Coming off an impressive top-15 finish in 2012, the student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers at Pennsylvania College of Technology is confidently polishing up its 2013 entry into the Baja SAE Collegiate Design Series.
Eight students, led by captains Andrew D. Dietrich and Benjamin D. Lopatofsky, will take their mini Baja to Tennessee Tech University on April 18, where the vehicle will endure four days of rough, off-road challenges to test its acceleration, land maneuverability and suspension and traction.
The cars will also be tested in a sled pull, and the traditional final day’s challenge is a four-hour endurance race, during which teams compete to find out who can finish the most laps with their already competition-worn vehicles. Many don’t survive to try the endurance race. Many more will have to quit before the four hours are up.
Last year, against 99 other college teams from seven countries and three continents, the Penn College team survived all four days of competition without a single breakdown and took seventh in the endurance race.
This year, the team began work early – in the initial part of the fall semester – to build on last year’s success. About 10 students show up nearly every Sunday at the college’s Machining Technologies Center to design and manufacture parts for the vehicle. As the competition draws near, they’ve added Fridays, as well.
As required every three years, the team built a brand-new chassis, borrowing from last year’s successful design. But the group has made several improvements, such as shorter trailing arms that last year – although they didn’t break – bent under the rough conditions. They also modified the vehicle body to eliminate some of the tubing that makes up its framework.
Through their innovations, team members managed to shave the vehicle’s weight from 425 pounds last year to under 400 for the Tennessee Tech challenge. It will be the lightest vehicle Penn College has entered in its eight years of participation.
“We feel pretty confident,” Dietrich, of Kutztown, said.
Dietrich and Lopatofsky, who is from Williamsport, are second-year members of the Penn College SME Baja team. Both are sophomores in the manufacturing engineering technology bachelor-degree major and have developed their leadership skills through their duties as captains, making sure each of their fellow students has something to do when they give up their Sundays to work on the car. They noted the contributions of Scott S. Miller, an automotive technology management student from Williamsport, who did all of the vehicle’s sheet-metal work.
Baja SAE simulates real-world engineering design projects. The object of the competition is to provide students with a challenging project that involves the planning and manufacturing tasks found when introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market. In addition to the physical challenges, teams compete against one another to have their design accepted for manufacture by a fictitious firm. All vehicles are powered by the same 10-horsepower engine, donated by Briggs & Stratton.
To learn more about manufacturing engineering technology and other academic degrees offered by the School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies at Penn College, call 570-327-4520.