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Mini Baja Team, Fresh From Competition, Already Planning for 2008

Standing, from left%3A Penn College alumnus Isaac D. Seidel%3B student Douglas L. Shirk, of Paxtonville%3B John G. Marshalek, instructor of machine tool technology%2Fautomated manufacturing%3B student Lance C. Spotts, of Julian%3B student Thaddeus J. Temple, of Trout Run%3B and John G. Upcraft, instructor of machine tool technology%3B sitting%3A students Zachary R. Mazur, of New Kensington%3B and Chase A. Mathews, of Casstown, Ohio%3B and kneeling, student David L. Kerstetter, of Plymouth Meeting.A six-student team from Pennsylvania College of Technology recently tested its Mini Baja off-road vehicle against 140 other college and university teams at Rochester Institute of Technology.

One of the biggest payoffs for the Wildcat team, which finished 57th overall in the June 8-10 competition, was that the vehicle despite battling grueling obstacles on the Palmyra, N.Y., Hogback Hill Motocross Track did not encounter any breakdowns. The car survived a hill-climb event and acceleration and maneuverability tests before taking on the last day’s challenge a four-hour endurance contest. Teams were also scored on their car’s design, cost and the results of a technical inspection.

The team is made up of members of the college’s Society of Manufacturing Engineers student chapter. Devoting free time to the project throughout the Spring 2007 semester were Mini Baja team captain Zachary R. Mazur, New Kensington, manufacturing engineering technology; David L. Kerstetter, Plymouth Meeting, manufacturing engineering technology; Chase A. Mathews, Casstown, Ohio, manufacturing engineering technology; Douglas L. Shirk, Paxtonville, automated manufacturing technology; Lance C. Spotts, Julian, toolmaking technology; and Thaddeus J. Temple, Trout Run, manufacturing engineering technology.

“The event at RIT was awesome,” Mathews said. “The thing that stands out the most about the whole event is how teams were more than willing to help out other teams. It’s very competitive out on the track, but in the pits, it was a very open and friendly environment. We had a few small problems with our vehicle, and other Baja teams were willing to allow us to use their “˜mobile toolrooms’ or let us have a few small parts that we needed. I was surprised to see so much camaraderie between all the teams.”

It is the second year the team has taken on the Society of Automotive Engineers’ event, hosted this year by RIT. For 2006, the students built their vehicle from the bottom up and made it farther in competition than most rookie teams. For 2007, they made several improvements to the car, reducing its weight and changing its drivetrain and rear suspension.

Penn College%E2%80%99s Mini Baja car is put through its paces at the Hogback Hill motocross track in Palmyra, N.Y., where it competed against 140 other college and university teams.“The value of this project is that it allows the people involved with the team to be involved with building a project that has constant engineering issues that need to be dealt with,” Mathews said. “A majority of us on the team are going to be four-year manufacturing engineering technology graduates, and, although we may not be building Mini Baja cars in the future, it is still a project that presents real-life problems and training on how to deal with them.”

Among top-name colleges and universities from around the world, the team finished respectably in the contest’s challenges, including completing 42 laps to earn a 48th-place finish in the endurance test, the winner of which is the team that completes the most laps in four hours. Several teams’ vehicles did not survive previous events to compete in the endurance challenge, while many completed only one lap. Teams may stop to fix their vehicles if needed and return to the track, but with no mechanical breakdowns to overcome, the only hindrance for the Penn College team was its vehicle’s weight compared to other schools’ entries, yielding a speed disadvantage.

“We had one of the heaviest Baja cars at the event, weighing in at about 635 pounds,” said Mathews, who is president-elect of the college’s SME student chapter. He said the lightest car in the competition weighed about half that.

“We would like to build a vehicle that weighs in at about 400-450 pounds,” he said. “We think this will give us an advantage on weight without losing structural integrity.”

He said the team is also considering a less bulky four-wheeler transmission for its next vehicle, complete with transmission cases the team members would like to build themselves to further reduce weight.

The Wildcats' vehicle survived two days of rough terrain without a breakdown.“The team is really excited, and I believe it will be a good year for us in 2008,” Mathews said. “Not only are we planning to build a new car, but we also plan to cut up the old one and lighten it up to make it more competitive. If we can get the support and funding, we would like to race two vehicles in 2008. We finished 57th overall out of 141 teams this year not bad for a second-year team. We would like to get in the top 25 next year.”

The top five overall finishers in the event one of three SAE Mini Baja contests across the nation were Centro Universitÿa1rio da FEI, Brazil; Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada; Tennessee Tech University; Michigan State University; and the University of Florida. Teams also traveled from Mexico, Venezuela, South Korea and India.

John G. Upcraft, instructor of machine tool technology and adviser for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers student chapter at the college, accompanied the students.

For more information about the academic programs offered by Penn College’s School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies, call (570) 327-4520 .

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