Engineering’s competition teams
Mizzou Engineering’s competition teams are student run and managed — each with an advisor to give advice, and to accompany teams on the road. Students conceptualize their own “products,” raise their own funds, largely through corporate-sponsorship, and spend time working together to make the strongest, most efficient, most serviceable, fastest, best constructed, highest precision, coolest or smartest product. Following competition guidelines to the letter, and how they go about it also is part of what is judged. Conversations with each team leader provided these snapshots of engineering’s 2009-2010 competition teams.
Basic Utility Vehicle (BUV) Team
Reflecting on their second-place finish at this year’s Basic Utility Vehicle (BUV) Student Design Competition, Mizzou Engineering’s team captain James Berlin is thinking ahead to next year.
“Our low speed cost us more than enough points to win first place. With even an average speed, we could have easily been in first by a mile,” Berlin, a senior in mechanical engineering, observed. “That will be a main focus next year.”
BUVs are simple, low-cost workhorse vehicles designed and built to compete in events that mimic challenging road conditions in developing countries such as mud pits, ditches and gullies. Endurance also is key since service stations are all but non-existent in these largely rural areas.
The competition’s sponsoring agency, the Institute for Affordable Transportation (IAT), strives to improve the lives of the world’s poor with simple, low-cost transportation. BUVs transform lives, and by sponsoring a design competition for college students, IAT is able to tap the minds and capabilities of college students for vehicle innovation.
“They’re looking for novel ideas to go into their BUVs,” said Berlin. “Since we’re one of the only teams doing hydraulics, they’re very interested in our design.”
Berlin said that the team built their BUV from scratch last year lion’s share of the fabrication.
“We used the same vehicle this year and modified it to meet the new requirements,” said Berlin, alterations that amounted to making the vehicle more farm friendly. “We added a water tank, the capability to use a three-point hitch with a chisel plow, and a bellymounted tine, used for tilling.
“I’m no farmer,” he added, “so it’s all new to me.”
“The main thing about our vehicle was its consistency. We met every single requirement and excelled in a couple of them. The judges get to drive it, and the Cadillac suspension on the front scored high,” said Berlin.
Being on the team has provided Berlin with real world experience and has enhanced his leadership skills.
“There were a lot of connections that needed to be made and it required keeping people happy even when working with opposing mindsets.”
Like all good leaders, Berlin goes out of his way to credit his teammates for their contributions: Tony Bellacina and Josh Swanigan were major contributors to the fabrication and Kami Cheney, the only woman on the team, was the best welder.
Perry/Legend Collision Repair Center in Columbia provides a home for the team, and owner Bill Rajewski “helps out a lot,” according to Berlin. The team’s association with the shop and its owner add to the real world experience of a student competition team.
Berlin says he has big plans for next year. He said the team will field entries in both the main class and the open class competitions, the latter of which has fewer restrictions. He’s looking at “tweels,” which are flexible wheels that won’t require as much of a suspension system and, in conjunction with a custom frame and drive system, will greatly lighten the open class vehicle.
“The thing about the BUV team is that there’s not such a strict hierarchy as some of the other teams. If you want to start working on the vehicle itself, you can, even if you’re a freshman,” Berlin said. “We’re a smaller, more relaxed team and we encourage anyone to join us.”
ChemE Car Team
“Out of the 13 schools that competed, we finished fourth in the actual competition — only one and a half feet behind the third place team — and finished third in the poster competition,” said Rothwell. “This was our first year competing, and we beat nine other schools that had competed in previous years, so it was successful in my book,” said Mizzou Engineering’s ChemE Car Team captain, Beau Rothwell.
The American Institute of Chemical Engineer’s ChemE Car competition requires participating teams to design and build a vehicle that is chemically powered, though the reaction used to propel entries is up to each individual team. All of the little vehicle’s components must fi t into a 6.2-inch by 4.7-inch by 2.7-inch box, and safety is a key qualifying issue.
“We don’t know the exact distance the car has to travel until we get to the competition. It can be anywhere from 50 to 100 feet, so we have to calculate the amount of reactant necessary to get the car to go that distance,” Rothwell said. “And the car has to be able to carry a load — water — and we don’t know beforehand what that will be either,” added the freshman chemical engineering student.
“We’re using a mix of hydrogen peroxide and potassium iodine. It creates oxygen and pushes the piston to create our driving force,” said Tyson Miller, a senior chemical engineering student who is past president of the team.
“We did a lot of runs and got accurate results,” said Miller. For testing, we focused on the middle range, varying the amount of peroxide we use.”
