Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A team of Fairmont State University engineering technology students put their off-road vehicle prototype to the test as part of the 30th annual Mini Baja East Competition at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., on May 5-7.

FSU's team took home a trophy for Overall Best Rookie Team. FSU was among 66 colleges and universities from across North America that participated in the three-day competition featuring races at Hogback Motocross Track in Palmyra, N.Y. Capping the different competitions in acceleration, braking, hill climbing, top speed and suspension was a four-hour endurance race.

"Our successes on the track gave us the chance to show everyone just how good we are here at Fairmont State," said Josiah Wallace, lead mechanical engineering technology race-car designer and a graduating senior.

Mini Baja, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, consists of three regional competitions that simulate real-world engineering design projects and their related challenges. Engineering students are tasked to design and build an off-road vehicle that will survive the severe punishment of rough terrain and water.

"Our goal was to build a vehicle that could be mass produced," said Team Leader Bronson McNemar, a mechanical engineering technology graduating senior and president of FSU's Society of Automotive Engineers.

The object of the competition is to provide student members with a challenging project that involves the planning and manufacturing tasks found when introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market. Teams compete against one another to have their design for a dune-buggy vehicle accepted for manufacture by a fictitious firm. Students must function as a team to not only design, build, test, promote, and race a vehicle within the limits of the rules, but also to generate financial support for their project and manage their educational priorities. All vehicles are powered by a 10-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton Corp.

SAE gives some general guidelines for teams such as maximum width and the tube thickness in the steel of the roll cage. The design teams must follow the exact safety requirements as stated in the one-and-a-half inch thick specifications manual. The FSU team put much of its effort into the suspension system. Each wheel was independently suspended, while the rear wheels were under power and supported by double shock absorbers. This made the vehicle so stable that it was never in danger of tipping over on the rugged terrain. The FSU car had a top speed of more than 40 mph.

"It sounds slow, but it wasn't when I hit a tree," McNemar said.

The students involved in the project were enrolled in a capstone course in mechanical engineering.

"Their job was to start with nothing and build a race car in two semesters," said Merle Thomas, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology and Program Coordinator. "Our team's vehicle was a beautiful piece of work."

During their first semester, the students, all juniors and seniors, worked in the Auto CAD lab with Dr. Jerry Bacza, Chair of the FSC&TC School of Business, Aviation and Technology and Professor of Drafting and Design, to work out the geometry to design their vehicle. Starting with only metal rods, they assembled the Mini Baja completely on their own.

"They call themselves 'gearheads'" Thomas said. "The work they do is excellent. By the time they graduate they have worked as interns and are well prepared for the job market. As early as November, all the seniors working on this project had been hired by companies in North Central West Virginia -- and they don't graduate until this weekend. I am very proud of my university and the graduates we produce."

FSU's team members are Josiah Wallace, Bronson McNemar, Chris Hall, Jason Bell, C.J. Lewis, Bryn McNemar, Chris Goodwin, Derek Payne, Dan Morris, Christina Soles, Dipan Ghimire and Michael Kerekes.

"Getting materials and parts was a big challenge, but we had lots of sponsors," McNemar said. "Working with our sponsors was good for us to help find job possibilities and good for the department in building relationships with businesses."

The team's major financial contributor was the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) Mountaineer Chapter. John Ciesla serves as APICS Mountaineer Chapter President. APICS, known as the Educational Society for Resource Management, is a not-for-profit international educational organization that offers education and professional certification programs. Other local sponsors include Advance Auto Parts; Alcan; Bill Kelly Racing; Energy, Land and Mineral; Exit 132 Pontiac Buick GMC; Rocker Chassis; Urse Dodge Chrysler Jeep; and Wilson Ford.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has more than 84,000 members -- engineers, business executives, educators, and students from more than 97 countries -- who share information and exchange ideas for advancing the engineering of mobility systems. For more information about SAE International, visit www.sae.org.