UCL Mechanical Engineering team competes at Formula Student
27 July 2006
A team of mechanical engineers from UCL have achieved the university's first ever Class One entry in the Formula Student motor sport competition.
Five students from UCL Mechanical Engineering (Constantin Beelitz, Alexander Garcia, Stamatios Kourtis, Filippo Sapia and Rishin Patel), designed, built and tested a racing car which was put through its paces at the international Formula Student event at the Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire, earlier this month. The team also included two staff members, senior lecturer Dr Kevin Drake and technician Neil Collings.
A UCL team had previously managed a Class Two entry in the competition, which involved the construction of vehicle parts rather than a complete car. This achievement formed the backbone of the recent Class One entry, which is a fully fitted-out car. The vehicles are assessed for design, presentation, cost analysis, acceleration, skidpan, sprint, endurance and fuel economy. However, teams are only permitted to drive their car on the circuit when the vehicle has passed a tough 'scrutineering' stage and been judged safe.
The UCL car passed static tests and scrutineering, and managed to complete the acceleration and endurance dynamic events. To get that far is a considerable achievement, as the attrition rate was very high. In the endurance event, for instance, only 26 out of 59 qualifying teams managing to complete the 24km, 22-lap course. Even qualifying was difficult: on the first day of the event, the UCL team was told that modifications had to be made to the car by the following morning. The improvements had to be made off-site at Dr Drake's parents' garage. Also, during the speed event, a front wheel spindle sheared apart as a result of fatigue and torque. Two team members travelled to one member's family's home in Essex to machine a replacement overnight, enabling them to continue to compete in subsequent events.
The UCL car features a Honda CBR 600 motorcycle engine and is driven by a chain. The team swapped the carburettor for a fuel injection system, optimised through testing and controlled by an on-board engine control unit. The tubular space frame chassis is small but meets safety requirements. Panels, which feature the UCL logo, were added to the chassis at a late stage. With about 80bhp, the vehicle can reach speeds of about 80mph, but its key strengths are acceleration and manoeuvrability.
The UCL team was among the smallest to compete at Formula Student, with just seven people present. The average team size was twice that; some teams had as many as 40 members and considerable sponsorship. One team had a mobile workshop on an articulated truck and a team coach. The educational experience was key for UCL students, however, and as a small team, each member was able to gain a great deal from the event. The UCL entry also stood out because it was part-course-based, part-extracurricular. Most other teams are solely extracurricular, but UCL's emerged from a collaborative project that formed part of the course requirements for fourth-year MEng students.
Formula Student began life in the USA, where a competition was set up by the Society for Automotive Engineers. It came to Europe in 1998 and is now a multinational event. Teams from universities across Europe, North America and even India competed at this year's competition.
The allure of motor sport is clearly very attractive to many Mechanical Engineering students, but it is more than the glamour of motor sport that attracts UCL to Formula Student, says Dr Drake: "Formula Student provides a unique educational opportunity for students looking to go into industry - not just motor sport, but any engineering job. The competition takes students through the process of developing a machine, from initial design, though construction, testing and making modifications. It is a great learning experience."
The event has developed a reputation among employers of Mechanical Engineering graduates, who frequently enquire about whether job candidates participated in the competition. Involvement in the competition is also starting to reap rewards in terms of admissions to the department. Dr Drake reports that UCAS applicants often ask about whether the department is involved in the event.
UCL Mechanical Engineering also sees Formula Student as an opportunity to complement its participation in the London Engineering project, a pilot programme to encourage under-represented groups, such as women and ethnic minorities, to get involved in engineering. UCL, South Bank and Sussex are the three universities involved in these early stages, but it is hoped that the project will roll out nationally in 18 months.
Professor Nicos Ladommatos, Head of UCL Engineering, said: "UCL Mechanical Engineering is participating in the London Engineering project, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The department is revising several of its courses so that engineering theory can be followed seamlessly by design-and-make projects, where the student can experience the excitement of seeing engineering theory put to practical applications in subjects such as fluid mechanics, bio-medical engineering, robotics and control engineering."
The UCL car will be on display at the BA Festival of Science in Norwich on 7 September.
To find out more about Formula Student and UCL Mechanical Engineering follow the links at the bottom of this article.
Image: The UCL Formula Student team, with their vehicle, at the competition.