Formula SAE tech inspection, and how to plan for it.

TechmoveDSC_8912The Miners’ Formula SAE Team knows how important tech inspection is. Don’t pass tech? You may as well stay home because you ain’t gonna race.

Planning for tech is a year-long process of studying the rules to make sure you don’t have to rebuild your car on site. S&T knows it’s good strategy to get in tech early so if problems (as they always do) crop up, you have time to modify your vehicle. We’re told S&T’s advance crew made last night’s 7:00 p.m. registration deadline with less than a minute to spare, and that effort landed them the 9th slot (out of roughly 80 teams) for tech inspection.

Tech is a cacophony of hectic voices. Imagine 15 cars just feet from each other in one garage, each of which is assigned a crack team of industry engineers who poke, prod, touch, fiddle with and otherwise put their TechCrowdDSC_8887palm prints on every nook and cranny of the car. Is this loose? Is this edge sharp? Is it safe? Does it fit the templates? The rules?

S&T was fortunate. They remembered some 2014 shortcomings and were prepared, running into just two issues, the seat height and a shroud for the fuel neck, and by 3:00 p.m. they had cleared tech inspection.

Tomorrow brings the documentation events of design, cost and presentation. In other words, get in line and wait your turn. Friday brings the vroom-vroom stuff.
And possible rain.

Spring Break. ROAD TRIP!!!

Competition season is less than a month away so teams are ramping up their efforts. Instead of late-night cramming for exams it’s late-night composites, machining and testing.
UnloadDSC_5203While average students at average universities hollered “Road Trip!” and headed for the beaches, S&T students were doing more important things. The Miners hung around last week to work on a number of projects (Mars Rover, SAE Baja, Concrete Canoe, and Human Powered Vehicle, to name a few), but it was the Formula SAE team that really put forward the effort.
Their “road trip” pointed north, close to the chilly shores of Lake Huron, and Ford Motor Company’s massive Detroit-area wind tunnel. And their “all-nighter” was a pizza-fueled data collection marathon.

The crew strapped the car to the turntable in one of the world’s most sophisticated research facilities, usedRoll-inDSC_5588 to measure everything from downforce of racing vehicles to wind noise on production cars. Their goal? To see if the car’s aero performance validated their design calculations.

Did we mention the place was big? Oh, yeah, it was big. REALLY big!
Welty3DSC_5729 Aerodynamics leader David Long came prepared with a highly-detailed test list and would direct his crew to make very precise changes. Then they’d retreat to the control room where Mark Welty, responsible for aerodynamics computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis was glued to video monitors looking for the elusive proof that their design was successful. In each case they’d make a change, pile back in the control room, fire up the airflow, take measurements, shut down the fan and repeat. Over and over.

Once the entire aero package was tested it was time to tweak individual components; change a wing angle and restart the 7-meter high turbine. Again.

Smoke3DSC_5820It was well past midnight when the tests were complete, so they switched to a more primitive kind of data mining; the smoke test. Mark showed younger members how the computer data was reflected in visible patterns of air flow, some turbulent, some calm. How air could be directed to the radiators or away from drag-inducing surfaces.

All to prove to competition judges that they left no questions unresolved in the design of an exceptional vehicle.

We can’t close this road-trip saga without a tip of the hat to Steve Jacob and his crew. They simply couldn’t do enough for the Miners. Wanna see the massive turbine? Sure! Like to see the incredible turntable drive system? Right this way! Steve, Zach, and the late-shift Steve were simply thrilled to see “cool stuff” (S&T’s race car), “something new” in their test facility, and were heard to say “it’s good to do some real engineering for a change!”

And that, dear readers, is why S&T’s FSAE car sports a big blue “FORD” logo on its nose. The very least we can do for such wonderful support!

Advancing Business Through Technology. Bored Engineers. And “Like Trying To Catch A Blender!”

FSAEBlogDSC_4225So said one member of S&T’s Formula SAE Team when it was time to recover the “flying menu.” But if that was the scariest thing at Saturday’s S&T Autocross Invitational, then it was a pretty good day.

