December 14, 2005

Formula Student: End of term 1 update

Well considering as this has been the dominant thing going on this term for me, I guess it at least deserves a blog entry!

For the fourth year, engineering students have a group project they undertake (this is in lieu of a dissertation), worth 30 CATS. Teams are typically composed of 6 or so students, and they work together on an engineering task until the submission date in April. I am fortunate enough to be on a project called Formula Student , in which things are slightly different. The project is a competition run by the IMechE (Institute of Mechanical engineers), which basically sees teams design and build their own racing car. Although the project deadlines are the same for us as everyone else, the competition for real doesn't take place until July, so we carry on working (voluntarily) after the deadlines to get everything done.

As it's a big project, the Formula Student team is composed of 14 members. We are divided into subsections and each choose roles based on abilities and preferences. Look at the website for more info on this if you're interested. but basically there are three technical subgroups (Electronic, Chassis and Powertrain), and several administration/management subgroups. Each technical group is further broken down into individual components for which we are responsible for. I am co-ordinator of the Chassis sub-group and also a member of powertrain; basically it's my job to ensure the chassis group run smoothly and also in powertrain I do the engine cooling system. In chassis I am responsible for the tyres, wheels, brakes, suspension uprights and wheel hubs/axles.

This term has been pretty hectic. We have been given a much more compressed schedule than previous teams in order to fit in dynamic testing. Previous years have basically finished the build almost at the competition date; this year the university want us to have dynamic testing done by the time we hand in our project – basically have a running car 3 months earlier than anyone previously. This is a great idea, except for the fact that there's a reason everybody else's car takes so long to do – it's a massive undertaking. They aimed to help us with this task by constraining us to an engine that is known to the team (which hasn't proved a problem so far) and giving us a chassis frame to start off with. The latter, for various reasons, hasn't worked out at all, and basically around week 5/6 the decision was taken by the team that the responsibility for the chassis would be brought within the team instead. This meant that a couple of the chassis team then spent weeks toiling over the design work, sweating blood and tears and doing a brilliant job whilst the rest of us got restless. Unfortunately the handling of this problem was viewed by many on the team as management incompetence/lack of dedication on my part and as such my marks for this term have fallen a bit… Looking at it I don't think there's a lot more that I could have done whilst we were waiting for a design to emerge. Every meeting that was held someone else would stick ther oar in about what was wrong and more changes would then have to be made… Sadly it's part of the iterative process of design. If I'd have just put my foot down and said "no changes" from the start then we'd have ended up with something unbuildable, not at all well designed or usable and no-one would be happy with. I like to think that I struck a good compromise with this and handled it well, whether I have or not I don't know!

As a result of running around with chassis problems, my design work for this term has fallen somewhat behind schedule. I hope to catch up on this over the next couple of weeks now that I have CAD software on my computer; here's hoping I can get through my to-do list for Christmas! Anyway… Once the design was finalised about four weeks ago, it was crunch time for the build and everything started to pick up pace. A number of the chassis team stayed on for the first week of the holidays to get more done down in the workshops, as well as a couple of evenings in the last few weeks of term. Following last week's 6 day 8–6 marathon on the chassis, we are now at the stage where we have a fully assembled jig and most of the chassis tubes in position, barring a few at the front, the ones relating to the engine and a couple of bracing tubes. The tubes at the front are dependent on the steering rack mounting blocks; as the lead-time for manufacture was too long for these at university I've taken on the job of CNC milling then myself at home this week; it's going ok so far. I do at least have £23,000's worth of CNC mill to play with which is keeping me happy :) Once this is done I'll run them back up to uni and call it a day for this term on the building side of things.

Apart from that I've selected a radiator and ordered that, done some preliminaries on other cooling stuff and gotten some concepts and a direction for my designs relating to uprights and hubs. Brakes and tyres have been chosen (discs still need sorting), wheels remain a contentious issue as I first need to work out the offset and second argue my case with the finance people for spending some money on a decent set of wheels.

We've had a couple of trial runs in the old car this term which have had variable success. Our remapping of the engine has improved performance drastically (we've shaved over 2 seconds from the 0–60 time), and gained some valuable spanner-turning experience. I don't think we've gotten any familiarisation benefit at all yet from it; I'm hoping that next term the driver training and selection program will rectify this.

So that is basically Formula Student from my perspective this term!

- 14 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Stash

    This project is so old hat, its been done by teams of Warwick engineering students in numerous previous years, whats the point of doing it all over again? Maybe this year the car will incorporate somthing new like an AI driver or will be powered by a micro fusion reactor, I guess not. So much for engineering why have 14 people work on a car for the best part of a year, when 4 people can make somthing just as good in 10 hours on scrapheap challenge? Also think about all the students who get to work on the other projects avalible such as toilet flushing devices and and lead-screw diameter bollox.

    15 Dec 2005, 10:23

  2. David Badley

    It's just a university project. What do you want, moon missions?

    15 Dec 2005, 10:39

  3. Stash,

    I don't know who you are, but clearly you lack inspiration and drive in your life.
    Making such a comment on an entry which is so full of both of these things is rude, nasty and, above all, totally uncalled for.

    Get a life.



