THE CAR IS COMING TOGETHER!

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


Here at the Baja Shop, we’ve been putting in work to make sure our car gets built well and on-time. Before winter break, we managed to make a lot of progress on the frame, but our team really wanted to ensure that we would meet our rolling chassis deadline of February 11th so that we have ample time to test and iterate our designs for this year’s vehicle. To help us meet that goal, Kaven Marte, our Chief Engineer, organized a group of team members to come back to campus before the end of winter break. Over the course of a few days filled with Baja, Baja, and more Baja, they were able to bend tubes and weld together a very large portion of the frame.

The weekend after the entire team returned to break, we continued to focus most of our energy on getting the frame manufactured. We have made even more progress, and as it sits now, the frame only has a few minor members left to be welded on. Better still, the last few frame members are all able to be welded on at a later time, so we are now free to continue moving forward with manufacturing and assembling other components of our car.

Currently, we are focusing on getting the suspension completed. Noah and his suspension group are following in Gaetan’s footsteps (see Frame section), and are finishing making fixtures to assemble and weld together our suspension components. The fixtures will allow us to lay out the steel and aluminum tubes that we’ll use for the suspension arms in such a way that they cannot move away from the desired positions. Like previous years, we are using a simple A-arm and H-arm geometry where the tubes that make the suspension arms are laid out in a shape that resembles an “A” in the front and an “H” in the back. Hopefully with Noah’s fixtures, we’ll be able to continue to exceed our expectations for tolerances this year. We’ve been working hard to be more precise with our manufacturing this year, and it’s definitely paid off.

While the frame and suspension teams have been busy in the shop, our other team members are working in parallel to get other components ready for assembly once our suspension is complete. Several new members have been working on getting tab drawings completed, and we have sent several to Paragon Steel Rule Dies to be cut with a waterjet in the next couple days. Every year, we have to weld about a hundred tabs to our vehicle in order to attach all the different assemblies, and thanks to the support of Paragon, we’ll be able to have these all cut and made in a matter of hours.

Also, several of our team members are learning to use the Mechanical Engineering Department’s brand new toy: a HAAS. With the HAAS we will be able to transform our designs into tool paths that the HAAS will use to cut parts to extreme precision. Currently, some people from Noah’s group are working at getting our first few uprights cut so that we’ll be ready to attach wheels to the car as soon as the suspension arms are complete.

And everything I’ve discussed so far only covers a small portion of what we’ve been working on. Our team is firing on all cylinders to meet our deadline this year. We have some people working on making a new seat for the car out of carbon fiber, we have people preparing to put strain gauges on the car to understand the loads in our frame, and we have our business group working hard to submit budgeting documentation to the school to secure our funding for next year. It’s a busy time in and around the Baja Shop, but one thing’s for certain, we’re making a lot of progress towards one of the best cars the team has ever built.

FEBRUARY SUSPENSION UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


As some of you saw at Noah’s recent design review, he has been working hard to design the lightest suspension system in UR Baja history. This year we are trying to implement as much aluminum as possible. Noah’s team has been doing Finite Element Analysis (FEA) of several different components and load cases to determine where aluminum will be strong enough to withstand the beating the suspension system takes while traversing a Baja course. Noah had determined through analysis that the upper section of the A-arms can be made of aluminum, and that it’s likely that the steering links can be made of aluminum as well. By replacing heavy, steel members of the suspension system, we can save several pounds from last year’s car.

Another one of Noah’s projects that wasn’t discussed in other sections of the newsletter is the custom rear hubs. Last year, we just purchased hubs from an ATV parts website, and several judges at competition asked why we were not using our own hub designs. To be fair, they had reason to be curious since we can design significantly better hubs that weight significantly less than the beefy hubs meant for ATVs. This year, Noah’s group designed custom rear hubs that will package better with the upright, and more importantly, are much lighter than the hubs that we could’ve purchased off the shelf. We wanted to design custom front hubs this year, but unfortunately they got put on the backburner in favor of other projects. That being said, we did complete some work on them, and next year the Baja team should expect to be running a full set of custom hubs thanks to the work done by Noah’s group this year.

