What is Dynamo Series, Part 3: What is the innovation?

Dynamo is developing a new type of turbine engine, but what is the innovation?
We did not invent a new type of manufacturing process, nor a new super alloy, nor a new bearing technology. 

We developed a new approach to gas turbine design that steps beyond traditional industrial turbine design, and we took key learnings from the automotive industry, the silicon industry, and the computer industry. 
The one thing the other three industries have in common is the ability to build a range of products in high volume and deploy them annually.  Every year there is a new laptop, a new CPU chip, and a new model year car.  Much of this change is market driven, but the results are enabled by technology.  While the products are functionally commodities (A chip, a computer, a vehicle), they are differentiated at the product level with broad ranges of prices ranging across an order of magnitude; this is brought about by specific engagement with customer needs.   

By contrast, the turbine industry typically deploys an engine once every 10-20 years and builds anywhere from 10-1000 engines a year—a far cry from the high cycle high volume markets I just described, which routinely deploy tens to hundreds of thousands of units of product a year. 

This is achieved through driven development cycles where new architectures are routinely built then continuously updated over several years.  This is enabled by a high volume market where engineering and manufacturing overhead can be monetized over many units of production.  Low costs are maintained however, by leveraging a common manufacturing platform, with interchangeable components which can be easily adjusted to adapt to customer needs.  

To enable this type of rapid innovation, the traditional turbine needs to be broken up into its constituent parts.  Doing so creates a system that is less finely balanced, but necessitates a product that is more robust and more resilient than existing engines.  To enable this, Dynamo has developed a modular turbine that enables us to scale the product on a unified manufacturing platform.  The components of the turbine share a standard interface, but can be tuned within a range of operations to enable different functions.  This is similar to how modern computers are built, where in the CPU, hard drive, and RAM can be changed; by selecting a combination of these components the computer can be customized for different user experiences.  For example we can offer different variants of the same generator; by changing the compressor we can tune the efficiency, or by swapping the combustor we can change the fuel to be used.  This allows us to customize the product on a component level to meet the customers’ specific needs.  On the lab bench it also means we can engineer and improve these components independently of the rest of the engine. 

Ultimately this means we can develop new engine architectures every few years and deploy component level improvements to the engine to keep design and performance fresh as customers demand them.

What is Dynamo Series, Part 2: Taking a step back

Often-times we get asked “Why don’t you just make the most efficient engine you can?”  The answer is simple.  Customers don’t want the most efficient product.  They want the most valuable product.  Most simply, they want a product that solves a real problem.  Ultimately this translates to systemic efficiencies.  On a simple level, the most efficient product is often times the most expensive, and while this is a noble technical pursuit, there are few problems in the world that are as black and white as needing a more efficient engine.

The customers we target are ones who have fundamental problems such as basic access to power.  The source of this problem may be as simple as having an irregular fuel source, an unpalatable cost of maintenance, or current products being physically too large for customers to use.  These problems are generally true in markets where the power grid doesn’t exist, so it is these fundamental problems we chose to solve by returning to the basics of the engine.

On top of solving a problem, we have to do this cost effectively.  There are several approaches to deploying a product like ours.  The first is to try and build a solution that is all things to all people [The Capstone Model], the second is to start with a flexible core technology, and build hardware around it [The Honda Model], and the third is to build just the engine and let someone else build the solution [the Intel Model].  Trying to build a product that is all things for all people is difficult and expensive, because people want different things.  Building just the engine actually leaves a lot of value on the table.  While a CPU might be only 10-20% the cost of a laptop, the real value is in the laptop itself (what would you do with just a CPU?). 

Starting with a basic platform engine and then building custom solutions allows us to do two things:  We can capture more value around our product, and we can truly unlock the strengths of our product for customers with specific needs.  But to be this kind of agile company, we have to start with a basic engine that solves the fundamental needs of reliability, fuel flexibility and power density.

By providing our customers with a solution that works when and where they need it, we can change the power access paradigm; we can enable access to power irrespective of fuel or technical skill.