Purdue, Wichita State, Toledo, Mizzou, the Illini and Missouri S&T spent the day running timed laps, gathering data, and entertaining cyclists along the Katy Trail. It’s the annual gathering of the more serious regional collegiate racing design teams, when teams gather to tweak and test cars, train new drivers and run over the occasional errant orange rubber cone. It’s also a fundraiser for the Miners who coordinate the whole event, including the hamburger and soda stand. And that’s where the bored engineers and the blender come in…………..

QuadcopterSUN_3469It wasn’t non-stop, wheel-to-wheel racing. Far from it. Teams trotted out their machines when it suited them. There might be two cars on the track, or 15 minutes where the only sounds came from bicycle tires on the nearby gravel path. Booooooring! Boredom and engineers are a hazardous combination. They’ll either build something or take something apart to see how it works.

BlunderSUN_3472-2And that’s when the trouble started. In a somewhat chancy attempt to drum up business someone thought “we need to show more people the menu! Let’s use the quad rotor to fly the signboard around!”
The conversion of the light sport aircraft to cargo hauler was not without serious issues. A slight breeze started to blow the sign (and the quadcopter) northward, uneasily close to someone’s parked car. The next change in wind direction spun the placard into the rotors, threatening to produce a fine rain of confetti. Simply landing the signboard was risky, as it might fall sideways and wreck the chopper.
Up stepped human recovery vehicle Jon Silberhorn, who gently (and very carefully) plucked the flying weed-wacker from low orbit. It was Jon who said it was “like trying to catch a blender.”

Much of Car #3’s day was for testing. Tuft testing. Scientific yarn in the wind; real-life laminar flow analysis.
Confirmation of computer modeling. Learning. Doing. Experience.

Photo credit: Image 1, Kim Green.

Racing The Wheels Off!

We’ve repeatedly said this is a design event, but 40% of the overall score (and 100% of the bragging rights) is rooted in the endurance race.

WorkDSC_5941S&T Racing has been firing on all cylinders all year. They overcame blown engines, a shortage of suitable testing grounds, and even a door falling of their trailer on the highway. We talked about Saturday’s boring operations, and we’re told last month’s Michigan event was the same for S&T. No drama, no shouting or panic, just smooth teamwork and operations.

That’s not to say things didn’t go wrong. Possible fuel starvation cost the Miners some points in Friday’s autocross event, one that S&T usually dominates. Rather than panic these students relied on their teammates’ expertise and judgment to solve the problem. Was the fuel problem related to G-forces? Maybe, but the data (not the SWAG) called for a new fuel regulator and filter. Problem solved, like the seasoned professionals they are.

Over 60 international teams qualified for the endurance race, and SAE Invitational was hoping over 50% of the teams would complete the event; it’s that tough. Slower teams, usually the less-experienced schools, start in the morning and the excitement and performance builds when the perennial powers take the stage in the afternoon.

Asked about S&T’s endurance race strategy, driver Alex Mills said “we aren’t content with repeating last year’s 3rd place finish or just completing the endurance race. We have a great car and we want to go all out for the #1 spot. We made the design finals but 7th out of ten finalists left us only in 6th place overall prior to the endurance race. We have to go all out to win.”

WheelSUN_9228To the surprise of all, several of the powerhouse teams faired badly, leaving the door wide open for the Miners to climb in the rankings. Auburn, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) all had problems, ranging from a flat tire to a blown engine. Illinois slid to a halt when a rear wheel fell off, rolling all the way to the barriers in front of the grandstands. Mizzou played it a little safer and managed to keep running, even avoiding the Illini wheel rolling through the course.

