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As part of our exclusive look inside XRAY’s impressive production facility headquarters we’re pleased to present an in depth candid interview with the man behind it all; Juraj Hudy – in the first article ‘Exploring XRAY‘ we introduced you to a company that was born from the ashes of communism, alots changed since the late 80’s, XRAY has developed into one of the leading forces in competition RC Cars, NeoBuggy sat down with designer, founder and ‘racing maniac’ Juraj Hudy.

NeoBuggy: Juraj, it’s been close to a decade since XRAY’s original XB8 was designed and released, can you describe some of the journey and experience since?

Juraj: Time goes really very fast. Like everything in the life we have experienced with our off-road platform many ups and downs. Luckily the amount of positives, achievements and success surpasses the few downs we have had. Every mistake we have made was both very expensive and taught us to work better, either during the designing or production process.

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At the end I can evaluate the last 10 years since the very first XB8 very positively. As with all other XRAY cars we have year by year continued on the further improvements and brought every year a new car, sometimes with smaller changes, sometimes with major changes. We have had until now three major platforms XB8, 808 and XB9 and each of them was very successful in terms of racing achievements but also business-wise.

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2006, arguably XRAY’s most competitive year, with Yannick Aigoin

We have gained several awards from press & media and we were lucky to win our first European Championship with Yannick Aigoin and we were very close to win the Worlds back in Jakarta in 2006. That was for sure one of the most thrilling moments for me. The off-road cars were especially successful at national level races where we won for sure more than hundred of national titles around the world. And most importantly the customers choose XRAY for durability and reliability and overall the vast majority of the customers were satisfied and we received mostly positive feedback. So in a nutshell, I am more than happy with our off-road platform division.

Click ‘More‘ to continue.

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Mario & Juraj Hudy at the 2006 Worlds

NeoBuggy: How has 1/8 off-road changed since those days?

Juraj: Tricky question that I would divide into a few areas:

Design – the off-road cars are pretty much very similar to 10 years ago, still 4 wheels, 3 diffs, 6 drive shafts, 1 wing. Of course there were several new and innovative designs that pushed the performance further, for example the new types of differentials (Active Diff), new types of clutch, new progressive springs, chassis flex adjustment (Multi-Flex), new suspension geometry that allows much wider range of set-up adjustments and many changes were around the balance of the car. But generally the cars are still the same.

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During production of threaded composite parts every piece must be hand made with a special thread insert that is removed after the part cools.

Materials – this is area where we have seen significant shift over the decade. I would say that in this area it was XRAY that pushed this envelope to an all new level. A decade ago the cars were weak, broke easily and most of the races where you did not finish was because you broke something and the wear on plastic and steel parts was very high and you had to change half of the parts after a race.

We brought an all new level of quality and special new materials into the off-road, the Hudy Spring steel which increased the life time of the drive train several times, Swiss 7075 T6 aluminum and of course our own proprietary in-house mixed composites that made the plastic parts almost unbreakable and several times lower wear. The competition of course had to follow and nowadays you see the quality of materials and life time of most of the off-road cars are much longer.

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The drive shafts are machined at specially modified German machine with 11 production axis. Incredible if you see the complexity of the inside of machine and how a huge machine is used for such a tiny product.

This is good for customer but many times I heard comments from some shops which complain that we lead the industry to change and now they have much less sales on spares than they used to have. So sometimes I am afraid to get into reach of shop owners for their revenge that we take away business from spares sales :o)

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Racing – this is area that has seen big changes. 10 years ago I have seen few team drivers only and for a team driver to be sponsored meant to get some free parts and there were very few who got covered races and I do not remember if there were some drivers who were paid just for racing, unless they worked for the company or the distributor. The increase of competition and brands has of course pushed this and companies had to chase team drivers with better deals. In my opinion this escalated out of proportion and does not reflect the market size and business potential.

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If you come to a race and majority of the drivers are factory sponsored, then something is wrong and something will happen soon. For a company to sponsor 1 car you need to sell maybe 10 cars or even more, so if you do the math and see that majority of paid customers are now sponsored, you can imagine what will happen. The foundation of this entire sponsorship agenda is in my opinion the expectation of the companies that if they win some major race that they will sell tomorrow more, some may even think double. This is of course not true and you do not need to win the World Championship to have good sales and winning the Worlds may have even zero effect on the sales. To win a World Championship will help you to build the brand and image but not the sales, at least not immediately.