FEBRUARY DRIVETRAIN UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


Of all the groups, drivetrain is probably the most ahead in terms of manufacturing. Charlie held the first of our design reviews in the fall, and from the responses he received at his meeting, he was able to improve and finalize several of his designs months ago. As I explained in the previous newsletter, Charlie is implementing a new tensioning system that uses rotational motion and a turnbuckle to tension our drivetrain system. Currently, he has manufactured all the necessary parts for this system, and his group is just waiting to attach them to the car.

The most recent manufacturing for the drivetrain has been the gears for our transmission. Thanks to our sponsor, Rochester Gear, we have been able to have these gears manufacturing to good tolerances. In the near future, another sponsor, Gleason, will be hobbing (adding teeth) to the gear. Once the teeth are added to the gears, Charlie and his group will be ready to assemble our gearbox.

Also, as a team, we’d like to address some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve had about our power transmission system.

  1. Does your car have a shifting transmission, and if so, how many gears does it have?
    1. We do not have shifting capability in our transmission in favor of being able to manufacture a much lighter transmission system. That being said, our team uses a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that uses a system of springs, weights, and pulleys to produce a range of gear reductions. When tuned, this allows our car to be operating at peak efficiency at all times
  2. Does your car have a reverse gear?
    1. Every year at least someone questions whether to add a reverse gear to our car. While some Baja teams have reverse gears, we have decided to not include one in favor of weight savings. Also, in many cases in this competition, if you have to reverse, you’ve already made a mistake and will be putting up a bad time. Since you get two chances at every event, we decided a reverse gear was not worth the weight.

Besides that, the only other thing Charlie’s group will be working on is breaking in the engine. As soon as we can get a weekend here in Rochester that isn’t freezing cold, we’ll be setting it up and getting it ready to power our finished vehicle.

FEBRUARY FRAME UPDATE

 

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


This year one of our goals is to reduce our error during frame manufacturing. In previous years, our team has had some issues keeping the frame completely square, so this year, we worked with our adviser, Professor Muir, to solve this problem. After a few discussions, Gaetan designed several different fixtures to help us with manufacturing our frame. He used our CNC router to cut holes at specific locations in a piece of wood, and then he put short pieces of PVC in the holes to create fixtures that would lock the fame pieces in the correct position. By creating these fixtures, we have been able to ensure that our frame subassemblies are square and in-plane.

At the time of writing this, the frame group has just a few more members left to install. Gaetan has been working hard, and has managed to weld together all the frame subassemblies that were manufactured using his team’s fixtures. What’s really impressive about our frame manufacturing is that the last few members are all quick and easy ones. I wouldn’t be surprised if our frame is done before the end of January.

Because we have been able to get the frame (mostly) done in such a timely manner, we are hoping to be able to get some good strain gauge data to determine the forces in several frame members during test drives. Ethan and his electronics group are already working with Gaetan to determine which members we want to attach strain gauges to in order to get the most information about how forces are present in our frame.

FEBRUARY USABILITY UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


Quite possibly the biggest change to the Usability system of our vehicle this year is that we are going to be using a floor mounted pedal. After Midnight Mayhem, one of our new members, Scott Smith, was incredibly vocal about how his leg hurt after the race. After being inspired by his “immense pain and suffering,” (some sarcasm involved) Scott worked with Marial to design a floor mounted pedal that will hopefully be more comfortable for the driver. This year, Marial’s team is really hoping to make operating the vehicle as easy as possible so that the driver can focus more of their energy on the race.

 

Another interesting idea that Marial’s group is developing a wooden steering wheel. In many cases, wood is much lighter than a metal design, and wood is also a very durable material. Since the steering wheel is mostly safe from taking any sort of a beating from the racetrack, our team thinks a wooden steering wheel might actually be a great idea especially since we can easily use a CNC to manufacture the wheel. At the very least, it would be a unique design that would make us stand out.

 

Marial’s group is also making sure they are ready to start installing components as soon as the suspension is attached to our frame. They have been working with Professor Muir to create tool paths for various components to be made on the HAAS machine. Among these components is the brake pedal that is now ready to be assembled to the car as soon as possible.

