Composites car on display at SLCC's Westpointe Workforce Training & Education Center.
Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah are continuing a collaboration on the construction of a working electric car, whose body is primarily made of composite materials. The duo entered a vehicle in a national competition this past year and is gearing up to compete again in 2020 with a new model, with improvements being made to the original design.
The interview below about the collaboration between the U of U and SLCC, the car itself and the competition is with SLCC composites instructor and U of U materials science and engineering student Zachary Ingrey.
Which departments at the University of Utah are involved with the composites car?
It pretty much exclusively runs through the Mechanical Engineering department. We work with students of any discipline. One of the purposes of the competition has a business side element to it. We work with a lot of business students, who help keep track of our finances and help with the sponsors. We have mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and computer science majors.
Last year was the first year partnering with SLCC. What brought you guys over to the Westpointe Campus?
We needed a new place. One of our teammates heard about Westpointe opening up, so, we came and toured it and met Pete (Pete Reed, program manager for the composites program at SLCC). And Pete was very, very interested in helping us out. We were kind of desperate, but it all fell into place, and Westpointe was beyond what we even needed. It was really great to use the space (at Westpointe Workforce Training & Education Center).
For the upcoming year it sounds like there will be a special class that current and former students can take to be a part of the team?
We are on the road to completely merging our team underneath the University of Utah to become a University of Utah and SLCC team. We are sponsored by both institutions, and we are a joint team where both students can join. We are hoping for participation from people who are planning on transferring from SLCC to the U engineering program or the business program, to get them interested early and building their resumes with this project.
Can anyone sign-up for the team or do you get to choose?
You don’t have to be a part of our club or anything. SLCC is offering this as a class to become part of the team, and the cost will be $50, which goes toward funding the team's efforts. We use Slack, which is a workplace app organizer, to communicate between members of the team. We use that, and we have our team divided up into smaller teams. We have teams over controls, tractive, chassis and an admin drive and suspension team. Each of those sub-teams has a team leader. I am the team lead of the aerodynamics team. I have five or six people on my team, and we work together. I communicate with the other team leaders to make sure our teams are working together. We design around each other.
Take us through the design process. How does it break down to a team level?
We have a space at the U where we do all of our electrical design. We build the battery packs by hand. We build a lot of other electric components as well. They will build everything like the wiring harness there, but our space is relatively small, so we don’t have room to lay out our chassis. We basically have our design phase that starts in the summer and goes until December. And then from January until our competition in June is the manufacturing and testing. Coming up here by the end of Christmas break is our end of design, and then there are no more changes to the car. We use our CAD models that we designed and then remanufacture the car every year.
U of U student Kohl Schoensee.
What is the competition?
There are a bunch of different competitions, but we only go to one of them. They basically have an East Coast and a West Coast competition, and those are the only two that have an electric car competition. Because there is an internal combustion engine section as well (and that’s what most teams do), there are a few hundred teams competing in that. I’m sure in the coming years we will see more electric competitions. I mean it is pretty much the future. When our team formed, we pretty much went right to the electric and didn’t really do the internal combustion. We wanted to be where the future is going.
What exactly do they test you on in these competitions?
There are a lot of different things. They obviously test all of your design. They want to see that you validated your design and didn’t just come up with something randomly. They want to see you did the math, the analysis and simulations to see if the parts would work. The business aspect entails having to present this car as if you were going to build 1,000 of them. You have to give a presentation as if you were going to mass produce this car, covering cost to build, ease of manufacturing, etc. Cars that have fewer work hours or less cost associated with it earn more points. Tests include acceleration, braking, cornering, skid pad, and then the big fun test at the end is the endurance race.
How did the competition go last year?
Last year we registered for competition, and we were having a lot of trouble with our battery packs. We were having trouble getting the power to the motor and getting the motor spinning. We got super close to competing in the dynamic event but did not pass. We still did the business presentation. The competition is so difficult. There is a large number of teams that can’t compete in all of the events. So, it is definitely survival of the fittest.
Are there any SLCC students currently on the team?Right now, we have three SLCC welding students on the chassis team. They are designing the roll hoops. Basically, we have a carbon fiber chassis, but we have to have a steel roll bar. The SLCC students are working on redesigning that because the one from last year was not designed that well, and it was also manufactured poorly. So, that is something we are hoping to solve this year with the welding students, because they are going to know how to make everything square and how to bend the tubes better. Having SLCC student perfect the roll bar will be one of the huge advantages that we will see from this year over last year.