Mark Kaufman is currently the Suspension Lead and Tom Stone the Aerodynamics Lead for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Motor Sports. ERAU Motor Sports builds open-wheel formula race cars that compete against 120 student teams in Formula SAE at Michigan Speedway. Each car is built from scratch, and is completely student designed and built through various manufacturing techniques including 3D printing.
In this interview Kaufman & Stone talk about their love for FSAE, the challenges ERAU have faced, the benefits of using 3D printed parts and more.
Tell us about the Formula SAE project at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and explain what Formula SAE is.
Kaufman: Formula SAE is a collegiate design series put on by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Every year we create a car people can purchase, and then take to their local autocross place and compete.
Our car is powered by a Honda CBR600RR motorcycle engine, and is twice as fast as any high-end production car on the market, and it’s all completely designed and built by students.
How many teams do you compete against?
Kaufman: There are roughly 550 teams from around the world, and we compete against 120 of them.
What are some of the challenges and obstacles the team has to work on when building a race care to compete with other teams effectively?
Stone: ER02B-1 was the team’s first entry into the Formula: SAE Michigan design and racing competition. Our goal as a team was to perform in the upper 30 finishes among the 120 teams present.
Part of the design package includes a set of composite wings, the rear of which are supported by an array of two-force member links with spherical bearing ends. These bearings ride in clevis plates bolted to the wings assembly. Originally, the plates on the car were designed to be fabricated from sheet aluminum, and welded together. However, the products revealed that the aluminum welds were extremely weak.
Luckily, the Markforged 3D printer offered a solution: fiber-reinforced nylon-matrix composite that could be 3D printed in-house in a single piece. The end result was a vastly superior part; the nylon clevis plates were 58% lighter than their aluminum counterparts and much stronger.
How else has 3D printing helped the ERAU team with the build of their car, and what are some other specific parts 3D printed?
Stone: 3D printing, has allowed us to make parts in a matter of days that would normally take weeks. Arrowmounts are a perfect example of that. Our car has a massive rear wing. What connects that wing to the car is 3D printed plastic.
How did the 3D printed parts compare to the aluminum ones?
Stone: As far as strength goes, the 3D printed parts are roughly the same strength as the aluminum ones. However, the 3D printed parts were about two-thirds lighter than the aluminum ones. The 3D printing was better in both weight and cost.
Where do you foresee the use of 3D printing going in the future of Formula SAE?
Kaufman: It’s going to become much bigger. Right now there are a few teams that are doing some very complex prints. At one point, we had a driver complaining about how the throttle of the car felt. So, I designed a pedal that helped that, and had it printed. Now, if that had been a machine part, it would have cost us $200 per pedal, but instead we only spent $30 per pedal by having them printed. I think that speaks for itself.
Tell me about your team.
Kaufman: Our team consists of 12 dedicated people. In contrast, the bigger schools will have teams of 60. The way it works with us, is we have two advisors. One of them is more technical, and the other is project management. Because we’re all students, there’s still a lot left for us to learn, so the project management is very helpful.
Who is responsible for what?
Kaufman: Aerodynamics takes care of the body as well as the wing.
Suspension is responsible for everything that makes the wheels go up and down, and turn. They are also responsible for the breaks.
Mechanical is responsible for everything the driver interfaces with, so the seats, pedals, steering, and all of the switches.
The electrical team makes sure that the engine and all the sensors get power.
Powertrain is everything that makes the wheels spin, so the engine, driveline, fuel system, and the oil system.
The business team makes the presentations that we pitch to investors, and they figure how to market it at 1000 units per year. They also handle all of the finances for the team.
Tell us about your internship at Tesla Motors.
Kaufman: This is my 4th internship here at Tesla, where I’ve also been a contractor. My specialty is mostly in multi-body dynamics and design.
Are you using 3D printing at Tesla?
Kaufman: I’ve used a little 3D printing. Though a lot of our stuff is much higher stressed than what any printed part can handle. But for prototyping it’s perfect.
What are your plans after graduation?
Kaufman: I want to make slow things fast and fast things faster. I want to do vehicle design, specifically suspension. There’s something about the dynamic nature of the system that’s very intriguing to me.