Designing Success into the Design Process
The Engineer posted on May 31, 2012 | | 3277 views

Sometimes time is the most important constraint in the design process. Today we'll show you how a team of college students re-imagined their design process to build their most successful race car to date.

Formula S.A.E. is a student design competition where teams of college students design and build a Formula One style car to compete in real races. The design constraints include operating efficiency, and a really tight budget. Colorado State University and Ram Racing have been a part of the Formula S.A.E. competition since 1996, but in 2009 the team decided that they needed to reassess their design process.

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Ryan Neff, the Engine Department head of Ram Racing, summarized his team's new ethos with this quote: "to finish first, you must first finish." Ryan explained that, in previous years, too much time was being spent to develop the carbon fiber monocoques for the car, and too little time was being spent on improving the drive systems and the car's overall performance. The team decided that to start their redesign they had to re-conceptualize the car beginning with the chassis.

The main goal of the chassis' redesign was to increase it's stiffness by 100 percent while dropping it's weight by ten pounds. These two goals needed to be accomplished without decreasing the passenger area inside the car. To increase the stiffness of the chassis, Ram Racing's designers began placing reinforcement nodes at all of the structural points. These nodes decreased flexion within the chassis and helped distribute stress more evenly.

Because Ram Racing was using a systems approach to their design, the entire car was being redesigned at the same time. Engineers decided that to decrease the car's weight they would shorten the chassis by 10 inches. This eliminated the car's excess weight and gave the team more room for their engine.Ram Racing's car was always designed to be a rear wheel drive car. By giving themselves more room and using a unique bespoke driveline in the rear for their engine, the team increased their car's acceleration by reducing the rotational inertia between the engine and the drive train.

Because Ryan's team's new approach was so effective at rapidly redesigning their car they were left enough time to turn their attention back to the aerodynamics of the car, a process that had previously consumed all of their time.

By using parametric CAD software the aerodynamics team was able to re-sculpt their car's body to lower drag and increase the down force applied on the car. Because Formula S.A.E. car's run at fairly low speeds, relative to other race cars, Ryan's team didn't know whether an increase in aerodynamics would make much difference to the car's performance. After performing air flow studies using their CAD surface mode, the team found that their newly redesigned body would generate 150 pounds of down force at 40 mph across the body of the car. This additional 150 pounds of force could be directly translated into better grip on the track, more efficient acceleration and an average of 2 seconds shaved off of their lap times.

By rethinking their design approach Ram Racing redefined their team's potential, and created the most sophisticated and successful car they have ever made.