a keystroke, an animated, larger-than-life-sized 3D version swirls on the screen.
“Designing for future solutions to problems not even identified today pushes the edges of creativity,” Yates says.
Yates and Lokers are immersed in what they describe as the essence of Mack DNA. When onboarding new designers, they often start with a book comprised of examples of Mack Design fundamentals. New team members view a collection of inspirational images directed towards the Mack brand. Some examples include photographs of bridges, motorcycles, buildings, dams, animals, construction equipment and airplanes, all featuring Mack identifiers they begin to recognize. It may be the edge of a building or the robust stance of prize fighter. It could be a powerful soaring eagle or the exposed components of a modern motorcycle.
After looking at enough examples, the new team members begin to understand how to identify characteristics that the team has internally described as the look and feel of the “Mack Machine.”
“When you view compelling works of architecture or bridges, you get a sense of timelessness and the feeling of stance, power and durability, proportion to detail that we strive to associate within this Mack Machine design DNA,” Lokers says.
Lokers and Yates find their own inspiration in a variety of places including music, construction machinery, architecture, motorcycles and aviation. “But inspiration can come from anywhere or anytime, such as a live concert, art, motorsports, to a massive earthmoving machine. It’s also inspiring to reference the cool way a modular design comes together and apart for servicing or aftermarket,” Lokers says.
Starting the journey
The design studio is a buzzing, vibrant space with lots of moving parts but there is method to the madness that incorporates problem solving, inspiration, vision, themes and the actual building of new Mack trucks.
Neil Tamblin shapes a full scale clay model.
While each project is unique, they all begin with brainstorming solutions to current and future problems. This is achieved by fully experiencing, listening to, and documenting what customers are saying about current products, competitive offerings, and the state of the industry. Collecting and analyzing this data is an ongoing process and the benchmarking never stops until the truck rolls out the door. “It’s a constant process of refining every inch,” Lokers says.
Some of the challenges they consider include core issues such as emissions, electric vehicles, ingress, egress, autonomous trucks, last-mile delivery, vocational applications and other current and future problems. Once they establish the problems, each new project takes a different path.
“We may start with a project brief, a customer clinic that identifies a core problem or we may look at a competitive landscape and from there we begin sketching, modeling, creating. The design process is a journey that’s constantly changing, and they continue tweaking, refining and testing as the designs go through the production process.
“We receive an ongoing stream of data from the engineering team, manufacturing, management, marketing and suppliers and we collaborate with all of them to produce aesthetics that marry function,” Lokers says — or in a more common design term, “form follows function.”
“While we begin with a blank sheet of vision, it’s always grounded in Mack brand identifiers that go way beyond the logo. Every Mack product will invoke the Mack DNA through timeless attributes such as durability, reliability, and power,” Yates says.
Vision to theme
Once the team moves from identifying the vision to sketching concepts, things start to move fast. The designers explore everything in 2D, looking to solve problems by creating designs that are strong, iconic and timeless. Next, they start sketching 3D surfaces using software programs that can render designs as fast as a pen can make a line on a paper.
Over time the multiple designers begin to coalesce around a theme, all developing new ways to use the truck. Some themes may revolve around aerodynamics, technology, or various elements from the past and future, all with the Mack DNA. “In a single project wemay have three or four themes that have a good bandwidth of design reach,” Yates says.
As they further develop into 3D, they begin integrating with engineering, project and brand teams and put each theme up against engineering and production processes to help identify where the challenges and opportunities exist.
The choosing of the final design comes from a design review with key stakeholders from each part of the business. This is where the designers and studio go all out with the models showing off as much detail as possible. Craftsmanship and accuracy are extremely important with these models as they project the vision for the brand. The designers will come out of that meeting with a balanced decision on a single theme to move forward with.
The legacy of Mack Anthem
Lokers and Yates led the design teams for the Mack Anthem®.
“With the Anthem team, we learned to work without silos in the quest to make it to the market quickly and with maximum impact,” Lokers says. When the Anthem debuted in 2017, they revealed an over-the-road truck that sent shock waves through the industry and sharply expanded customer perceptions of Mack. Their brainstorming process began with the question, “How can we design an over-the-road truck that is ergonomic, comfortable for the driver, fuel efficient and powerful?”
The Anthem model pushed design boundaries with its signature driver comforts such as a flat bottom steering wheel, ergonomic standup sleeper, doubled storage volume and and quality metal driver touch points, all while leaving no doubt about its Mack DNA.