 

The Usability team is not only making sure that all the components for the car are ready to be assembled, they are also making sure that we’re ready to drive. Marial’s group recently went through all our safety gear and threw out expired equipment, and some nasty, sweat-and-mud-stained fire shirts. We placed an order for new safety gear that just arrived, and so we are very ready and eager to drive this year’s car as soon as we are done in the next couple weeks.

FEBRUARY ELECTRONICS UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


Ethan and the electronics team have been busy working to improve our removable data collection box. What initially started out as just a hall-effect sensor for speed and RPM measurements has evolved into a much more developed tool for data collection. Ethan’s group has been working to add a GPS, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), and an analog-to-digital converter for other sensors that we use during data collection. In a few weeks, when we’re done with this year’s vehicle, the data collection box will be very useful for testing.

Currently, his team has been using the data collection box to work on some of our older vehicles. Ethan worked Marial and the usability group to use the data collection box to measure pressures in the brake line. Ethan’s group has also ironed out all the errors in the speedometer, so we now can get accurate, real-time speed readings for any of our vehicles by simply attaching a small box.

The electronics group has also been exploring some other sensors that might give us valuable data when it comes time to test and tune this year’s vehicle. They hope to be able to connect strain gauges to several members of our frame while we drive over at RIT’s test track. They have also wired up a push button on the steering wheel to allow the driver to trigger when to record data. That way, we will be able to take data on how our vehicle handles specific obstacles on the track.

Finally, Ethan’s group has completed even more strain gauge testing on the MTS machine. We have taken stress and strain data for several tie rods from last year’s vehicle as well as our shocks. This data has been used to improve our mechanism model as well as several pieces of our analysis. We’re hoping Ethan’s work will lead to even better scores at our design report since we’ll be able to validate our models with more data than ever before.

TESTING, ITERATING, AND IMPROVING

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


One of our biggest goals for this year is to improve how our team tests, iterates, and improves our designs after we complete the car. One of the main reasons that we set our deadline so early in February is that we want to ensure that we have sufficient time to thoroughly test our car before we arrive at competition. Our whole philosophy is that if something breaks on our test track, we have the ability to understand why the part failed, to figure out how to prevent that failure from occuring again, and to design an entirely new part.

One of the integral pieces of the puzzle that makes this iteration possible is the new HAAS machine that the Mechanical Engineering Department just purchased. Noah is planning to design and build several different uprights over the course of testing. The suspension geometry is very complicated, and we’ve had issues in the past where things don’t line up exactly the way we thought they were going to. This year, if we run into that issue, we’ll be able to design and quickly manufacture an entirely new upright to correct the problem. Once we are satisfied with the upright design, we’ll send our design to DK Manufacturing to have it professionally built to extremely high tolerance.

Another example of the iteration process, is Marial’s Usability team and the brake rotors. With help from Paragon, we can easily manufacture several different rotor designs. She has already had a few different designs made, but after testing, we will be able to quickly manufacture more optimized designs should we need to.

While I’ve only given a few examples, our entire team has understood the need to iterate, and we’ve adopted it into our design practice and timelines. Thanks to some insight from our adviser, Professor Muir, our team is really pushing to test more than we have in previous years. Also, thanks to a huge donation from Jerry Toporek, we have been able to acquire several instruments for data acquisition that we hope to utilize in the next couple months.

NOVEMBER SUSPENSION UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


Noah Meyers and the suspension team have been busy this season. Our team has been trying to incorporate aluminum components into our suspension system for years, and we believe that this year we will be successful with designing a suspension system that utilizes aluminum components in place of the heavy, steel components used in previous years. Noah’s group has been working hard in NX to validate our designs, and thanks to some great work from Jaafar, we believe that the aluminum components will be structurally sound. Noah will be giving his design review in about a month, so come check back in to see how much aluminum we manage to incorporate in our design this year.