“To travel to the races has gotten more expensive which is also why less people travel for races and race more locally”

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It a symphony of production tools when you see how even the smallest detail on the chassis is machined. The chassis is produced in several stages. First only holes are machined and then at a second machine the edges are shaped and all parts from the top and on the third machine all areas from bottom are machined.

I believe that many companies had to spend more on their team and racing than they earned, some could afford as they sponsor racing from other categories and some could afford as the RC cars are their hobby and have other incomes to sponsor it. But for companies who are like ourselves long term oriented and realistic and spend only what is left after taxes, suppliers, employees and other expenses are paid have not had any big changes and adapt much faster. It seems that recently other companies have crashed back to earth as well and I expect we will see a lot of team changes and shifts.

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To travel to the races has got much more expensive which is also why less people travel for races and race more locally. For me it seems that there are more races than it used to be, which is good, but the problem is that private drivers do not travel to these races as many  cannot afford. Good example is Euros, in the past you had majority of privateer drivers with a few sponsored, today it is the opposite. Where it will though move onwards I have no idea. I will not be surprised if the races like Euros, Worlds, etc would get races of sponsored drivers only, but that will be of course sad news for the industry.

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Several dozen of aluminum parts are laser engraved at the same time at a large German machine, while the operator prepares a second table which is exchanged by the machine automatically.

Business – this is area which has seen a huge change in the last decade. Before we entered this segment there were few major long term established companies in this market. Since that time we could see at least 30-40 newcomers, many of them already disappeared.

To make a business is not a big deal but to make a business long term profitable in the RC industry is extremely tough. In my opinion we will still see a lot of changes. The business model has changed as well, in the past all the companies used the traditional distribution network. For some of the newcomers to get to the end customer fast without building the distribution network was the only way to sell via internet directly.

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The moulds department was like something from a Sci-Fi movie, microscopes, checking machines and measuring equipment, control tools, these guys have the best know how in the moulds production and plastic parts are of the highest quality.

In some other cases the manufacturers avoided the distributor and sell directly to shops or use a distributor who sell directly to end customers, all to cut the margins to keep lower price to attract the customers. The pressure on the prices has resulted into a lot of price wars and we have seen in the last years many shops to close down partially as a result of this. What will happen in future nobody knows but for sure XRAY will continue to use the standard distribution network to ensure also appropriate service & support.

So this will be probably the shortest possible answer to your question how the off-road market has changed and most of this does not apply only to off-road market but for the overall RC market as such.

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 NB: Now to the important question for which we came here. What can you tell us about the new car and how it progressed in development?

Juraj: My problem is that I am never fully satisfied, which is a character flaw but at other times an advantage. As I am never satisfied I always look how things can be changed and improved and as such even when we finish a new car I already have some basic ideas what I want to change for the future, sometimes these ideas are possible to include immediately, other times the changes are more significant and as such can only be incorporated into a new version of the car.

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During our visit the final production suspension arms were just moulded for the first time and Juraj did not like some detail (didn’t say which) so he checked back to the moulding electrode where the problem happened. Now the mould returns to machine to fix the problem.

The XB9 has been a very successful and very good car but but already in 2012 when we worked on the 2013 specs of the XB9 I wanted to shift the performance and reliability of the car to a new level. We had feeling that we could still improve the efficiency of the suspensions and the geometry. I was also not perfectly satisfied with the limitations of the C-hub suspension settings as adjusting caster was a pain and a driver needed several option parts for adjustment of the geometry which was time consuming. To make side-by-side comparisons of the suspensions we decided to modify the original first XB8 suspension parts and install them into XB9 and at the same time to make a second prototype with a pivot ball suspension. In this way we could compare 3 different suspensions at the same time.

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It’s incredible to see how the graphite parts are machined. We have seen how the program for milling was created upstairs in office in R&D and while we walked around we came to this machine to have the shock towers ready for us!

Starting with the pivot ball suspension I knew we needed to come up with something new and unique to try and avoid negative press about copying here & there. We have had previous experiences with the pivot ball suspension not only from our on-road cars but also I have had the pivot ball suspension at my first off-road car I built back in 1986, a long time before anyone else.

