Fueled by engineering

KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 8, 2018

Students take vehicles from concept to race course

When describing the race car built by the Kennesaw State University Motorsports Formula SAE Team, club president Robbie Lollar finds it easier to list the parts he and his teammates don’t construct on their own.

The engine, suspension, wheels and tires are either purchased or donated by the various companies that support the team, but the majority of the finely tuned vehicle – the chassis, carbon fiber body, axles, aluminum mounts and onboard electronics – are handcrafted by Kennesaw State engineering students using resources available in the University’s Engineering Technology Center and Architecture Building.

Regular competitors in the national Formula SAE series held by the Society of Automotive Engineers, KSU Motorsports members work year-round to conceptualize, build and race a formula-style car. The team is composed of about 60 students currently on the roster spanning an array of majors from mechanical and electrical engineering to marketing and business administration. All students participate on a voluntary basis.

Motorsports Formula SAE Team

Lollar said he came to Kennesaw State specifically to be a part of KSU Motorsports, having followed its success while a student at Georgia College and State University. The club, which formed in the early 1990s, has on several occasions placed among the best in international competitions held in Michigan and Nebraska. At Formula SAE Lincoln last year, the team finished third in the vehicle cost category. In 2015, they won the cost category at Formula SAE Michigan. The team routinely finishes in the top 50 overall.

“As soon as I joined the team, I realized my teammates were operating on technical level higher than I could have imagined,” said Lollar, who studies mechanical engineering. “They were taking challenging classes and were doing extensive research on the side to find a design best suited for the car. Their dedication pushed me to give it everything I had to make the fastest car possible.”

Designing and building the vehicle

This year, KSU Motorsports will again be among the 80 teams vying for top honors at Formula SAE Lincoln, an international competition analyzing the vehicles in a number of categories, including estimated vehicle cost, design and efficiency. To prepare, students began conceptualizing the design in the weeks following the previous year’s competition. They spend most of the fall designing the car and the bulk of the spring semester building it.

The team begins by first building the framework of the car on SolidWorks, a computer-aided engineering program. The program allows the student engineers to simulate loads the frame will bear under race conditions and help them determine the manufacturability of the car. A computer-generated file of the chassis is sent to a company that specializes in bending the metal tubes into shape. Students weld the frame into place, careful not to warp the metal once heat is applied as it could compromise the vehicle’s structural integrity.

Throughout the design process, the team operates in subgroups, Lollar said. The business subgroup focuses on preparing the team’s presentation and marketing outreach efforts. The engine and drivetrain subgroups hone in on prepping on the tuning and placement of the car’s Yamaha R6 motorcycle engine. The ergonomics lead will concentrate on driver comfort while he or she zips around the track of speeds up to 70 mph.

KSU Motorsports Formula SAE Team

On the composites subgroup, students work to create the carbon fiber body, intake manifold, wings and axle. Using a University-owned five-axis CNC mill, students craft their carbon fiber molds out of high density foam. Next door to the team’s auto shop, students take advantage of the numerous manual lathes and mills owned by the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. Most intake flanges and yoke plates are either machined by hand or cut using the University’s water jet machine. Where possible, the students use an in-shop 3D printer to create smaller plastic items.

“They do all this while taking demanding engineering courses as well as working part time,” said Randy Emert, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology and KSU Motorsports advisor. “This year’s team has been the most autonomous to date. They are performing more engineering testing and analysis. They interact with administration, faculty and police on a routine basis. It's always a challenge to see if they can pull together a car that will meet the demanding specifications that the Formula SAE competition requires and meet industry professionals demands in such a short time frame.”

Building the car is also an exercise in what students can expect after graduation, Emert said. As part of the competitions, students are required to create a business plan to manufacture the car on a commercial basis as well as prove the vehicle’s capability and endurance in front of a panel of industry experts.

“The experience with KSU Motorsports goes above and beyond the classroom,” he said. “They use the knowledge they gain in class and apply it directly to the vehicle. There are some subjects that we do not teach here, like vehicle dynamics, that students must learn on their own or from previous teammates and SAE professionals who volunteer their time. It’s a highly collaborative process that urges our students to think strategically and constructively using the skills they’ve acquired.”

Preparing for competition

For the last six years, KSU Motorsports has thrown down the gauntlet for schools across the Southeast to challenge them on the Marietta Campus in the Formula South Invitational. The event is held each spring ahead of the larger international events in order for the team to gain valuable race day experience. This month, KSU Motorsports raced teams from Clemson University, Florida Atlantic University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, finishing third overall and raising more than $1,000 for the Robert Glenn Allen Scholarship. The daylong event featured a series of challenges for each team, including acceleration, skidpad, autocross and a 14-mile endurance race.

“Some of the new members don’t really understand what goes into prepping the car for a major competition, so the Formula South Invitational is a great way for them to gain some experience while also learning the ropes on building on a deadline,” Lollar said.

Friedrich Winkler, an electrical engineering student and new member of KSU Motorsports, said the experience he’s gained in working the vehicle has already proven to be invaluable.

“For me, it’s a wonderful simulation of what an outside environment could be like,” said Winkler, who aids the team in creating the instruments and wiring system for the car. “I enjoy getting to know the project management side of it and how we should prioritize tasks. I like seeing how a single role can have a larger impact on the team.”

– Travis Highfield

Photos by Lauren Kress; Video by Rob Witzel

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The Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology at Kennesaw State University is the second largest engineering college in Georgia, serving more than 4,000 students. The College offers 20 undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering and engineering technology led by industry-expert faculty in the university’s state-of-the-art facilities.

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.