Besides using aluminum, we are trying to critically damp this year’s suspension system. Noah’s team has been working with Chris Pratt, the Mechanical Engineering Department’s lab technician, to design an experiment to test our suspension system on the MTS machine. With this data we should be able to critically damp the suspension system, so that our vehicle will be able to cross obstacles better than ever.

Another project that we have been working on is the mechanism model of this year’s car, seen in the picture. Marcos has been working with all the PTLs to build an accurate simulation of our car. With this model, we will be able to analyze how our car will perform over a variety of obstacles, and it should lead us to more informed engineering decisions. Finally, it will be very beneficial when we go to present our suspension subsystem at this year’s competitions.

Another big advancement to the suspension subsystem this year is that we are going to be designing custom rear hubs. During last year’s design presentations, one consistent piece of feedback that we received was that we needed to be designing our own hubs. So this year, we decided to act on our feedback and work to design our own custom, rear hubs. Not only will this score us more points during our design presentation, but it will also help us remove even more weight from the suspension system.

NOVEMBER USABILITY UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


Usability has quickly become one of the most popular subsystems on the Baja Team. After driver training and Midnight Mayhem, several of our new members already had ideas for improving the car, and the most common opinion was that we needed to improve the steering and driver interface.

Several new members have already started honing their FEA skills by working on analyzing our new brake rotor designs. Since many of the usability components make great first-year projects, Marial has been keeping our new members busy. After practicing doing analysis, our new members helped Marial create a handful of different brake rotor designs. As the picture shows, we’ve already cut a few prototypes out of wood, and we are going to be making a few metal brake rotors in the near future.

Thanks to our awesome waterjet and laserjet sponsor, Paragon Steel Rule Dies, we are going to be able to quickly manufacture several of our new designs, including those done by our new members! Throughout the season, we hope to keep using the help of our sponsors, like Paragon, to be able to design, test, and iterate upon more designs than ever before.

Finally, some of our new members have already started working on this year’s pedal design. One new member in particular, Scott Smith, has already completed his first iteration of the gas pedal. Sometime soon we will be 3D printing his design to see how it feels in real life as opposed to on the computer screen. While we are still iterating on our usability subsystem designs, one thing is for sure, we are going to have a very comfortable interface for the driver this season.

NOVEMBER DRIVETRAIN UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


Charlie and his team have been going above and beyond to make the lightest drivetrain system in the history of U of R’s Baja Team. By running several different models in NX, Charlie and his group have been able to reduce the size of several elements of the gearbox. Because of their determination, Charlie’s group has been able to design the thinnest gearbox in the history of the team.

Another big change to the drivetrain system is the tensioning system. Previously, we’ve always had slots in the engine brace where we were theoretically able to slide the engine to tension the system, but unfortunately, this system has always been harder to operate than intended. This year, we will be running a tensioning rod from the engine to the gearbox, and the gearbox will be mounted in such a way that it can rotate about the output shaft. If this system works, we will be able to quickly tension the system by simple rotating a rod. The system is a bit complicated to explain in text, but Charlie will be revealing the final design with pictures during his design review. So if you’re interested, make sure to check out the finalized design.

Besides the tensioning system, Charlie’s group has been working on reducing the weight of the four gears in the gearbox. Last year, we tried to make spoked gears, but we ran into issues with our analysis and manufacturing that caused a gear to fail during competition. This year, while we are still removing a lot of material, we are going back to the tried and true method of cutting a pattern of holes in the gear to reduce the weight. We might try to design and test a spoked gear later in the season, but for now, this is one aspect of the gearbox that we are being a bit more conservative with the design.

Also, this year we are trying to understand how to tune the CVT in a way that we’ve never understood before. We are going to be working with Professor Funkenbusch and Professor Muir to design a procedure for testing all the variables in the CVT system. We want to understand how to maximize our performance in various dynamic events by changing the weights, springs, preload, and ramps inside the CVT. This will be an interesting experience since if we tested every single configuration, there would be thousands of trials. So, we are currently working on designing a procedure that gives us insight into as many configurations as possible without forcing us to spend the rest of the season testing. Hopefully this will greatly improve our performance, especially in the acceleration run.

