They Built a Car? Student Engineers Compete In Lincoln This June

formula racecarCollege students looking for hands-on learning opportunities in manufacturing and design will be hard-pressed to find a better test of their abilities than building a car.

SAE, the Society of Automotive Engineers, holds competitions each year for what may be the most involved engineering project students can possibly do. For the SAE Collegiate Design Competitions, a manufacturing company contracts a student design team to build and develop a small Formula-style racecar. On the weekend of the competition, the prototype racecar is evaluated for its potential as a production item. This year, Formula SAE Collegiate will return to Lincoln in June to hold the third competition in the series. (The others are in New Hampshire and Michigan.)

The Michigan event is the largest and longest running, but the Lincoln gathering is one of several “spin off” events inspired by the success of the competition. In New Hampshire, there’s even a fuel alternative Hybrid event, where students build Formula SAE cars with gasoline-electric hybrid power plants.

The goal for students is to immerse themselves in all aspects of the automotive industry, from research, to design, to manufacturing and testing. Last year, the Journal-Star says that a few hundred engineers attended the competition resembling “something between a NASCAR race and a track meet.” Just as it was last year, the 22-kilometer endurance race for the student-built cars will be open to the public.

Collaboration is the spirit of the event, despite the competition. Last year, after a team drove down from a school in Flint, Michigan, they completed their 14 hour trip only to find that the belts in their car wouldn’t work. Luckily, another school was willing to help. “There’s a lot of knowledge-sharing that goes on,” said Max More, a student at Kettering University. “We machined a part for Wayne State (of Michigan) and in return, they gave us some carbon fiber.”

Now is the time of year in which student projects are beginning to take real, car-like shapes. Down in the ASU Machine Shop, Arizona State students are spending their spring break mounting the upper and lower A arms on the chassis, as well as bolting the hubs on and mounting the wheels. “Then we’ll have a rolling chassis,” says team manager Troy Buhr, a junior in mechanical engineering. “It’ll start looking like a car. It’ll shoot spirits up. It’s a big thing.” The team will attend the Nebraska competition in June.

At Purdue University Calumet, the team is working 60-hour weeks to produce their vehicle. For them, as for many students, some of the largest challenges are those with a dollar sign on them. “Efforts in the past were limited to only a small number of students who did not have an adequate strategy for fundraising and acquiring parts and equipment,” Purdue Calumet Professor of Mechanical Engineering and project adviser Masoud Mojtahed said about the failed attempts of predecessors. “The present students have completed their design, are making the frame, rebuilding their engine and have been able to acquire necessary parts to manufacture their car. They also have paid the registration fee to enter the competition.” The key to success, in other words, is knowing how to get the money you need for your project.

The Formula SAE Collegiate Design is an outstanding opportunity for students to learn these real-world skills before heading to the, well, real world. If you’re interested in engineering, manufacturing, or the automotive industry, this type of experience is simply top-notch.

Good luck to all those students working hard on building their racecars this year, and we’ll look forward to seeing them in June here in Nebraska!

photo credit: Ralt RT1 FA via photopin (license)