Meet the Man Who Built Our Table
Mechatronics engineers tend to wear a lot of hats over the course their careers, but Lorin Maran has worn more than most.
“After I graduated from the University of Waterloo, my first job was as a project engineer for a Toyota supplier that did injection molding,” he said. “So, I was responsible for everything plastic that was painted inside the RAV4. Then I took a little contract in Romania, where I ended up building a CNC machine—I’d thought they wanted me to design some parts to be made with it, but it turned out to be a lot less far along than that.
“Then I came back here and got a job for a company that made gyroscopically stabilized gimbals to hold equipment on aircraft; that was a lot of military stuff—cameras that can see what you’re reading on your phone from 10km up. After that, I wanted to try a fully electrical role, so I started working at Emerson as a project manager for their heat trace system division.”
Building an Electric Porsche
By this point, Maran already had varied career, but it was only the beginning. While working on the RAV4, he made a pivotal decision to replace the old beater he’d been constantly fixing with a Porsche 911. It seemed like a good move, until the Porsche’s engine “blew up” (his words) as a result of what Maran described as an inherent design fault (“Thanks, Porsche!”) right around the time his contract with Emerson was ending. For a gearhead like Maran, it was a catastrophe.
“I was absolutely devastated,” he said. “I quit my job… Well, I didn’t exactly quit, at first. I took the transmission out because I was hoping the dual-mass flywheel on it had broken, but it was all still in spec. So, I started looking for anyone who was willing to rebuild the engine, but every single one turned me down; either they didn’t have the skills, or the tools, or the time. It came down to one company in Georgia that was willing, but they had a two-year waiting list and they wanted $30,000 USD for the job, which is more than I paid for the whole car. That’s when I decided to quit my job, do my homework, and rebuild the engine myself, because that was my only way out.”
As it turned out, that decision marked the beginning of new career path and a new company. “I ran into a former professor of mine and mentioned to him that I was rebuilding a Porsche engine and his eyes lit up,” Maran recalled. “He asked me if I’d be interested in building an electric Porsche, and of course I was. So, I built this electric Porsche at the University of Waterloo that was made to be street-legal, and even participated in a Kitchener Christmas parade—and I still kept it manual: it had a five-speed manual transaxle, but with an electric motor rather than an internal combustion engine. And that basically started my company.”
From Custom Vehicles to Office Furniture
Maran has taken on plenty of other interesting projects personally and via his company, LM Engineering Canada. He’s converted an Infiniti QX4 from automatic to manual using a transmission from a Nissan Pathfinder, developed a driver aid system with an active rear wing for a V8-powered Mazda RX-7, and heavily “tweaked” his Kawasaki Z1000, among a variety of mostly vehicle-related mechatronic projects. But LM Engineering also does more conventional work, such as custom prototyping and fabrication and vehicle testing, which is how we found him.
“After the electric Porsche, I started doing more projects for professors at the University,” Maran said. “That’s how I got connected with Acerta, through Sebastian Fischmeister. He told me Acerta needed someone to do some engine testing, and that was music to my ears. I procured four engines to test, and when I finished with the first one, I asked Greta what she wanted to do with it, and she asked about making it into a table for Acerta’s new offices.”
“So,” Maran continued, “I stripped and cleaned the engine, powder coated it, and found a supplier to make a custom-cut glass table top. Greta had asked for certain dimensions, so I ended up putting the head on top of the block to give it some more height.
“I wanted a bit of an office-warming gift, so I ended up adding a bunch of LEDs inside that can do all sorts of different colors and patterns. You can see it through the valve holes, spark plug holes, intake and exhaust ports etc. It’s a different realm than I normally work in, because it’s just for aesthetics. Well, I guess there’s still some functionality: it is a table, after all.”
The Road Not Taken & The Tail of the Dragon
Building the electric Porsche 914 was the beginning of LM Engineering, but as Maran explained, it could have easily led him down a very different path, if not for one fateful November evening. “There was a point where Tesla called to ask about me working for them in Fremont,” he said. “We had a lot of back and forth, and I was very interested, but after four interviews, Trump came into office and I never heard back.”
Whether or not Maran wonders about the road not taken, the one he’s on now has treated him well. Most recently, it led him to the Deals Gap mountain pass along the North Carolina—Tennessee state line. Deals Gap includes The Tail of the Dragon, a stretch of road that’s particularly popular among motorcycle enthusiasts for its 318 curves in just 18km. Maran rode it successfully and LM Engineering left its mark. He also added that, “Racing is certainly in the future, both on two wheels and four.”
Having worked on such a diverse array of automotive projects, Maran is perhaps better positioned than most to comment on the technological changes taking place throughout the industry. “Everything is done more by computer over time, and that’s a given,” he noted. “For someone like me, that means if I spend the time to design a part in CAD properly, I can get a very good part in less time than it would take me to make by hand because the processes are so precise. It used to be much easier to do a lot of custom work by hand, but now it’s so much faster and you get a very precise part.”
As for what’s next for Maran, he did tease a few intriguing projects in the works. “I’d like to build a foosball table, actually. I have a whole bunch of metal parts that I think I could make into a unique foosball table. I’ve also been thinking of making a car interior into a couch set—and it would even have heated and power seats!”
“In a more general sense, while LM Engineering also does work for autonomous cars and with various driverless technologies, I (obviously) emphatically promote vehicles and driving.” Maran concluded.“ It’s in my blood, and I want to spread the love for vehicles—not only help create a community around it, but also help people be better riders and drivers. Also, long live the manual transmission!”
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