Soon it was Kansas, Michigan, Texas A&M, and Missouri S&T fighting for dominance. The Aggies’ undersized car and the Wolverines’ massive winged machine were setting extremely fast laps, with Kansas just a second or two behind. Alex Mills was setting faster and faster lap times before handing the controls over to Caleb Alne to finish strong, maybe set the fastest lap, and win the race.
S&TEnduro1SUN_9309The car was doing great, but drama was unfolding elsewhere. Michigan’s massive (did we say really massive?) front wing began to crumple and drag the ground. They were black-flagged in yet inexplicably allowed to continue, to the great displeasure of the Kansas Jayhawks who kept getting stuck behind Big Blue’s now-slower beast. Their chance of winning the race was wiped out by another team’s problems. Such is racing, unfortunately.

S&T’s go-for-broke race strategy was paying dividends until, back in a far corner of the track, #3 suddenly stopped cold. The Miners’ right front wheel spokes had shattered, sending tire and rim spinning across the spot where the Illini had earlier suffered the same fate.
When the Miners towed the car back to the pits, there was no weeping, no crushed egos, no finger-pointing; just a steel-eyed look of determination to start the process over and come back next year.

And that, dear friends, is a success story, no matter what the final score says.


When Boring is Good

Boring is an old engineering term for “nothing goes wrong.” That means your project is well designed, well constructed, well tested, and you have a cohesive group of dedicated team members, advisors and sponsors.
John Tyler, patron saint of the S&T Solar Car Team, tells of the 1999 SunRayce when the team was bored to tears because nothing was going wrong. And they couldn’t have been happier, because boring was a side effect of winning the championship.
That’s where S&T Racing is this morning. They’ve bled the brakes, polished the body panels, ate donuts (sometimes at the same time), and kicked back to relax. It’s time for stories, jokes, talking to sponsors like NuCor, and hosting dozens of competitors who want to see what makes the car so good.
Boring2DSC_6070 A couple of design judges stopped by to debrief the Miners on the design evaluation, TEACHING the students about things to consider on future designs.

Boring is NOT what the SAE organizers had this morning. Overnight storms mauled the event infrastructure and the morning crew had their hands full. We hear that two porta-potties were blown out onto an active runway and ended up in the grass. When SAE staff went out to retrieve those all-important items, airport security wasn’t aware of the problem.

That was NOT boring.

It’s Gonna Be Miserable Today……….

FSAEACSUN_8964Monster storms that have been plaguing Iowa and Nebraska swept through Lincoln late last night, leaving the area a soggy mess. Temps are supposed to hit 95 degrees.

The only up side is that Missouri S&T will probably take the tarmac in the afternoon so the track should be dry and hot. Real hot. Almost too hot.

Getting tires up to temperature won’t be a problem so long as the storms don’t return. If they do, it’s gonna be bedlam.

UPDATE: As expected, we run fourth-to-last tomorrow, so likely mid-afternoon. The exact run order and other results are here.

In Good Shape For Tomorrow!

TrackworkerSUN_8682Beautiful weather today. Nearly cloudless; perfect for landscape photos but kinda hot for the track workers.

S&T Racing made it to tonight’s Design finals, one of only ten teams to do so. A real honor! This is a design event, not just a race, and trophy goes to the team with the most points.

This afternoon’s autocross race was a tooth and nail fight among Kansas, Texas Arlington, Michigan, Missouri S&T, and some other school we can’t remember. Just over a second separated the top four teams, with the other 60+ teams falling well behind the leaders. The races DO count for 55% of a team’s total score (15% for autocross, 40% for tomorrow’s endurance), but the best teams win by doing well in all events. That means S&T’s high design ranking, 4th place in autocross, 5th in skid pad, and 13th in acceleration should put them in podium contention if all goes as planned in the endurance race.

FSAEAC14SUN_8757Too bad SAE doesn’t award points for the best-looking car, as S&T would surely take that trophy home.

Morale in the Miners’ paddock is pretty high, since there are no mechanical issues to keep them up all night. There is some speculation that the high G-Forces in the autocross race may have impacted fuel flow, but that simply means the car still as more to give. The endurance race is more wide-open so G-forces shouldn’t have as much impact.