Finally, I’d like to give a huge shout out to one of our biggest individual sponsors, Jerome Toporek. Thanks to his generous donation to the team, we were able to purchase photogates this year. These photogates will make several tests, such as the CVT test described above, possible. The data that we get from these tests will be invaluable, and we are very thankful that Jerry is making this testing possible.

Snapshot of Drivetrain concept

NOVEMBER FRAME UPDATE

By: Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


We’ve been working really hard on our frame design this year, and we have already started manufacturing the first couple of frame members. We are proud to announce that we might cut up to 10 lbs from this year’s frame if the theoretical values are correct. As you can see from the pictures, we kept the overall geometry somewhat similar to the California vehicle from two years ago. However, we have changed the “X” shape in the back of the frame for a shape that not only cuts weight, but is much easier to weld together.

Another big change that we are making is the geometry of the footbox. Rather than the sloped members from last year’s frame, we are going to be building a more rectangular-shaped footbox this year. By doing this, Marial will have more space to design a more ergonomic driver interface. This will allow us to move the rack closer to the front of the car, and might even allow for floor-mounted pedals with a better mechanical advantage for the driver.

Currently, the frame group is starting to manufacture the most difficult tubes, the CIMs on the sides of the cockpit. As always bending these tubes has been a challenge. We tried our best to bend these tubes in house, but no matter how much sand, heat, and colorful language we used, these tubes would always kink. We even took material to a local sponsor, Gleason, to see if they could bend the tubes for us. Unfortunately, even their master tube bender was unable to bend the tubes to our specifications. However, our trip to Gleason was not for naught! Their manufacturing group gave us a copy of their documentation for tube bending, and we are going to be using this to make sure that our slightly modified design can be manufactured. By doing this, we can use tubes of a smaller thickness for the cockpit, which will cut even more weight from this year’s design!

 

Snapshot from our Frame design processes

NOVEMBER ELECTRONICS UPDATE

By Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


The electronics team went above and beyond with blinging out our car for Midnight Mayhem. We managed to use data from the hall effect sensors on the gearbox to have a functional speedometer on the car. Although we ran into some “technical difficulties” with its functionality during later laps of the endurance race, we now have a way of determining the speed of the car, which will be super valuable for testing later in the season.

While the speedometer was cool, the best part of the electronics swag was changing text that Ethan and his team displayed on the back of the vehicle. We had all the best UR Baja phrases from “SEE YAA” to “NOT RIT” and Anchors (if the last one doesn’t make sense, just ask Noah Meyers, and I’m sure he’d love to explain).

Besides working on blinging out the car, the electronics team has been very busy working on data collection. One of our team’s goals this year is to greatly improve our data acquisition and validation of engineering models used in our design. In the picture, you can see one of our strain gage tests on an old tie rod. We will be using data from this test, and other tests that we’ll do throughout the season, to compare theoretical values from FEA with actual, measured values. This will ensure that we complete the engineering design cycle, and should improve our design scores at competition. More importantly, it should help us determine where we can cut weight from our designs!

Improvements on Data Acquisition

MIDNIGHT MAYHEM

By Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


The Baja team is just getting back from our trip to Midnight Mayhem, and as always, we had a blast! This year we took a group of 25 people, including 15 new members of the Baja team. What’s even more impressive is that this year both the Rochester and California cars survived the entire endurance race needing nothing more than a few zip ties and a piece of Phil Swift’s quality Flex Tape.

My favorite part of the event was seeing the new member’s reactions after they had a chance to drive in the endurance race. Even some of the more quiet members were exploding with excitement and adrenaline after they got out of the Baja car. We got to see everything from people literally jumping up and down to people telling stories about how they passed some of the other cars on the track. Everyone loved driving, and I’m happy to report that there wasn’t a single accident during the endurance race!

It was a glowing station at Midnight Mayhem

This Midnight Mayhem was also quite interesting because of the events that they decided to run. Instead of the Baja Cross event that they had last year, we had “Barrel Climb”, “Barrel Jumping”, or “Barrel Racing”, depending on who was announcing. Essentially it was like the barrel racing event with horses, except with just one barrel and you started by driving downhill. In addition to Barrel Racing, we had a nice maneuverability course, and a good endurance course that went through the motocross track and the forest.

