Brad Hunstable has a big plan for supplying electric vehicle motors that involves no less than a radical new design for motors, with more than 70 patents. It requires the creation of a high-speed, lights-out manufacturing approach. It is a bet that he can outproduce China's fastest low-cost mass producers of motors. And on top of all that, he plans to teach other manufacturers around the world to build his motors the same way.
That's the idea, says Linear Labs CEO Hunstable, a 41-year-old West Point graduate from Texas who previously co-founded and sold an unrelated venture in Silicon Valley.
Linear Labs' motor architecture varies from the industry norm by forgoing the use of neodymium, the rare-earth metal used in the magnets that are the cornerstone of electric motors everywhere. The world market of neodymium is largely centered in China, making the ingredient a supply chain pinch point. In 2011, the price of neodymium shot up more than tenfold, and last year the Pentagon called for proposals on how to stockpile the metal.
Hunstable is instead using iron ferrite, the more basic, more plentiful, less expensive traditional basis of magnets. He believes that through an architecture that reduces magnetic flux leakage and does not rely on human workers to wind the motor's wiring, Linear Labs' iron-magnet units will outperform more established global competitors.
The motors will operate as smart components, with control modules and sensors monitoring their performance, making adjustments — to avoid overheating, for example — and transmitting data to the cloud.
Others apparently like his plan.