The repetition paid off. “Dr. Bernards is our advisor. He’s enthusiastic and he cares about us doing well,” said Rothwell of the support the team received.
“We were sponsored by Honeywell,” he added. “There is a cap of $2,000 that we can spend on the car, and the company’s gift of $2,500 helped us out with t-shirts and the trip.
“What we’re doing isn’t hard, but it gets us more involved. I got to know so many more upperclassmen and more professors. It was a great way for me to get my foot in the door,” Rothwell said.
Electric Car Club
Mizzou Engineering’s Electric Car Club grew out of a pervasive interest in those associated with the College of Engineering toward alternative energy sources of all kinds. Things really fell into place when a private donor made a gift of a Ford Explorer to the team. Bringing itself up to speed with no past history, the team has embarked on their mission to turn the internal combustion machine into one that cruises on current.
“We’re aiming for a vehicle that can travel 100 miles at highway speeds,” said Stuart Lloyd-Smith, president of of MU’s newest-and eventual-competition team. At initial meetings, students divided themselves up into focus committees, including motor, battery, wiring and modeling. Lloyd-Smith was elected president and publicity and recruitment chairs were named.
Lloyd-Smith said the club initially intended to do the easiest thing they could, which was to adapt the car to run on a direct current (DC) battery system. However, a presentation to the group by Greg Engel, an associate professor in the electrical engineering department, convinced them that alternating current (AC) — which uses central distribution — was a better choice.
“Dr. Engel said that we should reconsider because even though AC is more costly, it’s more effi cient. He encouraged us to go for the gold with the highest efficiency possible,” said Lloyd-Smith.
“If all of our previous ideas were on one piece of paper, he would have burned it,” the senior mechanical engineer added, laughing. “We’ve completely changed paths.”
“We’ve learned a lot from do-it-yourself forums online, and the Electric Automotive Association has invited us to some of their meetings where they talk about cars,” said Lloyd-Smith. “It’s good for us as a group. By attending these meetings, we get new ideas. Maybe we’ll try something that no one else has ever done.”
The team spent the semester working through a myriad of choices. As with all student groups, their ability to move forward depends on consensus, fundraising and often on the generosity of companies who are willing to support them with donations of equipment and “parts.” And though they stalled on obtaining a motor, a company that makes electrical monitoring systems — MiMOD of Lee Summit, Mo. — came to a meeting, demonstrated their product and pledged to donate one of the touch screen, in-dash devices that allows access to all of the electrical systems.
Progress also includes the addition of manual steering, weight reduction (removal of exhaust heat shields, and fuel tank), construction of a speedometer from scratch and the creation of a vacuum system for the brakes.
“For a lot of us, this is the industry that we might eventually work in. We’re making great connections,” Lloyd-Smith said. The group plans to continue working on the vehicle through the summer.
“Our goal is to create the most efficient and safe vehicle that we can,” Lloyd-Smith said. “It’s an ongoing process.”
Concrete Canoe Team
“This is the most work we’ve ever put into a canoe,” said Chelsea Smith, co-captain of Mizzou Engineering’s Concrete Canoe Team, alluding to the wooden mold the team constructed to “cast” the canoe, and the vehicle’s elaborate design.
“The mold was Adam’s ingenious idea. It comes apart in four pieces and is completely reusable,” said Smith of the innovation of co-captain Adam Frankenberg. “It was a great way to perfect our final product and leave something for the next generation of concrete canoers.”
American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) concrete canoe competitors are scored in four equally weighted categories: a design technical paper, an oral presentation, the final product and race results. MU’s team took second for its oral presentation and came in third overall out of a field of eleven district teams.
“The concrete we use had to meet certain specs. They’re all about sustainability and this year, 50 percent of the aggregates we used had to be recycled,” Smith said. “We used Poraver® and Cenospheres.” Both spherical glass aggregates, the former is made from recycled glass and the latter is a byproduct of coal-burning power plants.
“We had a hard time getting the strength we needed. We cast cylinders of different mixes and tested them for compressive strength,” said Smith. She estimates that the team’s fi nal product weighs just over 200 pounds.
The intricate detailing on this year’s canoe added to the overall time the team spent on the project. Hand-cut rubber “tiger stripes” were applied to the sides of the canoe mold and covered with concrete that had been dyed gold, except for the belly of the canoe. It was cast in white concrete — to mimic a tiger’s tummy. The team taped off each of the indents left by the rubber stripes and fi lled them with black-dyed concrete. The final product is very handsomely Bengal.
“Working with friends on the team is fun, and so is competition,” Smith said. “You make a lot of connections, as far ascareers go, and the networking is good.
“And it is a really interesting application of concrete.”
