UTC Goes Baja: Engineering students design,
vehicle to enter in competition
Cooper, Staff Writer
Appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Section E, Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Jeremy Goodman examines the Mini Baja car that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga team is entering in the Society of Automotive Engineers Mini Baja Midwest competition later this month.
Mark Gilbert said he and the rest of the Running Mocs want to leave a legacy for the school.
His team of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga engineering students hopes to create that legacy May 24-28 in the Society of Automotive Engineers Mini Baja Midwest competition in Milwaukee, Wis.
"We're underrated as a university," said Mr. Gilbert. "They've built a nice (engineering) facility for us, and it's about time we were showing something for that $30 million building. We want to give something back"
The Mini Baja Midwest is one of three regional competitions that simulate real-world engineering design projects and their related challenges, according to the SAE Web site.
Students not only must function as a team to design, build, test, promote and race a vehicle, but they also must generate financial support for the project and manage their educational priorities.
The work is completed as if it was being done for a "fictitious firm that could put (the vehicle) into production," Mr. Gilbert said.
The Midwest competition, which is the biggest of the three regionals is expecte to draw participants from about 140 schools.
UTC faculty adviser Dr. Ron Goulet said in a news release that the project is both fun for the students and crucial in giving them skills.
"The students who are participating in this project are gaining experience that they can take to an employer and be of instant benefit," he said.
According to Mr. Gilbert, each team's project is judged on events such as the hill climb. chain pull, mud bog and endurance race. Other factors in the judging are top speed and acceleration, the design of the car, its manufacturabiility, serviceability and cost report.
The SAE and co-sponsor Briggs & Stratton want to bring an engineering community together on both the manufacturing and economic ends of a project, he said.
The vehicle the 20-member UTC engineering team created out of chromium-molybdenum tubing has the same 10- horsepower engine as all other entrants, a two-speed transmission and rear-wheel drive. It can reach a speed of 30 miles per hour. The vehicle, which looks like a small dune buggy, is 91.5 inches long. 54 inches wide and weighs 440 pounds.
The core team includes nine mechanical engineers, one electrical engineer, one industrial engineer and one chemical engineer, according to Mr. Gilbert, one of two co-captains.
He is qualified as a journeyman welder from five years in the Navy, while co-captain Jeremy Goodman is an SAE-certified mechanic.
Corry Johnson, one of two student project managers, said the Running Mocs know their way around a machine shop.
"Our team members understand how to weld parts," he said. "Most of us not only know how to run a lathe, but we could tear it down and rebuild it."
Eleven of the members graduated with engineering degrees on May 6. The group's average age is 27, Mr. Gilbert said.
"It's kind of a unique bunch," he said. "Most of us have been out in the work force and come back to school. There is an enormous amount of talent, maybe something you'd get once in every 10 years."
The seeds for UTC's entry in the competition were planted more than a year ago when Mr. Gilbert, Mr. Goodman and team member Graham Hines wanted to "get something going, to produce a legacy project - something we can continue on (for the university)," Mr. Gilbert said.
The Mini Baja seemed like just the project, he said, and the students were able to secure funding to attend last year's competition in Troy Ohio.
While there, the team gravitated toward students from frequent contender Tennessee Tech. Mr. Gilbert said. They learned the importance of each part of the competition, how seriously the judges take the rules, how much of an emphasis is put on safety and "what they will throw at you." he said.
"Not necessarily the fastest car is going to win." he said.
The group next convinced professors to allow them to use the Mini Baja preparation as their senior project. Mr. Gilbert said. For most of the fall semester, the group designed the vehicle on the three-dimensional computer program Solid- Works and raised $11,000 from sponsors.
Beginning in February, with an infrastructure in place, the members took about a month and a half to build the car.
"We had to figure out a chain of command, get the tools together, build a table (on which to construct the vehicle), find a welder and locate computers," Mr. Gilbert said.
He said the university desenres credit for helping the group secure a room in which to work and for its overall backing. But he said the majority of the credit, by design, should go to the students. who did all of the research and secured all of the tools and difficult-to-locate parts.
"It pretty phenomenal, considering this is the first time we ever did this," Mr. Gilbert said. "We not only built a car, but, just as remarkably, we gathered ourselves and put together a team and came together on a common goal."
The Running Mocs, he said. will be on equal footing with larger engineering schools at the competition because every team had to enter a new vehicle. Previous rules had allowed teams to use the same vehicle up to three years as long as substantial engineering changes were made each year.
UTC's vehicle should be competitive because it was engineered first and then built, Mr. Gilbert said. At last year's competition, he said, so many teams were unprepared and entered poorly constructed vehicles.
"We put a lot of time in the design," he said. "That's why we were able to put it together so quickly."
The team, according to Mr. Gilbert, has taken the vehicle out for several four-hour test runs, rolled it over and broken a few things on it.
"We know its strengths, and we saw its weaknesses so we could fix them:' he said. "We think we can have our chests out and our chins held high because we have created an aesthetically pleasing vehicle that can compete against the bigger engineering schools.
"We feel confident we'll do well."
E-mail Clint Cooper at email@example.com