Gears saw considerable mayhem

Of course though, it wouldn’t be Midnight Mayhem without a little bit of…well…mayhem. In the morning of the event day, we tried to start our generator that we filled with a couple gallons of gas only to learn that it wouldn’t start. Despite the giant text on the front of the generator saying the minimum fuel required, we somehow managed to put less than the minimum required fuel in the generator. Also, quite conveniently, Rochester managed to break literal seconds after finishing the final lap of the endurance race. For those that haven’t seen the pictures yet, take a look and you’ll see that one of the bearings in the gearbox failed. At the time, we had no idea what happened, but people walking Rochester back to the paddocks reported hearing a loud, horrific sound followed by Rochester stopping dead in its tracks. But hey, Rochester broke after the race, so that still means we had a “flawless” event, right?

FUNDRAISING UPDATE

By Loren McDonald (Mechanical Engineering, ’20)


On behalf of the entire University of Rochester Baja SAE Team, I would like to thank all of our alumni for their support of our team. As many of you know, we reached out to over a hundred alumni this past winter break to help support our team. Thanks to the support of all of our alumni, we managed to raise $2,770 this holiday season. The support from all of our alumni has been amazing, and it’s bringing us closer and closer to our dream of attending three competitions this year.

In addition to reaching out to alumni, the entire Baja team has been trying to connect with potential corporate sponsors to bring us even closer to our $30,000 goal for the season. Recently, we’ve acquired the sponsorship of a couple different machine shops that seem very interested in supporting the team. In addition, we are currently in the process of finalizing a monetary donation from Van Bortel, the automotive dealership. While we haven’t quite reached our goal yet, the UR Baja team has managed to raise a grand total of over $24,000 from the University, alumni, and corporate sponsors.

Obviously, we still have a more work to be done with sponsorship. In order for the team to manage the third competition this year, we need to raise about another $6,000. We certainly are thankful for all the donations that we have received thus far, but if anyone is still considering donating, please know that your donation could make the difference between going to two or three competitions. If you’re wondering how you could support the Baja Team, it’s simple. Just head on over to our website at (https://sa.rochester.edu/baja/donate/), and follow the directions on the page.

The University of Rochester Baja SAE Team is an amazing learning experience that we are all blessed to be a part of. Thank you all for your support, both previous and future, and hopefully we will see some of you all at competition.

THE MIRACLE OF BAJA

By Harris Mandell (Mechanical Engineering, ’21)


I was first introduced to Baja SAE while passing by one of the cars in the Rettner Atrium on an engineering tour of the university. I have always been a big fan of automotive engineering and racing. One of my favorite races has always been the Baja 1000, a high-speed off-road race through the desert of the Baja California Peninsula that pushes the limits of engineering and driver skill. When I discovered that there was a club at the University of Rochester that was based on this event, I wanted in immediately. I was told that nearly all the design, fabrication, and testing was done by undergraduate students. At that moment, that was very hard to believe. There was no way a group of undergraduate students could possibly understand all the intricacies of designing and fabricating a fully functioning race car. Several months later when I arrived on campus I learned that I was completely wrong.

I learned that something really special happens at this club. It all starts with a common goal: designing and building a single-seater off-road race car each year to compete in competitions across the nation. When that goal is presented to a bunch of passionate, solution-oriented people and after some research and trial and error, a race car pops out. I think what makes the club so successful is that everyone brings their personal experiences, skill sets, ambition, and work ethic to the table. Additionally, despite being a complex engineering project, absolutely no prior knowledge or experience was required. You don’t even have to be an engineer to join! I was amazed by that, and the fact that it was easy to hop in and get caught up to speed on current projects and goals.

The 2017-2018 season has been an amazing experience thus far. I have had the chance to really challenge myself, apply what I know, and acquire new knowledge and skills such as machining, welding, and computer-aided design. I find it to be the perfect complement to the academic work I do during the week. I really look forward to the upcoming competitions this spring and the future seasons to come.