Life in the Fast Lane
31 May 2011
Thirty undergraduates from the University of Birmingham School of Mechanical Engineering are getting a taste of what life is like designing and building a racing car that will compete in this year's Formula Student competition at Silverstone in July.
"This is the fourteenth year that UBRacing has entered a car in Formula Student. The team is also competing in the German Formula Student event at Hockenheim in August 2011," enthuses Carl Hingley, senior technician at the University of Birmingham School of Mechanical Engineering and Team Manager of UBRacing. He continues: "To me, quality engineering graduates are critical to the future of UK industry. More than 150 companies have sponsored the racing team, with many of these companies employing the team members after they graduate. These graduates are highly respected in the Engineering industry due to their practical skills, which compliment their academic achievements."
Run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in partnership with various industrial sponsor companies, Formula Student is Europe's biggest educational motorsport event. The competition promotes careers and excellence in engineering, by challenging university students to design, build, develop, market and compete as a team with a small, single seater racing car.
The competition provides students with a real-life exercise in design and manufacture, as well as the business elements of automotive engineering. As Carl puts it: "It [Formula Student] teaches the students all about team working, being under pressure and how to work to tight timescales. It demands total commitment, lots of late nights and many frustrations and challenges along the way. However, the end result is the development of highly talented young engineers."
Formula Student attracts teams from all over the world, including the UK, Europe and the Americas, Asia and Australasia. At a time when many university engineering courses have difficulty in filling their places, Formula Student uses the excitement and appeal of motorsport to open young minds to the world of possibilities that a career in engineering involves. It gives them a wealth of experience to prepare them for success.
Hingley is passionate about engineering and teaching, so it's no surprise to learn that 14 years ago, he was the pioneer and founder of UBRacing, the University of Birmingham's Formula Student team.
In fact, UBRacing predates Formula Student. Fourteen years ago, there were no competitions like Formula Student based in the UK, so UK universities had to be prepared to travel to other countries such as the USA in order to compete. Carl says the Formula SAE event in the US was the primary attraction for UBRacing, as this was the largest event in the world in 1997. After securing funding from the University of Birmingham and from several private engineering companies, UBRacing was able to design and build its first racing car. "We flew 24 of our students out to Detroit, USA that year and we ended up finishing 50th out of around 100 teams, so that year was a great success for us," recalls Hingley.
"In fact, as a result of our team's achievements that year, five of our student team members were offered very attractive jobs." Around this time, UBRacing started to get noticed in the UK too and even made an appearance later that year on BBC's Top Gear television programme.
With Formula Student gathering pace in the UK, Summer 1998 saw the UK stage its first Formula Student event. This involved six competing university teams: three from the UK (one was UBRacing) and three teams from the USA. "The event was a huge success and Formula Student has never looked back since," says Hingley.
Whilst UBRacing continued to compete in Formula SAE in the USA for five more years (1998 to 2003), Formula Student was now attracting much attention around the world. In 2002, Germany also started to take an interest in Formula Student and now runs its own version of the competition, Formula Student Germany (FS Germany).
This year, UBRacing is building a car that will compete in both Formula Student and FS Germany. The UBRacing team comprises 30 students, 26 of whom are male, four female. The students are all undergraduates studying in their second, third or fourth year of a Degree in Mechanical or Electrical Engineering. The team is split into various focus groups: engine, chassis, vehicle dynamics, and driver interaction groups (braking, wheels, etc.).
"Once a week, each of these focus groups meets up at the UBRacing workshop at the University. In addition, all the focus groups meet up as a complete team once a week after classes to discuss project progress and issues."
The students get to use a wide variety of equipment and machines in the workshop. Typical activities include welding, fabrication of tubes, laser cutting, CNC milling and lathe work, rapid prototyping, engine dynamometer testing, and so on.
The students also utilise a variety of software applications to support their design, build and test activities. Catia v5 software is used for all Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) work, Solidworks for 3D CAD modeling, RicardoWave for aerodynamics, and Matlab for simulation work.
According to Hingley, sponsorship and funding is vital to the continuing success of UBRacing. Schaeffler (UK) Ltd has been a sponsor of UBRacing for 13 years. Karen Preston, Marketing Manager at Schaeffler (UK) Ltd comments: "As an organisation, Schaeffler is fully committed to helping attract young people into engineering. This is why we've supported UBRacing ever since the team built its second racing car back in 1998. Over the years, our engineers at Schaeffler have provided advice, guidance and technical support to UBRacing as and when required. The students have even visited our site in Sutton Coldfield to get a flavour of what we do here."
Hingley confirms this: "Schaeffler has been terrific to us over the years. The company has supplied us with thousands of pounds worth of wheel bearings for the racing cars, as well as large bore needle roller bearings, thrust bearings for engine rockers, and ground shafts. We've also had help on selection of suitable bearings for any design changes to the cars that we may need to make."
"Most important of all though," he adds, "we've never had a bearing failure in 13 years on any of our racing cars. So you could say that our partnership with Schaeffler has been a tremendous success for both parties."
Hingley has high hopes for UBRacing in 2011. "At Hockenheim in 2010, UBRacing finished 25th out of 89 teams, which was top of the six UK teams. Our aim in 2011 is to finish in the top five in Hockenheim, but we'll have our work cut out because the German teams are well funded and typically much larger than UK teams."
Student Spotlight no.1:
Mark Sawczyn, 21, 2nd year Mechanical Engineering (Automotive) Degree
"I chose to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Birmingham for three reasons: the fantastic reputation that the university has within the industry; the availability of an Engineering Foundation Year and the University's involvement in the Formula Student competition."
"My decision to embark on a career in Mechanical Engineering came later than most. In fact, I had already committed to A Levels in other subject areas. The Foundation Year provided a fantastic platform, allowing me to get up to speed in the areas necessary to begin a Mechanical Engineering course. During this year, I also joined the University's Formula Student team, becoming heavily involved and revelling in getting my hands dirty. In fact, at the age of 19, I became the youngest member in the team's history to drive the car in a competition. This was an unforgettable way to end my first year of university and I've never looked back since."
Student Spotlight no.2:
Andrew Mather, 20, UBRacing Team Leader, 2nd year of Mechanical Engineering (Automotive) Degree at University of Birmingham
"Over the past two years, Formula Student has taught me a wide range of essential skills in preparation for when I step out of the classroom and into the real world of engineering. Nothing but first hand experience can fully prepare you for a career in engineering.
As UBRacing Team Manager, I am gaining this experience every day, by interacting with established engineering companies who are kindly sponsoring our team. I am also managing a team of 20-plus engineers, as well as balancing all this with the challenging workload of a high quality Degree programme here at the University of Birmingham. The depth of the Formula Student project has made me aware of the importance of the administration side of a technical project and has enabled me to bring a more varied approach to my coursework."
Schaeffler (UK) Ltd
University of Birmingham
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