A Typical (?) Weekend with the Design Teams

DSC_8197.jpg
On weekends S&T’s campus usually gets pretty quiet, but that certainly doesn’t apply to the Miners’ vaunted student design teams. This weekend started with SAE uber-judge Steven Fox giving a fascinating, insightful and humorous 3-hour seminar about race car vehicle dynamics, design approaches, strategy, and the evolution of rule-making at major SAE competitions. With Steve’s decades in the auto manufacturing you might think he’d concentrate on an engineering design that might save the industry. Instead he focused on the design process; how a team accomplishes its goals, the best way to stay focused on the design challenge at hand, and the importance of bringing in new team members at the early stages of design so the team’s entire knowledge base doesn’t suddenly disappear on graduation day. He stressed the old saying that “those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it”, emphasizing that design teams must know the history of design so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated at great cost in time, materials, performance and money. Another old saying that crept into his talk was KISS, and if you don’t know what that means, well……………..
DSC_8217_2.jpgAfter dinner at world-famous Alex’s Pizza, the Miners hosted a shop tour and turned the table on Steve by presenting the design approach that recently earned S&T Racing world-ranked recognition. Team members showed Steve their plans for a wheel mounting system that will reduce the component count by 40% and save considerable weight at the corners. This after-pizza was an excellent rehearsal for the design presentations that are a critical part of most student design events; you might win all the races, but if you can’t explain how or why you did it you probably won’t win the event. If you were in industry you won’t be able to get the financial backing to put your project into production, and you might not have a job any longer so it pays to do your calculations and test and verify at each benchmark. DSC_8233.jpg Steve frequently praised the S&T FSAE group for its commitment to growth and innovation, their strong emphasis on pre-race testing, and their ability to stay ahead of schedule.
FSAE wasn’t the only student taking advantage of the class-free time. The Concrete Canoe Team went into full-scale production Saturday with a new and far less labor-intensive method for building the unlikely craft. Mark Ezzell, Patrick Tilk and a few others were the mix-preparation squad, keeping a soup-like concrete slurry ready for Matthew Struemph’s spray gun. DSC_8254.jpg Their new system, the results of which haven’t yet been tested in water, should strengthen the boat because it will eliminate seams that can lead to cracking. The actual (proprietary?) mix includes fine glass beads to help reduce weight and make the craft more buouyant, and anyone who has tried to carry a concrete boat will agree that’s a great idea.
Mixing the material in finely-measured small batches had another advantage. A group of very bright engineering students from Atlanta happened to be visiting campus and when told they’d see a boat made of concrete they were quite incredulous. The boat builders took a few breaks to host the potential transfer students, explain how the Miners often work in open-ended design challenges, and show their guests the fun and appeal of a S&T education.
DSC_8249_2.jpgLastly, S&T’S baja and solar car teams both were toiling away in the background. Casey Boyer stayed busy producing car parts on the SDELC shop lathe, while Dan Welty and several new team members toiled away on plans for Solar Miner VII. The spring semester is when the teams, who typically design the systems in the fall, get into full production.