OGDEN, Utah – For 11 Weber State University seniors, the toughest test of their college careers may occur after they graduate next month.
Since last August, 10 men and one woman have spent eight to 10 hours a week working on a mini baja vehicle as part of their senior project in the mechanical engineering technology program. The finished vehicle is scheduled to compete in the Mini Baja West 2006 competition, May 11-13 in Portland, Ore. This is the third consecutive year that WSU mechanical engineering technology students have competed in the event, which is open to universities and colleges across North and South America, and also has attracted teams from Korea and South Africa.
“This project pulls together all the undergraduate course work the students have learned,” said associate mechanical engineering technology professor Dr. Daniel Magda. “Over the course of nine months, they come to realize what it takes to become an engineer who solves real-world engineering problems.
The mini baja is built from scratch each year, with Briggs & Stratton providing the same stock engine for each school. The students are divided into three groups: One focuses on the frame, a second works on the front end, and the final group is responsible for the rear end.
At the start of fall semester, students come up with concepts and blueprints, long before actually building the vehicle. The team is given a footprint by contest organizers, and automotive engineering standards developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers provide general guidelines for the project. Team members are responsible for weekly progress reports updating the status of the project, so it doesn’t fall behind schedule.
Magda said the goal is to have a functional vehicle ready to test by early April. That allows four or five weeks of testing prior to competition, so the team can fix things that break and fine-tune or even redesign parts of the vehicle if necessary. The vehicle will be cleaned, and final cosmetic touches will be made just prior to the competition, once testing is complete.
At the three-day Mini Baja West event, the WSU Wildcat racing team will compete against more than 85 teams, demonstrating different facets of the vehicle each day. The first day involves an inspection of the vehicle, and members of the team will be required to provide oral and written reports on all facets of building the vehicle, including costs, design, safety, technical inspection, engine check, engineering analysis and sales presentation.
“The students must present their case as though they were pitching the vehicle to an entrepreneur who might fund production of the machine,” Magda said.
The second day focuses on performance of demonstrated skills, such as acceleration, hill climbing, maneuverability and rock crawling. The combined score from the second day determines the pole position for each car in the third day’s endurance test. On the final day of competition, the mini baja completes a 100-mile race on rough terrain against the other entries. The race requires team members to serve as driver and pit crew for the vehicle. In past years, only half the entrants were able to complete this rugged endurance race before breaking down.
Last year the competition was held in Arizona, where WSU finished 54th out of 138 teams.
“At the competition, there’s no distinction made between cars built by undergraduate students versus graduate students, so our team will get a chance to be tested against the best,” Magda said.
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