The winged cars will be at their best tomorrow, and in years past that would have been to S&T’s advantage but plenty of teams have followed S&T’s lead and incorporated aero systems. As the SCCA race announcer mentioned today, “2014 is the year that winged cars have really begun to dominate,” no surprise to the Miners, whose dogged determination to make aero packages work has finally paid off. It wasn’t that long ago that SAE judges turned up their collective noses at downforce systems, saying wings “don’t really make a difference.”

No one says that anymore.

“We Thought Today Would Be Horrible!”

……….expressed a relieved Miner FSAE team member late today, but the day’s outcome was much better than feared.

Not better than expected, because they didn’t come in thinking they’d fail, but with FSAE Lincoln being the season wrap-up they wanted to do well. Some just spent too much time worrying about what might go wrong. At day’s end the S&T #3 car had passed tech, tilt table, the muffler sound test (which stymied them for a while in Michigan), and every other possible challenge available to them.

RuleofthirdsSUN_8293They were delighted to get some time on the practice track “scrubbing” a new set of tires, and a quick study shows that S&T Racing’s car is handling beautifully. Fast, tight, accurate, and problem-free. Good news for tomorrow.
Bad news for the other top teams.

In the morning it’s acceleration, braking, skid pad and a host of other dynamic events, wrapping up with the afternoon autocross event. The threatened storms are well off to the east so tomorrow’s weather looks great. Slight chance of storms for Saturday’s all important endurance race.

None Shall Pass!!!

Tech inspection is strictly limited to four students per team. More that than will just get in the way and cause unnecessary distractions.

Students, on the other hand, suffer from extreme separation anxiety; they just can’t bear being away from their precious car and try every ruse imaginable to get past security.

Ain’t gonna happen.
Queens of crapDSC_5276
From “Dave (the Ogre) at the Gate”, who for decades has ruled the track entrance, to the Lincoln, Nebraska “Queens of Crap” (QOCs) above, no amount of tricks or groveling will win the day. If you don’t have the right pass, or forget to wear long pants on race day, you are stopped cold. End of discussion.

These QOCs stop more intrusions then a bug zapper in a swamp. They’re great to talk to and treat competitors like their own children, but don’t be fooled; try to slip through and they’ll hit you like a lizard’s tongue nailing a fly. They can detect “crap” (hence the moniker) like lie detectors at a political convention. And oooooh, do they have fun doing it………

Why are they so good at this? Setting aside the gender factor/advantage, they are volunteers who fear no supervisor or loss of pay. They are here to support students, watch great (and a few not-so-great) racing cars, and have fun.

Therefore they are invincible.

Let the Monkey Business Begin!

MonkeybusinessDSC_5056It’s Day #2 of the Formula SAE Design Competition, dominated by tech, tech, and re-tech.

“Tech” is the grueling inspection process that each team must pass before they are allowed to go “VROOM! VROOM!” Industry professionals, well-versed in global product development programs, put student design teams through the same intense scrutiny that keeps professional engineers scrambling. They look for rules compliance, safety issues, and the little things that may work for a day, but don’t ensure long-term reliability. Anything that doesn’t pass muster goes back into the trailer for rework and re-test. No discussion, simply Go/No Go.

S&T Racing’s major systems did fine but they had to install small sheet metal and composite panels to cover exposed engine components and add safety wires to a bolt or two, enough for the Miners to get the “go” sticker by early afternoon.

The real pressure is in design. Five or more expressionless, blue-shirted judges descend on your car while you and your teammates student explain every possible facet of your year-long efforts.

FSAE designDSC_5242At the same time.

In an area the size of a parking space.

While the same thing happens to other teams in the adjoining parking spaces.

At the same time.

It’s a test of your knowledge, communication skills and ability to tune out all the distractions; probably the most intense part of the static events because you get just one chance to do it. Same with the cost presentation, which follows about an hour later.

No puffery, just proof that you know your stuff.

The “VROOM! VROOM!” starts tomorrow.