Formula Car Team
“I was born to be an engineer,” said FSAE team co-president Ryan Sobotka said, explaining the appeal of the FSAE team. “As a kid I played with legos and erector sets. I took my mom’s hair dryer apart. Everything mechanical fascinates me.”
Sobotka believes that one of the greatest benefi ts of the FSAE team is the experience he is gaining. “Everything that you do out in the field is done by our team,” he said. “I can put the stuff I learn in class into practice. It has also added to my ability to talk to the CEOs of companies and it’s helped me get my name out there.”
Though the team’s competition isn’t until June, design and construction of the vehicle was completed by late in March, with plenty of time to work out any kinks such as those that have plagued past years’ teams.
A mechanical engineering sophomore, Sobotka serves as the team’s chief production engineer. “This year’s design was all new,” he said. “We changed a whole lot of things, which is always scary. Th is is the fi rst year we’ve used an aeropackage, which adds wings to the front and back of the car. As it runs, the wings push the car down, increasing traction. “Will Cook and his capstone group worked on the aeropackage, and Michael Moore installed a cool data communications network,” Sobotka said in praise of his teammates’ contributions, explaining that with the new communications module a single wire and an electronic data screen has replaced a tangle of wires. The new system will also communicate wirelessly with the pit crew.
Completing construction early will allow for plenty of trial runs to test the new vehicle. The team recently had an opportunity to do just that at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, competing against Washington University and two of SIU’s teams in a competition that mirrors the FSAE-sponsored event in June.
Mizzou Engineering’s team won all four events, completing the 82-yard acceleration test in 4.3 seconds. The other events include a skid pad in which vehicles do two figure eights on circles with 50-foot diameters, with performance testing on the second turn; an auto cross track run that is timed; and a 13.66 mile endurance test with a 3-minute driver change in the middle.
“This team is everything to me,” said Sobotka. “Our workshop is my place to study, and I put the stuff I learn in class into practice there. Last summer I spent 40 hours a week there on top of my 40-hour per week job. I’ve been spending 20 hours a week on the car during the school year.
“It’s important to me to be there as much as I can,” Sobotka added. “I just keep looking for things and fixing them.”
Geotechnical Challenge Team
“You have to write a design paper to be accepted to the national competition, said Sarah Grant, captain of Mizzou Engineering’s Geotechnical Challenge Team, better known as the GeoWall Team. “We worked mainly over Christmas break and came in first in that category, against 15 teams.”
Overall, the team came in second place at the national event — one point down from the winning team — though they have won it three times in the last five years. The national event is not related to the regional competition, which they attended and won in April.
The GeoWall is a scale model, reinforced soil wall that consists of a plywood box filled with sand, and a poster board retaining wall that is reinforced with paper woven through it. Teams are judged on their analysis paper, the wall’s ability to carry the surface load, the amount of reinforcement they use and how long it takes them to build and reinforce the wall.
“It was a little trickier this year. It’s the first year they didn’t supply us with the competition sand,” said Grant of the regional event, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, April 24-25, in Norman, Okla. “We tried to cover as many bases as possible by designing it for different kinds of sand, changing the angle of friction and adding more reinforcement.”
This also was the first year teams were required to build the wall for an ideal factor of safety.
“In the past, our wall would hold 250 pounds, but this time we were to optimize the design to hold 50 pounds, and if it held over 100 pounds we would be penalized,” said Grant.
“Next year the rules change again and we can use any materials, so it will be a bigger challenge,” said the civil engineering senior. “I’ll be here next year, so I can still be on the team.”
Grant explained that four four-member teams compete at a time, with 30 minutes for the assembly stage, 30 minutes to cut the kraft paper supports and 30 minutes to set it all up.
We use every last minute. One mistake and your wall will fail,” Grant said. “We’ve always used compaction, but now our secrets are out and all the teams do it.”
Grant said she enjoys competing on the team because it gives invaluable hands-on application of what she learns in her classes and because of the networking at the conferences.
“You learn so much from it and you get to know other students and professors. It’s a lot of work, but the competition is worth it in the long run,” Grant said.
“It’s such a different feeling than sports. It’s mind competition.”
Mizzou Hydrogen Car Team
“This year went really well overall,” said Forrest Meyen, president of the Mizzou Hydrogen Car team.
Mizzou’s student chapter of the Society for the Development of Alternative Energy concentrated on solar cars up until five years ago, and last year’s Tigergen I was the team’s first hydrogen vehicle. Meyen, a senior majoring in both biological and mechanical engineering, said, “Tigergen I was designed to run an endurance course across the United States, like the solar car races, and thus the design was similar to that of a solar car.
