From making their own tools to marketing Mean Green Racing to sponsors, students are gaining valuable experience
Since December 2012, a dedicated group of about 30 UNT students have been working long hours in the machine shop at Discovery Park to build a fast and efficient Formula SAE series race car from the ground up.
The students, who come from engineering, business and other majors, are members of the UNT chapter of the Society for Automotive Engineers and Mean Green Racing. They are set to compete for the first time against about 80 other university chapters in a national Society for Automotive Engineers Formula SAE race in June in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"This is our first car and we started working on design in the spring of 2012, and then began building in December during the winter break completely from scratch," says Matt Ellis, the group's president. "We've had to build our own jigs --which are metal plates that guide machining tools – so we've had to rework instruments in the machine shop and we've even had to make some tools."
One important lesson the group learned early in the process was to keep their design plans simple, Ellis says.
"We don't need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to make a car that works efficiently," he says.
Efficiency is one of the areas the students will be judged on at the Formula SAE competition. Others include design, cost and performance. To help with the cost of designing and building the car, and traveling to Nebraska, Ellis and other members have reached out to the community for sponsorships and donations, and raised more than $40,000 to help them complete the project and compete in the final race.
"Developing a complex machine like this is very difficult, especially starting from scratch," says Leticia Anaya, the group's faculty advisor and a senior lecturer in the College of Engineering's Engineering Technology Department. "The group really has been working hard and is doing everything possible to make their dream become a reality, even raffling off items and selling T-shirts. This kind of work will really pay off, not just in the competition, but in the experience that these students will have when they graduate and go out into the work force."
Some of the performance measures the team's car will be judged on include driving, fuel economy, acceleration endurance and braking. And judges pay attention to every detail, Ellis says, adding that should the car's 600 cubic centimeter engine leak fluid at all, they could be out of the endurance test.
Because the students are operating UNT SAE and Mean Green Racing like a business, they're learning many key skills that will set them apart from others when they graduate and begin interviewing for jobs, Anaya says.
"This is a complex machine," she says. "And building a machine like this requires not just mechanical engineering knowledge, but experience in materials engineering, electrical engineering, computer knowledge for design and business knowledge for fundraising and marketing. That kind of diverse experience will be valuable to an employer."
Because this is the group's first race, they have been working hard to learn the basics of building a race car. But, throughout the process, many have been taking notes and brainstorming big ideas for next year.
"We're already talking about how to decrease the weight and increase strength for next year," Ellis says. "We'll have to make a whole new car for the next race, and a lot of members have some great ideas that we'll test out over the summer."
UNT Formula SAE and Mean Green Racing are open to students from any major, and Anaya encourages any student interested in building a car, or helping with design, fundraising or marketing, to consider joining.