Michigan students building a solar-powered race car are riding the cutting edge of technology. And, they're getting a lot of high-powered help from several companies in the plastics business. The race car will be Solar Vision, the University of Michigan's entry in the intercollegiate GM Sunrayce Championship slated to be run June 20-29 between Indianapolis and Golden, Colo.
For an example of industry involvement, look at the contribution being made to the students on the Ann Arbor campus by 3D Systems Inc., based in Valencia, Calif. The company's operation in Farmington Hills, Mich., is using its SLA 500 rapid prototyping machine to build a one-quarter scale working prototype of the car for wind-tunnel testing.
The machine can make models measuring 20 inches by 20 inches by 24 inches. The race car model consists of just three bonded pieces, said 3D Systems application engineer Bill Bishop in Farmington Hills.
The plastic model will be used in developing race strategy through the use of various what-if scenarios involving cloud cover, weather factors and terrain.
DuPont Automotive, based in Troy, Mich., is supplying advanced composite materials that are being used extensively in the car's steering, suspension and chassis and for the structures surrounding the solar cells.
Composite parts include tie rods, kingpins, double A arms and trailing arm. The monocoque chassis is made of carbon fiber and honeycomb sandwich, DuPont said.
``Development of advanced composites in the automotive industry is absolutely essential if we're going to manufacture vehicles that triple fuel efficiency by the year 2000, which is part of the U.S. government's Super Car challenge,'' said Lou Savelli, DuPont Automotive vice president and general manager.
``This type of competition is excellent because it stimulates innovation and, in the long run, everybody wins,'' Savelli added.
The Michigan school's car was designed using design software developed by Dassault Systemes of Paris and distributed by IBM Corp.
Venture Industries, a privately owned injection molder in Fraser, Mich., numerically cut the wood models for the molds used to cast the car's titanium-magnesium wheels. Among other things, the company also numerically cut materials that are mounted to the bottom of the hull so the surfaces matched the hull itself.
Everything is numerically cut, according to Charles Webber, Venture engineering vice president. Student engineers gave the company digital tapes containing the desired surfaces and Venture Industries created the intersections and duplicated the exact surfaces.
In addition to the high-tech machining, students also used an oven in a Venture Industries mold shop to cure the Solar Vision carbon panels, Webber said.
When not helping in engineering academia, Venture Industries molds such automotive components as bumper fasciae, side cladding and interior trim parts.
Other sponsors include 3M Co. and AlliedSignal Automotive. Johnson Controls Inc. of Milwaukee contributed to the student effort as well.
The company's automotive seating operation in Plymouth, Mich., said it helped with ``a special lightweight, ergonomically correct seat.''