As I wanted to integrate all the possible suspension settings into one suspension concept I came with an all-new and unique idea and design. Now with one suspension you can adjust all: camber, caster, track width, bumpsteer, lower & upper roll centers and kingpin. After few days of work on the computer we made first rapid prototype parts and then in few days produced a prototype mould. Meanwhile several aluminum suspension holders with different geometry were designed and produced so we had everything needed for objective testing.

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Juraj says that the next investment in 2014 will be into own rapid prototype machine so they can produce the rapid prototypes themselves.

This entire process until we had real moulded parts for testing took us less than 1 month, all this possible only because of all the in-house manufacturing. If it had been outsourced the moulding designing and production we would need at least 3-4 months or even more until we would see the first samples. So this gives you a bit of an idea how flexible and effective our development is.

Besides the all new suspensions almost everything is new on the car. All details and the features we will explain in details in the release promotion.

Production of semi product for the central spur gear.

Art. Production of semi product for the central spur gear.

NB: Who was doing the testing and what was the progress?

To be able to compare all the 3 different suspensions we made a special chassis that fit all 3 suspensions and modified couple of parts so we could swap the suspension in and out to make real comparisons in the same track conditions and with the same car, just changing the suspension.

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During our visit we saw the production chassis’ running on 3 milling machines. We counted almost 20 milling machines on the floor and almost each had some of the XB8 parts in production. Incredible.

As to make all these special prototypes was very expensive we made them only for me, Reno Savoya & Martin Bayer. All three of us made all the tests and this was the best part of the entire development process that I enjoy most; wrenching, testing, analyzing and working on the further improvements and adjusting the designs to push the performance further. The first tests with XB9 platform but the old C-hub suspension was very interesting. The car had a little more traction especially on smooth and dusty tracks. But for bumpy tracks the car was not so easy to drive as I would expect, so even if the results were not bad, it was still not what I was looking for.

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As we walked around we saw constant checking by the operators. The quality inspection was another level.

Testing the pivot ball suspension brought us a lot of new experiences and we worked out all details step by the step. Reno had a lot of experiences with racing off-road with pivot ball suspension and we knew that generally pivot ball suspension makes the car to push more and has less steering. As such we were very positively surprised first time testing our own pivot ball suspension as we had plenty of steering into corners. The car was also much better over the bumps and jumped much better. But at smooth tracks we missed faster reactivity and also we missed a bit of the traction.

After playing around with the design of the geometry and modifying few parts we changed for less kingpin and suddenly the car had completely different characteristics. Of course what I describe seems as a matter of few minutes but those were several weeks tests when we worked not only on the geometry but also on dozens of different weight balance alternatives, roll centers and plenty of other combinations. The tests were also extensively long because all the composite parts were produced from various composite mixtures to test also different flex of every part.

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Comparison of the moulding electrode and the final product. Juraj says that many companies only mill the moulds while XRAY uses these copper electrodes to mould the shapes, which took several times longer time and is also the reason why the moulds are so crazy expensive and as such price of the composite parts higher than competition.

After several months of back and forth testing with Reno & Martin we were absolutely sure that the new pivot ball suspension has much greater potential and already in the early stage we had better performance than with previous cars.

As such after 10 years of development we said good-bye to C-hub suspension. It was kind of nostalgic to go full circle in the development back to where I was in 80’s. Of course a decision like this is not as easy as it sounds as you need to consider all other eventualities especially from the manufacturing, business and marketing point of view. But the potential and our satisfaction were so high that we decided to move onwards asap.

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In the production you will see everywhere the products stacked on pallets. See also the technical list, every item has several pages of technical lists which describes exactly how each step should be produced, which production tools used, which program used, which checking tools used and each operation has its own bar code and the operators use wireless barcode readers to fill in every operation they make.

NB: What are you most proud of in terms of the design / development of the new car?

Juraj: Of course it will be the unique suspension geometry. There is always opportunity for new ideas and developments. The public does not even have a clue that besides what we show in public there are always dozens and dozens of prototype projects we have been working on and most of them at the end never get into final production, either because they are not any improvement, or they would be extremely expensive to produce or would require so many changes in other parts that it is not worth of it.

I would say that maybe only 10% or even less from all prototypes and ideas get at the end into the final product, all the rest 90% is the hard work of the R&D and racing team in behind.

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While we walked around the factory Juraj carried the XB8 with him and explained at which machine which part from the car is produced. We couldn’t believe how many different machines have to be used for one car to be produced and all of them are on the factory floor.

