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Engineers in Practice

Somewhere, deep inside the engineering department, a dedicated group of 40-odd students spend their free hours designing, building, testing, and racing a formula style race car. The workshop is in full swing as the engineering students collaborate and innovate, in order to design UTas’s first fully student made electric race car.

The 2016 combustion engine car can now be found resting proudly in the centre of the engineering workshop. Its construction was undertaken as  part of the annual global university student race car competition run by the FSAE (Formula Society of Automotive Engineers). In December 2016, UTas students participated in the Australasian stage of the competition, held in Melbourne, and placed 10th overall.

I sat down for a chat with Hugh Morris, Head Engineer for the UTAS FSAE, to find out what exactly it takes to build a race car, and what the engineering department has in the works for 2017.

Beth: What role do the students have in the development of the car?

Hugh: All of it. They designed and selected all of the components, we make all of the decisions about what goes on the car, what our priorities are, and how we are going to achieve those priorities. It really is an end to end process.

Beth: So, how many engineers does it take to build a car?

Hugh: Interesting question. Depends on the time of year. We started 2016 with around 40 students, but by the competition rolled around, we had 23. We have a faculty advisor – and of course the workshop staff. The workshop staff really are our heroes. Without them, we don’t get a car. They advise the students on designs, do the intricate C&C manufacturing, and train us up on a lot of the tools. We build a lot of the car ourselves, but obviously, nothing happens in isolation.

Beth: Is there anything unique about that car? Other than the fact that it has been put together by a group of students?

Hugh: One unique element is the air intake. The competition has a very strict set of rules – the idea of this is that you have design limitations. There is a restrictor on the air intake, which basically restricts the amount of power we can have. So, we had to design a special air intake to maximise the air flow, which was quite unique. The ‘wubs’ are another unique component. ‘Wubs’ – I think that may be an inhouse term – are a wheel and hub in one component – the rim of the wheel connects directly to the hub, which is quite unusual.

Beth: What is the top speed the car has recorded?

Hugh: The top speed we have recorded on a track is 114km/h, with an average of 65 km/h. However, the competition is designed to limit your acceleration distances; on the track, you won’t get a straight of more than say, 75 metres, before you reach a hairpin bend. The idea is then that the car will handle well, rather than go fast – and going fast around corners is a hell of a lot harder than going fast in a straight line.

Beth: Who gets to drive the car?

Hugh: Students. You need a minimum of 5 student drivers to enter the competition. There are different components to the competition; the acceleration, skid, autocross endurance – all of those you have to have different drivers for.

Beth: Has the car ever been crashed?

Hugh: *Laughs* not really…. There was a minor incident in 2015, but it wasn’t really so much of a crash as a scrape. All of our cars are still in one piece, minus a little scuff. Safety is paramount when you are doing motorsports, and we only race in places where they are well set up.

Beth: What engine was used in the 2016 combustion car?

Hugh: The engine, and the gearbox, is from the CBR600 – a motorbike.  The engine output was measured at 54.6Kw.

Beth: What kind of petrol does the 2016 combustion car use?

Hugh: Octane 98.

Beth: How is this a beneficial experience for the students involved?

Hugh: The project is hugely rewarding. So much of the engineering degree is theory, simply because there is a lot of theory to get through. This gives you experience in more practical applications; trial and error, learning to justify the engineering decisions you make, and workshopping and implementing designs. You learn things that most graduates don’t get until they get to the workforce, such as working with suppliers, manufacturers, and sponsors. This is the kind of experience you can’t get anywhere else.

Beth: What is the motor in 2017 electric car?

Hugh: We have two permanent magnet synchronous motors in the electric car. The motors themselves are 208mm in diameter, weigh about 9kg each, and have their own invertors. The motors are at the rear of the car, this means we can independently control each wheel. This will help us to manage our torque so our wheels aren’t slipping essentially.

Beth: And why the change to electric?

Hugh: I think increasingly, electric is going to be the future of the automotive industry – whether that’s as hybrid, or as a fully electric vehicle. It’s an exciting area with more research opportunities in terms of battery management and motor control. Going electric also broadens the scope of who can be involved, for example, we have seen more participants from ICT this year.

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