Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Saturday, December 27, 2014
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Michigan Racing Team Looks to Siemens for World Solar Challenge 

Although the University of Michigan Solar Car Team has seven American Solar Challenge wins to their name, the student-run group decided after four third place finishes in the World Solar Challenge that it was time to boost their game.

The Michigan team has built a new car every two years for the past 22 years to meet this challenge, but have only managed to finish third in the past four 1,800-mile races across the Australian Outback.

We spoke with Garrett Simard, student engineer and spokesperson for the solar car team to discuss the project and their plans for this year’s competition. For nearly a month he and the Michigan team have been on site, learning the terrain, testing their vehicle and preparing for the race after spending an entire year designing, building and testing their vehicle back home.

“This is pretty much what the 19 of us in the crew have spent the past year doing to make it the best possible car we can,” Simard said in reference to the countless hours of work every team member has already put in to turn their wave-like can design into a working reality.

While the team’s aerospace division has always used NX, the mechanical division relied on SolidWorks for the last few competitive cycles, which presented a problem when the teams needed to exchange information across the two platforms.

But new regulations for this year’s World Solar Challenge gave the team an opportunity to solve that problem. Whereas previous cars have had three rather than four-wheel designs and drivers could recline, this year’s rules require the extra wheel and a more upright driving position, which meant that the team couldn’t rely on designs from years past.

“At the start of this design cycle,” Simard said, “we essentially had a fresh slate mechanically where we weren’t using any designs from a previous cycle and we knew that if we wanted to make a switch to new CAD software then that was the time to do it.”

When asked why switch to NX, Simard believes that the change was largely the result of university’s shift to teaching NX within the classroom, but he noted that his team’s mechanical lead suggested NX from the start because of its power, ease of creating sophisticated assemblies and overall suitability to the race’s demands.

Although Simard had a significant hand in deciding to make the switch, he explained that he actually hadn’t used the tool before, but instead was acting based on the recommendations of his team members and the reputation that NX has earned for its power and support. So once the switch was made, Simard had to keep his training one step ahead of his new recruits that he would have to bring up to speed on the software.

“Sketching and extruding can get you very far,” Simard said about switching to NX. “Then once you figure out how to make it be more precise, that’s where I went from saying ‘Okay, this is how I do SolidWorks with NX’ to ‘Okay, this is where NX can actually do these things that SolidWorks can’t.’”

While in years past there had been a struggle between saving and importing design files across two platforms, Simard noted that this year was much more helpful in that both teams could natively reference the same files without any additional imports. This was particularly important because this year the team will be building a four-person rather than a three-person car, which required much more back-and-forth between the mechanical and aerospace divisions within the team.

With less than two weeks from race day, the team’s vehicle, Generation, is as close to ready as it will get, but the team is far from done preparing. As the time approaches, the team is using mathematical models to simulate the 600-pound vehicle’s performance during the event. And even though Generation’s maximum power output is a mere 12.3 horsepower, the car’s anticipated maximum speed of 105 miles per hour just may put the Michigan team over the top.

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