NB: We saw the first prototype at Euros. You were not afraid to come with a completely new car to such important race?

Juraj: Haha, this was one of the most difficult decisions to make, honestly. We had several weeks of internal discussions as well discussions with Reno & Martin. We all were aware that if we fail at the Euros even for any other reason no matter if it was the car, flame out, broken tyre, electronic problems, everyone would assume it was the car which would of course seriously damage the reputation.

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On the other hand after several months of testing and real experiences we knew that the performance and durability difference between the XB9 and the new car is so great. On one side I was under pressure from our marketing & sales department that warned that racing all new car in public would have a negative effect on sales of the current platform and on the other side I was under pressure from the team that were 100% convinced about the performance of the new car.

This was extremely difficult decision to make. I would say that a businessman taking care of profits only would choose not to race with the prototype at event like EC. But myself being a die hard racing maniac I went with my heart and brain rather than with the accountants and decided we will run the new prototype car at Euros.

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NB: And did it pay off?

Juraj: Yes and no. Performance wise the new car was as expected amazing, both Reno & Martin got into A main easily and in the final Reno was swapping the lead position several times just to finish the main final less than 0.7 seconds behind the winner with Martin in 3rd. This was for sure the most competitive and thrilling EC final ever.

I do not know if ever any team had their all-new prototype being run in a race for the first time directly at EC and finished with 2 cars on podium.

And why I said no? Because the negative effect on the sales of the current platform was significant. After the success at EC everyone wanted to wait for the new car only.

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NB: With hindsight, if you had chance and go back and make that decision again, what it would be?

Juraj: Tricky question :o) I really do not know at this stage what I would do. I never go back with any of my decisions and evaluate them. I make hundreds of different decisions daily and I always make them at the current time under given circumstances and given situations.

Of course I also make a lot of not good decision but unless majority of the decisions made were correct, I have no reason to get back and to think what would be if. The facts are like they are and cannot be changed anymore. The main positive besides the great success at EC was that for the first time we could continue to test an all-new car in real racing conditions for many many months and as such could fine tune all the smallest details for the final production. As such the customers will benefit from this as the new car will be a huge step further.

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NB: So we’ve had XB8, XB808 and XB9 what’s the name of the new car ?

In the early stage the code name for the project was XB9 PB as for Pivot Ball. But the name is long and also we wanted to stick to our codes for the cars with 3 letters only. After some tough discussions and arguments we decided as a legacy of returning back to the roots to refresh our very first name XB8.

This short and strong name perfectly represents the car itself and fits within the product line of off-road platform – XB8, XB4, XB2. In future to make it more straightforward and less confusing we will stick to these product line names. The marketing campaign for the XB8 will hold the symbolism of “Back to the future” that describes the entire project best.

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4 chassis are milled at the same time. It takes around 30 mins to produce one chassis.

Speaking now of the future a bit, XRAY remains a competition-focused company, how important is the racing side of the business?

My passion for racing is from my teenage years and holds me to this day. Every single product we design and produce is focused primarily and only for the high competition racing cars. Even in the era of popular micro cars we were designing those 1/18 cars only for racing.

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Juraj says that at this time there is only 1 type of machine that is able to machine the mass production from Hudy Spring Steel within a few thousands of a mm tolerance constantly. It comes from Germany and the price of the machine scared us a little!

The racing adrenaline is what keeps me fully motivated and dedicated and the reason why I stayed in this business so long. For sure I have enjoyed wins at the major races such as Euros or Worlds which are a great satisfaction and reward and culmination for the dozens of years of very hard and dedicated work. On the other hand after so many years you learn not to stress out when a race fails and continues to keep you even more motivated. So yes, racing is my everything and the reason why I am in this business and is what we do as our passion.

XRAY are famously one of the few companies that don’t offer ‘RTR’ kits, does this reinforce the idea of high-level competition products? Didn’t you consider to make RTR?

You have seen the production yourselves. How can we in Europe, producing at European expensive machines from expensive European materials and paying European salaries compete with China.

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Every item produced is immediately inspected, sometimes with complicated checking machines and sometimes very easily, see the checking tool, one side has correct diameter and one has incorrect diameter, simple and fast way to check the holes in the product if they have correct diameter.

