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Student Team’s Baja Vehicle Tested on International Stage

One of two Pennsylvania College of Technology entries in the Society of Automotive Engineers %E2%80%9CBaja SAE Montreal%E2%80%9D tackles rough terrain during a four-hour endurance race, the final event of the collegiate competition.Taking two cars to the Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Series “Baja SAE Montreal” contest, Pennsylvania College of Technology finished respectably among more than 90 competing schools and is under way with plans for the 2009 contest.

The team a subgroup of the college’s Society of Manufacturing Engineers student chapter took 11 students and two faculty members to the 2008 event, held in Orford, Quebec. Taking a second vehicle meant that, in addition to making improvements to the car the team ran in 2006 and 2007, the students built a new car from scratch. A Baja car is an off-road, single-seat vehicle.

The goal for the team’s new car was to reduce about 150 pounds in weight compared with its first vehicle built as the college’s first entry into the Baja SAE series in 2006. For the Penn College group, with its fabrication abilities, building “from scratch” is more literal than for some colleges, which buy many already-made parts or pay to have them custom-built.

“I’d say there are over 120 individual components that go into making our car,” said Lance C. Spotts, 2007-08 Baja team captain. “I’d have to say that 75 to 80 percent of those were manufactured by Penn College students. “¦ We’re light years ahead of the other teams that are trying to scab things together to get them to work. We engineered what we thought was best and found the parts that fit it. A lot of teams can’t do that.”

Spotts said the team designed its own shock assembly and made its own transmission and motor mounts. “We made the parts that we had work for what we want them to do. A lot of other teams have a lot of compromises that they have to go through to even get in the competition. We’ve kind of cut out some of the compromises, basically because we have better fabrication abilities, better equipment.”

The Penn College cars finished 61st and 80th overall among a field of 106 vehicles and 886 students from six countries. Both cars passed an exhaustive technical inspection and survived three days of durability-testing challenges, including acceleration, land maneuverability, and suspension and traction before making it to the final event: a four-hour endurance race to see which cars could survive to complete the most laps on a rugged, 2.5-mile course.

“The endurance race is brutal,” said SME adviser John Upcraft, instructor of machine tool technology. “It’s a motocross track: large jumps, large drop-offs, doubles, railroad ties, telephone poles on the course, whatever. They intentionally make it rough. They’re trying to break your car, and a lot of cars do break.”

More than half of the 96 cars that began the endurance race failed to finish. The college’s older vehicle was among those that finished. Its newer car demonstrated impressive average lap times of 7:40, comparable to the speeds of top finishers, before it had its race cut short by a broken master link, a $2 part the students did not make.

“I’m proud that none of the parts the students manufactured had any kind of failure in the endurance race,” Upcraft said.

The overall crown in Montreal was won by Centro Universitario Da FEI, of Brazil. Other large competitors included Auburn University, Boston University, Clemson University, Cornell University, Georgia Tech, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University, Ohio State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Texas, the University of Florida, the University of Iowa, the University of Louisville, the University of Michigan, Virginia Tech and Purdue University.

“I’m very proud of these students,” Upcraft said. “I think it speaks loudly to their work ethic and talent and ability to problem-solve. They’re a great group of students.

“To take on one car is not an easy task, but to pull off two vehicles and end up with the results we had, I’m more than pleased and very proud. All the little problems and issues we had during the race, everything was solved calmly, correctly, in a timely fashion.”

“The pride that I have and the rest of the team members have in this car is that we can point and say that we made that part,” Spotts said. “This isn’t only a college competition tool. This is a good tool to put on your resume. When you can go to a future employer and say, “˜I helped construct this; I was on the suspension design of this particular vehicle,’ your employer can say, “˜You’ve got motivation. You’ve got talent. You’ve got drive.’ It’s absolutely amazing. This is just so cool on so many different levels.”

The team is now focusing on the June 2009 Baja SAE, to be held in Wisconsin, for which the group will modify the car built last year. The students are redesigning the vehicle’s drivetrain, including fabricating their own gear box, Upcraft said.

“It seems that every bit of this car is an extension of our team. “¦ It’s an extension of Penn College. It’s an extension of Penn College spirit,” Spotts said. “This is all the hard work we’ve put in. This is the drive that our team has, to be able to get something done to this level.”

The effort of the Penn College students to manufacture their cars and compete at Baja SAE will be included in an upcoming edition of the college’s public television documentary series, “degrees that work.” The episode, expected to air in late winter, focuses on advanced manufacturing. More information is available online .

To learn more about manufacturing engineering technology or other academic programs offered by the School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies at Penn College, visit on the Web or call (570) 327-4520. To learn more about Penn College, visit online , e-mail or call toll-free (800) 367-9222.

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