When Nail Bryce couldn't find parts of his car, he decided to make his own. little did he realize how many other car owners he'd end up helping out! WORDS: TODD WYLIE PHOTOS: TODD WYLIE SUPPLIED
Anyone who’s ever built or seriously modified a car will, at times, have thought to themselves, I wish there was a product that … Well, Neill Bryce, an electronics engineer by trade, had exactly that thought — except that, rather than remain frustrated, he decided to do something about it. A self-confessed car-building rookie, Neill set about building a Mad Max Main Force Patrol Interceptor clone back in 2007 — no, not the black two-door coupe; the yellow and blue sedan variant. While the originals used in the movies were XBs, Neill’s was, and still is, an XC. Although that meant it’d never be 100-per-cent movie accurate, he was happy nonetheless. Not even having a toolkit at the time, Neill decided that the best way to get what he wanted would be to buy someone else’s unfinished project. That way, in theory, someone else would have spent the money and done some of the hard work. Sadly, the seller saw him coming and what Neill got wasn’t as completed as he’d hoped. Undeterred, he set about a rebuild of mammoth proportions — a rebuild that’s still some years from completion. With his electronics background, there was one aspect of the build Neill could look after himself — the electrical side of things. But a quick look at the gauge cluster soon showed him that the task would be more complex than he’d hoped. The vehicle’s cluster relies on a thin plastic printed circuit board, which, by this stage, was more than 40 years old, so many of its functions weren’t working as they should. The reason was obvious to Neill: the voltage-conducting copper was delaminating from the plastic backing, and deteriorating to boot. With the copper so thin and the plastic easy to melt, there’s no easy way to make reliable repairs to components such as this, so Neill set about looking for an alternative. When none came up, he knew that he had only one option — to build his own from scratch. The process started with Neil scanning the original item and digitally tracing it. While specific programs have been developed to do this for traditional electronic components that utilize a hard circuit board, in this instance, with the goal being to build a component that looked identical to an existing one, Corel Draw was used.
During the many hours this task consumed, Neill began to research the next step, which was to find a company that would be able to print the finished products. Having previously been burnt by overseas suppliers, his focus was solely on the New Zealand market. Neill soon came across the only company that could produce such a large flexible printed circuit board — Auckland-based business Circuit Labs. Having told fellow members of a Ford forum to which he belongs what he was up to, Neill soon had price enquiries from both New Zealand and Australian car owners with the identical problem. Not having thought about selling the circuit boards, and certainly never thinking of making money from them, Neill soon found he had spawned a crowd-funding scheme, whereby interested purchasers pre-ordered. Soon, the first run of 10 XC cluster boards was being printed. One can only imagine how stoked Neill was to get his first batch back, but what separates him from many others out there is that he was equally happy to be getting those who’d purchased them their products. This is the driving force for him: helping out other car guys with an issue to which there’s no alternative solution. Selling the components for around $160, Neill knows he’s not making money, but that was never the aim. Once word spread of the high-quality parts Neill had built, more orders came flooding in, along with requests for assorted components for other vehicles. Happy to oblige, Neill soon had clusters being lent to him from across Australasia so that he could start the process all over again. He’s now provided solutions for various models of Falcon and the Holden HK. Fortunately, the development time these days is a lot less than the 60 hours it took Neill to do the first ones, and he says that it’s now become a satisfying thing to do. To date, there are more than 160 grateful customers out there, most of who are in Australia, where he sells the products via eBay and Ford forums. As more people come to Neill with problems with their original equipment, he’ll continue to develop solutions — and not just electronic ones, as he’s recently created a very different product. That product is a brake component for — you guessed it — XC Falcons. Again, the component was created for his own use and became instantly popular with those suffering from similar problems. Of course, due to the popularity of his products, Neill had to come up with a brand name; none was more appropriate than Main Force Products, a name that’s now etched into each component he produces and a great reminder to others of why Neill created the items to start with.
the duplicates produced by Neill often fit better than the genuine items did — in addition, they do not have the discrepancies that are found with the originals. While most of Neill’s designs are perfect the first time around, the item he made for a P6 LTD required minor tweaking because the way in which the material curves around the cluster is hard to account for on a 2D design. Once Neill is happy with a routed mech sample, the job of printing begins. A fibreglass substrate copper sheet is drilled with any holes required before undergoing what’s called ‘photoresist lamination’. In this process, the extremely thin sheet — the finished product is only .15mm — is inserted into a specialist printer that uses laser to print directly onto the metal, the printed area of which will later become the only part of the copper to stay. Once printed, the whole sheet is dropped into a special developing bath to cure before being etched. During the etching process, the copper that is not required — not cured — is eaten away to leave just what is needed to conduct the electrical currents once the component is finished. The next step — known as ‘mechanical brushing’ — is when the surface is polished. From there,
COPPER THAT IS NOT REQUIRED ... IS EATEN AWAY TO LEAVE JUST WHAT IS NEEDED TO CONDUCT THE ELECTRICAL CURRENTS