There is no chance to produce a cheap RTR in Europe and with our traditional distribution network there is no chance we can compete to someone selling directly. A day has only 24 hours and simply we continue to focus on what is our core business and what is our specialty and strength which is producing high competition cars in house. Under current market situation there is not even feasible for us to think to make any RTR in house and I am not willing to outsource it anywhere in Asia as it would only distract us from our own product lines.

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This is how the moulds are produced. The steel mould is soaked in electrolytic water and the copper machined electrodes with the shape of the product slowly create the shape of the product. Juraj said that to produce simple moulds takes a few hundred hours, the medium size moulds take more than 500 hours and the most complicated and large moulds may take easily more than 1000 hours in total. As we were explained, there are more than 25 moulds used for XB8.

With all your development you put into the products, how do you feel to see similar products being released later on?

That is something you have to learn to live with and not to stress out yourselves. Over the years we brought several dozen of innovations, new ideas and new concepts and I am very proud for my entire R&D and racing team what we have achieved. Of course during development of our products we always come out from already something existing but always give new ideas and designs and improve on the already existing.

So for sure you can imagine how you feel when you bring something new on which you have worked with your team so hard and for such a long time and cost you a fortune just to see it in few months or even weeks from some other company. But that is life and we used to get to it and it just drives my imagination to work even harder to come up next time with something else.

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The operators of the machines are not the ones you might expect for RC, spotless and clean, they touch the product only when it is finished. Most of the time of the operator has to constantly measure the products and update the manufacturing programs accordingly.

On the other hand I have already experienced few times some funny coincident situations when we designed something completely new and while we were testing it someone else already released the very same idea and then it looked like we copied it. This happens also and shows that there are also some smart guys in this industry as well and these R&D “fights” are good as they strive for the further development.

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The Art of Production ?
It is really beautiful view when from a solid piece of aluminum the machine creates the final product.

How do you see 1/8 buggys and off-road in general developing over the next 10 years?

I do not expect any major changes in the designs of the car itself. Unless the rules will not change the cars will remain same. We may see using some new materials especially there is for sure still a lot of room for different composite mixtures development. I think there is still some room for different shock designs as well. The cars are already so durable today that there will not be any major changes as there is no need.

Everything will depend on how the rules will change and if more electronics will be allowed to use in the cars, similar to F1 which would help the driver to gain better control over the car, balance of the car in jumps, etc. Of course this would have also influence on the price and the complicity might be scary for regular drivers. Of course this would also mean less adrenaline and excitement while racing if the electronics will control the balance of the car in jumps instead of you or you would not be afraid to hit full throttle into the corner as the electronics will ensure you will not traction roll neither will allow you to slide. I hope the racing will still remain racing of people against people.

 

And what will happen with the off-road market in generally? For sure many brands will retire sooner or later and there will also continue the changes in the business model how the products will get to the end customer as well.

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Juraj knows everything in detail. While we stopped at every machine he would explain all the smallest details, problems they have to solve daily and challenges they face. Juraj says that the production is the most complicated work as so many details must be watched and any tiny mistake may ruin the entire product.

And where do you see XRAY in 10 years?

We have the ultimate competition advantage that nobody else has. We design and produce everything in house with our own technologies and we have the know-how that almost no one else has. We have all the latest new modern technologies and we have just recently started a new project buying new technologies that will increase the production capacity by another 30%.

So production wise there is no other company in this industry who is so flexible and has such huge capacity and possibilities that we have. The only threat of course are the high expenses in Europe so if the price wars will continue it will be more and more difficult to compete price-wise to the Asian made products. But we will see what will happen.

I have a young internal R&D team with Martin Hudy already taking care for the entire on-road division very successfully and I have been working to get a replacement for me for the off-road division as well, so anytime I decide to retire and go to holiday, someone steps in. But as I know myself, the only vacation for me will be just to travel to more races :o)

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We were quite amazed how the turnbuckles are produced, we did not have a clue that every thread is created by two large drums that create a thread. Every turnbuckle in the car is made by hand.

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This is how the teeth are created. Operator has to insert semi product piece by piece and it takes several minutes just for one spur gear to have the teeth created.

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Juraj says that every aluminum part they make must have its own production fixture for each operation to be made.

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Operator of the moulding machine inserts the thread inserts into mould, then the machine closes and injects the melt composite mixture into the mould.