This month, PTG had the opportunity to help the Northwestern University Formula Racing Team by providing materials for their latest undertaking. Preston Wang, the team’s Suspension Lead, gives us a further look into the team and the process involved in building a formula race car!
PTG: Can you share some background on the team and how it all began?
PW: In 2006, 6 friends with a passion for cars created Northwestern Formula Racing as a student club at Northwestern University. They spent the following two years teaching themselves everything they needed to create a formula SAE vehicle.
In 2008, they participated at the Michigan competition and placed second among the rookie teams. The judges commented that it was a remarkable first year effort. From 2008-2011, the team focused on restructuring, team building, and learning due to the graduation of the founding members. This resulted in the formation of 4 sub-teams: composites, engine, frame, and suspension for a better distribution and management of projects.
At the 2011 Michigan competition, car NFR11 placed 65th out of 120 teams. From 2011-2014, Northwestern Formula Racing began regularly completing cars on a one year design and build cycle. The team made several major improvements to the car such as integrating structural carbon fiber components, reducing the number of fasteners on the car, and increasing the number of student designed and manufactured components. The team’s static design and business presentation scores at the Michigan competitions improved yearly.
In 2015, the team evolved once more into 6-subteams: chassis, composites, electrical, engine, external affairs, and suspension. There are currently 35 members on the team, spanning all 4 grade levels and 5 different engineering majors.
PTG: How long does the team have to design and build the car? What are the first steps taken?
PW: Our team is currently on a one-year design and build cycle. This means that we design and manufacture a brand new car each year.
We start the design of our car during the summer with the selection of our powertrain, and concurrent design of the frame and suspension geometry. Establishing these three components – powertrain, frame, and suspension geometry – provide the base for the rest of the parts to be designed around.
PTG: Where and when will the team be competing?
PW: Our team competes at two competitions: Formula SAE Michigan and Formula SAE North. The Michigan competition is hosted at the International Michigan Speedway in Brookston, MI from May 13- 16. North is held in Barrie Canada from June 4-7.
PTG: What are the team’s goals for this year’s competition?
PW: Our team’s goal for this year’s competition is to improve our car’s reliability by increasing the time we spend testing our car before the competition, and to complete more dynamic events.
Dynamic events at the competition include: acceleration – a test of how fast your car can accelerate; skid pad – a test of how fast your car can corner; autocross, a test of how fast your car can complete on lap; and endurance – a test of your car’s reliability over 20 laps.
Last year, our car suffered a drivetrain failure during brake testing – a prerequisite event in order to compete in the dynamic events. This was due to the lack of testing time and flaws in the design.
PTG: Does Northwestern have their own machine shop where they machine the parts? What kind of skills and experience has this given to the students on your team?
PW: Northwestern University has a machine shop with conventional machining equipment and 4 Haas CNCs at the back of the shop. New members are taught right away how to operate the mills and lathes in the shop.
One of the major aspects of our team is manufacturing the majority of our car in the university’s machine shop. The large amount of manufacturing experience our team members gain helps them design components with manufacturing in mind. As a result, our team members spend less time redesigning components to improve manufacturability, resulting in a more streamlined design and manufacturing process. These experiences also make our team members extremely valuable to engineering companies.
PTG: Has the team ever worked with titanium before? How does it compare in machinability to other metals?
PW: Our team has machined titanium for the past two years. In terms of machinability, it is more difficult for us to machine than aluminum, which we commonly machine. Its low heat capacity requires us to take shallower passes and use lower feed rates in order to reduce heat build-up.
PTG: PTG supplied NU with 6AL-4V 0.75” Diameter, 6AL-4V 1.0” Diameter, as well as 6AL-6V-2SN 2.375” Dia. What parts of the car will be made using this titanium? Why choose titanium over other metals?
PW: For the past two years, our team has used titanium for the anti-roll bar of the car. The anti-roll bar functions to resists the rolling motion of the car and thereby maintains contact of the wheels to the ground. The anti-roll bar experiences a high amount of deflection in order to withstand the rolling motion.
We choose to use titanium because its high yield strength and smaller moduli allow it to withstand larger amounts of deflection at a smaller cross-section. This allows us to maintain a low weight while achieving the desired stiffness and geometry parameters.
PTG is very much looking forward to watching Northwestern University Formula Racing crush the competition this year. We wish them all the best!
For more information, visit the team’s website here: http://northwesternformularacing.com