With classes in the rear-view mirror, student engineers go full throttle and spend all their time in the workshop
Editor’s note: This is the latest installation in a yearlong series about ASU's Formula SAEFormula SAE is a student design competition organized by the International Society of Automotive Engineers (now known as SAE International). team. Find links to previous stories at the end of this article.
Final exams are over, and it’s a chilly damp Saturday morning on the almost-deserted Tempe campus of Arizona State University. The malls and lawns are empty and silent.
But in a machine shop in the Psychology North building where about 20 student engineers have gathered to resume work on a Formula-style race car, it’s anything but quiet.
Metal screams and exudes the tangy smell it does when it’s cut. Krispy Kreme boxes and McDonald’s bags litter tables. One table is covered in laptops, electronics and power cables.
The past few weeks have been dominated by final exams (“School comes first,” one student said), but now the dedicated students of the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers have a full week cleared to do nothing but work on the Sun Devil Motorsports 16.
Their goal is to get the car running by January so they can test it, improve it and train drivers in time for the national competition in June in Lincoln, Nebraska. Auto manufacturers — many of which won’t hire automotive engineers unless they participated in their campus FSAE chapters — have scouts at the competition.
Cars are judged down to the number of times a single bolt is tightened — and every detail and choice has to be carefully documented.
Team manager Troy Buhr is heading fundraising. “This year it hasn’t been as many big sponsors,” he said. Buhr’s strategy has been to focus on getting all 110 team members to reach out to individual sponsors.
Money has been trickling in by $100 donations. The team had about $5,000 in the bank, but they bought a Taylor differential for $2,500.
“That one was expensive,” said Buhr, a junior in mechanical engineering. “We’re getting by.”
Arik Jacobson, a sophomore majoring in automotive engineering and team manufacturing manager, is working on the chassis.
“The biggest issue we have is taking stuff from SOLIDWORKS (a computer-aided design program) and turning it into something tangible,” he said.
The chassis builders are working to incredibly tight tolerances — a 32nd of an inch. Chris Hughes, team treasurer and a senior in mechanical engineering, explained another difficult problem: places on the chassis where three tubes meet. The tubes have to be cut to fit, but less tube means a weaker joint.
“It’d be easier if they were spaced apart,” Hughes said.
The chassis is ready to be welded, which will take all week long. “I’m going to need two or three people to go nose to tail on it today,” Jacobson tells the group.
Chief engineer Wes Kudela has everyone in the shop assemble outside. Today’s biggest goal is getting the new engine control unit — the car’s brain, essentially — to mate to last year’s wiring harness. After going over the day’s plan for each team in the shop, he gives an "attaboy" to everyone who is giving up vacation time.
“I want to thank everyone who’s here working over break,” said Kudela, a senior in mechanical engineering. “I know it’s a break, so I really appreciate your dedication. Now let’s get going.”
Curtis Swift is the systems team lead. Systems covers the steering wheel, headrest, restraints, driver enclosure, seat, “pretty much anything the driver interacts with while driving,” Swift explained.