    15 Dec 2005, 10:39

  4. Stash

    My Dad and I were building go-carts in our garrage when I was 10, so yes, I would expect that yours would do a bit more like go to the moon or at-least break the sound barrier.

    15 Dec 2005, 10:54

  5. Craig

    Building a go-cart is on a completely different scale from what Chris is talking about, somehow I doubt that you not only designed but then optimised the vast majority of the car which is what a project such as this attempts to do. Likewise, you obviously don't understand the difference between a project like this and something from scrapheap challenge where half the stuff they make not only doesn't work but actually falls apart when they try to use it.

    15 Dec 2005, 17:39

  6. Woo – go Craig!


    16 Dec 2005, 10:07

  7. David Badley

    Maybe stash and his dad made a really amazing go-cart, with a V8 and carbon fibre bodywork, all wind tunnel tested! We just don't know. We may never know :-)

    I like Scrapheap challenge! Lets not go talking trash about Scrap – sometimes the things do actually work!
    There is always a small possibility that the first time the Warwick team race, it breaks down in some humorous way and Robert Llewellyn will appear and make a little joke that somehow, makes things seam like they're not really that bad after all!
    It could happen! ;-)

    How does this formula work anyway? how much of the car is specified (do you have to use the same engine as other unis, for example?), Do you have to make a new car from scratch each year – why not 'develop' last years one, like those guys at Ferrari!
    What about safety too? Do you have to meet basic standards (do you have to crash test!?). You don't want to end up with a 90mph death can, after all!

    Speaking of 'mph' how fast do these things go then?

    Hey, maybe you should organise a head-2-head with stash's dads go cart. That would be killer!

    16 Dec 2005, 18:04

  8. David – I like Scrapheap challenge too; it's pretty ingenious and fascinating to watch some of the stuff they build, amazing when it does work and amusing when it doesn't! You mention that about the car breaking down in some humorous way – a lot of the cars do break down rather a lot. Last year was the first time we completed the endurance event (4th year in the competition) and that was far from plain sailing as Si Young will tell you (he was last year's team and one of my contributors here).

    If you're interested in the details of the competition, you can download the rules via the IMechE website. To answer your questions – a lot of the car is specified by rules. The engine for example has to be a maximum of 610cc, run on 98 octane petrol, use a 20mm inlet restrictor, no drive by wire, must be reciprocating piston etc… The rules for the engine alone are a few pages so I've just given you some headlines there really. Other rules include plenty related to safety, a minimum of 1" suspension travel in each direction (to stop you building a go-kart basically!) and many others. There are four different levels which you can enter – class 1 (a new car), class 1 200 (a developed car from 1 year previous), class 2 ( a design with some bits to show for it) and class 3 (paper design only). For 2006 there is also an alternative fuel class. Check out the IMeche site for more info. The safety rules include specifications for impact attenuators on the front of the car, roll hoops and impact bars, material specification on safety critical sections… The list goes on!

    Speedwise the cars are geared for top speeds of around 70 to 80 miles an hour. This is because the courses are short and tight so demand low speed grunt and gearing accordingly. Given an open space, I wouldn't like to say. They are all open wheeled racecars with not a lot of emphasis on aerodynamics (because we only run at relatively low speeds – effects are minimal), but the cars have an all up weight in the region of 200 kilos and around 70 to 80 horsepower. The lightest around are now down an 120 kilos, which is a serious feat!

    16 Dec 2005, 20:59

  9. Alex Smith

    Craig, well done on the chassis, i have been following your progress and seems to have picked up the pace quite dramatically !

    Well done for everything so far, I can see the challenges you have ahead of you especially the time! gd luck

    As for stash… well he obviously doesn't appreciate what goals in life are….

    I guess he does poetry or something "productive" like that instead!

    10 Jan 2006, 22:21

  10. Alex – just to clarify, my name's Chris… Craig is an old school mate of mine :-)

    11 Jan 2006, 04:01

  11. Do you have many electrical engineers on the project?
    It's a bit annoying that us electricals are stuck between mechanical and electronic!

    20 Jan 2006, 17:53

  12. I believe we have one electrical engineer along with two electronic engineers on the project. Are you looking to get involved next year? (I'm guessing from your "about me" page you're a third year…)

    23 Jan 2006, 18:31

  13. Yeah I am, but I'm concerned my expertise (motors, generators, power electronics) won't really be needed in something like an F1 car.

    23 Jan 2006, 22:18

  14. Well if I can put you at ease – one of the projects we're considering for future years is an electrically driven supercharger from Visteon. We nearly used that this year – as I'm sure you can imagine there's plenty of power electronics and motor technology in that! Also we have various bits and bobs like electrically driven pumps instead of the standard mechanical ones, lots of engine mapping stuff and we're also looking at a Kliktronic electric gear shifting mechanism (solenoid-driven shifter). It's not just about circuit boards and electronic stuff, there is an awful lot that electrical engineers contribute to the car. If you have an interest, drop Steve Maggs an e-mail and arrange to see him and discuss it – he's in IMC 212 and you can look his e-mail and phone details up on the engineering website. I'm sure he'd be only too happy to speak to you!

    23 Jan 2006, 22:35

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