“Tigergen II was required to be much smaller and lighter. We are learning a lot about the new fuel system. Even though we are on our second version of the car we still consider hydrogen technology “new” when compared to the 15 years of knowledge that the team had accumulated with solar,” he added.
A third year veteran of the alternative energy team, Meyen said he originally joined because he liked the sound of the project and because it gave him an opportunity to experience engineering outside of the classroom. “Being on the team gave me a good feel for engineering,” he said
“The team is set up like a company with a long-term project cycle,” said Meyen, adding that the group is divided into “departments” including chemistry, mechanical, electrical and strategy. Weekly meetings featured updates from each of the subdivisions and, in the spirit of camaraderie and plain old fun, the “team player of the week” received a small yellow foam car that recipients each embellished. Mini license plates, LED headlights and a “flux capacitor” are a few things that were added to the little foam mascot.
“It all came together in the end, but we had to be very careful with our money,” said Meyen. “We had to set priorities based on the time line of the project.”
It was a race to the finish line to complete Tigergen II to take part in the Shell Eco-Marathon Challenge in Houston, March 26-28. Entered in the Urban Concept category as a vehicle that closely mimics conventional vehicles, it was the only hydrogen-fueled entry.
However, problems plagued the team. The driveshaft broke at 5 a.m. on the day of departure. Once there, it was discovered that fuel fittings were leaking, and a back-up fuel cell also eventually failed. And the car’s electrical systems experienced a spate of malfunctions. “However,” as team member Alex Hansen wrote in his final report, “thanks to sleepless nights, excellent engineering and sheer power of will, we were able to overcome these obstacles, and the car passed inspection in time to race.”
Three attempts around the track all ended in fuel cell malfunctions, but, Meyen reported, “Overall Tigergen II raced 18 laps, about 11 miles. The fuel efficiency was calculated by race officials to be 480 miles per gallon, surpassing the winning vehicle by over 40 miles per hour.”
Judges presented the team with the “Perseverance in the Face of Adversity Award” noting that “despite operating without sleep, they showed a can-do attitude and kept smiling each day at the Shell Eco-Marathon.” The award came with a check for $500.
“A lot of things made it really successful,” said Meyen. “We got to talk to teams from all over the country. It allowed us to get a lot of different ideas that we can use. Everyone who went to the race came back energized for next year.”
The current priority for the team is to document their progress — what they tried and why, what worked and what didn’t — so that the next teams won’t be starting from scratch.
Meyen predicts that the hydrogen car’s strategy “department” will be very busy next year.
“We plan to optimize the chassis and suspension, increasing the length and giving the driver more room,” he said. “One of the senior capstone projects will be a telemetry system for the car,” he added, noting that the team will be building Tigergen III as they work to improve the performance of Tigergen II.
“I said that I would shave off my beard if we got first place, and Bryce Guinn pointed out that the $500 check we received said first place for perseverance,” Meyen said as he rubbed his chin stubble, which is staging a rapid comeback — just like the Tigergen team.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Team
Emerging technologies and their potential applications are the impetus for Mizzou Engineering’s newest competition team — the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Team (UAV) Team.
“One of my goals throughout high school was to work in aerospace, and I like the applications in electrical engineering,” said team co-president Daniel Nabelek, explaining his particular interest in the team.
A junior majoring in electrical and computer engineering, Nabelek also serves as the vice-president for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer’s (IEEE) student chapter and is in the process of forming a student chapter of the Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society (AESS), to be the second of its kind in the country. Members of the group were introduced to AESS by 2000 MU electrical engineering alumnus Jim Leonard. Th e organization provided seed money to launch Mizzou’s UAV team.
Nabelek describes UAVs as mini-airplanes with five- to sixfoot- wingspans, not unlike remote-controlled model planes. However, besides lacking a pilot in the cockpit, UAVs also have no ground control team. The vehicle’s entire mission and its responses must be programmed into its systems. That includes its interaction with the various external stimuli it encounters on its run.
“UAVs have to be big enough to carry all of the operating systems and a payload,” Nabelek explained, adding that in competition, the challenge is to search the perimeters of a grid for a predetermined target. “It has lots of applications,” he said of the technology, which now is largely utilized by the defense industry for its lack of risk to human life.
Nabelek said the first meeting for the team drew a crowd of 60 interested students who have now subdivided themselves into several committees, based on the various systems that must work together to assure the vehicle successfully completes its mission, with a chief design engineer to monitor them all.
“It’s very hands-on, and allows lots of people to work together on one project,” Nabelek said. “I’ve been learning a lot about the design process.”