“We had to constantly evaluate how the exterior would impact the interior and design all the shapes and forms that checked the boxes and spoke to the Mack brand. In the end we want our customers to say, ‘That’s a Mack!’” Yates says.
Moving from concept to touchable
Once the final design theme is greenlighted, Lokers and Yates work with their teams to create every millimeter of a new truck, both inside and out. While both interior and exterior share similar design processes, there’s more customer input with interiors, says Lokers. They may hold non-branded driver clinics where they review full-scale theme model prototypes. Drivers will verify the design from an ergonomic, visibility and feature usability lifestyle approach for both the driving and living environments.
The exteriors are more anchored in design and brand alignment and typically are not part of user clinics. Both require constant refining along the way.
Designers will sketch hundreds of iterations of a single truck part. Simultaneously, user experience designers will evaluate visibility and ergonomics, review endless paint color samples, tactile experience, and overall ambiance of the interior. Graphic designers will create Mack-centric decals that reflect the theme and provide clarity and readability. The next step, bringing the concepts to life with models, is now possible with hardware and software tools not even in play during the Anthem launch.
“We have so many new design tools available that make the process more efficient and less time consuming so we can move fast in a highly competitive environment,” Yates says.
All the programs, software and apps have evolved but several design tools such as virtual and augmented reality, and enhanced 3D printing are actual game changers.
During the design process, a member of the team can virtually view the interior of the cab. Wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset and operating a laser pointer, they can control where and how they experience the interior. The audience sees on a large screen what the designer is experiencing through the goggles.
They can review and change the color, materials and trim levels to quickly toggle through an array of options from base to premium levels. It’s possible to view the cab or the sleeper, indeed the complete vehicle, in and around different environments.
Lokers says virtual reality gives the ability to see the design from the inside out. Not only from the driver’s seat, evaluating the positive and negative impacts on the design direction, but they can analyze sightlines, visibility, reach and walk around the living environment all while respecting how it affects the drivers.
“Virtual reality also gives us the ability to quickly review trim levels. Identifying how through the design’s modularity a lower trim level can transform into a premium trim assembly. And probably most important within VR reviews, we can make changes to the CAD model in the early stages rather than costly tooling changes during production. It gives us confidence that the new design will not negatively impact drivers, but embrace it and make it better for new product lifecycle,” Lokers says.
UX – User Experience
The design studio features two user experience (UX) modules with a true-to-scale driver seat, dash, controls, hood and mirrors. Customers and Mack team members can sit in the model cabs and try out various features, comment on current ones and experience nearly everything the driver will see, feel and hear.
“This is where we can test in real life any visibility issues, driver distraction, driver comfort and ergonomic improvements, all the way down to the sharp graphics on knobs and dials,” Lokers says. While they incorporated UX modules while designing the Anthem, advances in 3D printing make changes and refinements easier and faster.
Once the designers use these cutting-edge tools to make their decisions, the next step is a dramatic one: to build full-sized models.
Engineers work closely with the designers to create a metal armature, fill it with hardened foam and coat it with three to four inches of clay, all made in the studio. The model is accurate to within millimeters or less.
The Mack team can climb into this truck, sit in the seats, move around the cabin and experience almost everything an operator would except the roar of the engine. “While VR is awesome, nothing takes the place of the tactile experience of ingress, egress, turning knobs, moving the steering wheel, accessing the bunk, fridge, microwave, and stowing items. It’s when experiencemdesigners can evaluate visibility, ergonomics and comfort,” Lokers says.
Something that shines on a computer screen or works beautifully on a small rendering, may require unexpected changes once human hands touch it.
“That’s why we are constantly adjusting and making changes to the design. It may be beautiful, but it must also work in real life,” Yates says.
Back to the future
The designers say they are not just looking at what a future truck may look like but also imagining how future issues around emissions, different levels of automation, electrification, revolutionary alternative fuels and labor trends may impact the entire logistics industry.
“Maybe trucks won’t have drivers or even cabs or resemble anything close to the way they look today. Loading and unloading freight may be completely touchless with aviation style moving floors. Innovations in production processes will continue to advance. All this requires a visionary look at the big picture,” Lokers says.
Who knows what a Mack truck will look like 50 years from now? But one thing is certain, its DNA will make sure it looks like a Mack.