Few UAV teams exist so Mizzou UAV’s first competition will be against the only other IEEE Region Five team, that of the Missouri University of Science and Technology. “We feel a bit of a crunch,” Nabelek said of the event scheduled for September. “Rolla has done this once before, but some of us will be around over the summer to work on it.”
The winner of the competition will be funded by AESS to attend the 2011 UAV Challenge, known as Outback Rescue, in Queensland, Australia.
Entrants are judged on flight safety documentation, pretest flight demonstrations, take off , the search within specified parameters for a dummy (dubbed “Outback Joe”), and then the delivery of the payload — a bottle of water — close to Joe without hitting him. No one claimed the competition’s $50,000 prize in 2009. And though they won’t attend this year’s competition, it will be closely monitored. In 2011, Nabelek and teammates may have the opportunity to travel down under with Mizzou Engineering’s newest competition team.
Seismic Design Team
“The premise of the seismic design competition is that we build a tower as an office building for the judges, who are our ‘clients’,” said Matt Wheeler, team captain of Mizzou Engineering’s Seismic Design Team in reference to the team’s February competition in San Francisco. “It had to be economical and to still have the ability to withstand earthquakes,” added senior.
“We came up with a design that represented solid construction techniques,” said Don Spradling of the team’s five-foot balsa wood model, assembled with wood glue.
“We built 90 percent of it using just three different pieces,” added the civil engineering major who participated on the three-yearold team for the first time this year.
The competition, sponsored by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), pitted the MU team against 21 other teams. Each was scored on a five-minute presentation; a project poster; architectural aesthetics; the model’s weight and construction costs; the income potential of the “office building”; and the structure’s performance during a series of three increasingly strong earthquakes.
“The model is put on a shake table with sensors on the top and bottom,” Spradling explained. “Our structure weighed 2.6 pounds and was loaded with 30 pounds on the top.”
“The idea is to make it flexible in order to compartmentalize damage,” said Wheeler, explaining that as an office building, if the damage is restricted to smaller areas, the less financial impact it has on the building’s owner.
The team’s model fared well in the first two quakes but in the third more powerful simulated quake, waves were added and the structure suffered 20 percent damage at the base, a common occurrence for most teams.
A 20 percent bonus was awarded for accurate performance predictions, a category in which Wheeler said the team did phenomenally well. Overall, the team took an impressive second place.
“Our structure represented what they were looking for and our predictions were right-on,” said Wheeler.
“Competitions like this get undergraduates thinking about designing for seismic activity,” said Spradling. “Sure, it’s balsa wood and it’s pretty simple, but it could foster ideas for the future.”
“Being on the team has been an extraordinarily valuable, fun, challenging and interesting experience for me personally and professionally,” Wheeler said.
Steel Bridge Team
“As the president of the steel bridge team, I oversee everything. I’m good at leading the team, motivating them and planning events, but there are guys on the team who trump me on doing the design,” said Michael Stagg, Mizzou Engineering’s ASCE Steel Bridge Team president. “The same for the construction. That’s done mainly by guys that were raised on farms who can just look at a plan and do it.”
Stagg, a senior in civil and environmental engineering, has been on the team since his freshman year. He first heard about it when he was in high school and then at a Mizzou Engineering Summer Camp. He was the only freshman to join the team that year. “I learned more the first two years on the team than I did in my classes,” he said.
Explaining the process the team goes through each year, Stagg said everyone throws out ideas and then they model them and test them in AutoCAD. The team spends the first semester designing and the second constructing the bridge, which unassembled must fit into a box that is three-and-a-half feet long and six inches in height and depth.
Steel bridge judging criteria includes construction speed, economy, and structure weight, strength and efficiency. “The rules change every year and are 35 pages long,” said Stagg. “The process mimics real life, but on a smaller scale,” he added, explaining that efficiency is key. “The more people and more pieces, and the longer it takes, means more money.”
When the team was ready to build their bridge, they had narrowed their options to two designs. “One was extremely boring, but it would have guaranteed results and one was unique and is unlike anything we’ve seen,” said Stagg, noting that they chose the latter. “Why go with a sure thing when you can try something new and different?”
Stagg said the competition is a valuable learning experience in and of itself. “All of the teams have the same 35 pages of rules and the designs are so different. It just shows you how many ways here are to solve the same problem. It has given me a much more complete understanding of how things work in the real world; how engineers work together.
“Engineering is such a vast subject,” Stagg added. “But all engineers are taught a way of thinking and working. It’s a whole different way of looking at things.
“Even if we don’t make it to nationals, there are a couple of guys on the team who have worked especially hard who I’d like to send. There you really are seeing the best,” Stagg said.