Kerry N. Tobin

Professor Manufacturing Engineering Technology
1981 - present

Weber State’s First Hybrid-Electric Vehicle

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) parent chapter in Dearborn, Michigan decided to sponsor a competition for post high school (tech school and university) students to build an electric or hybrid-electric automobile.  The first competition was to be held in the Spring of 1993 in Dearborn.
The rules and categories were established and sent out to participating schools.  The two main categories were 1) a totally custom, built-from-the-ground-up vehicle or 2) a modification of a new 1993 Ford Escort wagon.  Weber State chose the Ford wagon modification option because of the limited time to complete the project (one academic school year).  The finished product was to be shipped to Dearborn and student driven in a series of driving competitions between other participating schools.  A few thousand dollars was awarded to this project to cover the cost of parts for the car.

Two faculty members volunteered or were assigned to act as advisors for the project.  Dave Erb from the Mechanical Engineering Technology department and Kerry Tobin from the Manufacturing Engineering Technology department took on the task.  Students from these two departments volunteered or were assigned to have this be their senior capstone project.

A project leader was elected by the students and approved by the faculty to oversee the design, build and running of the car.  Cory Yelderman, a former crew chief on the F-16 fighter jet depot maintenance and refurbishment team at Hill Air Force Base got the job.  There could have been no better choice for this project.  Cory was very personable and blended the various students to make a team that was beyond great.  He was very stern about the schedule and would not compromise.  He taught the students to perform as they had agreed and get the job done on time.  Of course, the students fell behind schedule a few times, but Cory got them all to pitch in and catch up.

The design/modification of the car was mostly left up to the Mechanical Engineering students, but it had to be fabricated at Weber State, so the Manufacturing students had input.  The idea was to remove the fifth gear housing on the manual transmission of the car and replace it with a chain drive to an electric motor.  Various modifications needed to be made to fit the electric motor.  These were all done by the students.  Sixteen 12-volt lead-acid batteries were fit into a fabricated box where the rear seat and cargo compartments were.  These powered the electric motor.  Needless to say, this added a lot of weight to the car so it had to be stripped of all non-essential items, even down to the windshield wipers.  It was soon given a heavy-duty suspension, that made it actually handle just sufficiently enough to drive.

When the car was finally finished in the early spring, the advisors told the students to take it out west of the city and drive it until it broke, bring it back, fix it, and drive it some more.  They got about 50 miles on it doing just that and were ready to take it to Dearborn.  Cory, the project leader had a truck and trailer.  The car was loaded on it with tools and spare parts and off they went, several students and Dave Erb as the advisor.
Upon arrival, several competing school teams were in a large parking lot working frantically on their cars, trying to complete them.  The Weber State team proudly pulled into the lot, drove the car off the trailer, put the car in the tent, locked it up and drove off to the amazement of everyone.  Even before the competition, Weber State had won the “Wow” factor of all the schools present.

On the first day of competition, several tests were performed on the cars for safety and to ensure they met the rules of the competition. The first driving test was an acceleration check.  As our student driver drove up to the starting line, one of the officials had a new Chevrolet Camaro parked nearby that was used for checking the timing lights.  He told our driver that if he could beat the time that the Camaro recorded, he could have it.  Now what would any red-blooded 20-year old young man do?  He engaged both the gasoline engine and the electric motor and stomped his foot down to the floor.  To everyone’s amazement, the car smoked the tires and leapt off the starting line.  He couldn’t get the car into second gear until it slowed a little.  Needless to say, he didn’t win the new Camaro but got another “Wow” factor from the spectators.

Dave Erb was furious.  He didn’t want the car broken on the first day.  After he finished screaming at the student driver through the open window, the student explained the situation.  Dave immediately cooled down and started to laugh, totally understanding the proposition.
The Weber State team ended up taking second place overall in their division, first place in the United States (there was a Canadian team that took first place overall).  Trophies were awarded also.  Our team also won “Most Manufacturable” as well as $16,000 to be spent for the next year’s competition.
The next year a new team made a few modifications to the car and again did well in the competition.  A few years later the car was sold to an individual who took it out to Rocky Mountain Raceway drag strip west of Salt Lake City as an exhibition vehicle.  It seemed painfully slow as a Volkswagen beetle next to all of the fast cars.  However, at the end of the day, it held the track record for the best elapsed time for the quarter mile for a hybrid-electric car.  It was the only one in the competition. 

Working at Hill Air Force Base through Weber State

 In the spring of 1985 Hill Air Force Base approached the Dean of the School of Technology, Kent Randall, to find out if some faculty would like to work at HAFB for the summer in hopes of transferring technology back and forth between the school and the air force.  Several faculty agreed including myself, Keith Allred and Wayne Andrews.

I was to work in the Depot Maintenance Division of (M.A.N.E.F.).  My responsibilities were in the manufacturing of parts of various landing gear refurbishment.  Worn landing gears from various Air Force aircraft were shipped to HAFB for complete factory rebuild.  Some of the newer landing gear had parts available, while older ones had to be totally remade from new materials.  Casting, forging, machining, welding and various other processes were used.

The office area I worked in had a brand-new Computer-Aided Design (CAD) system that no one knew how to use.  I got permission to learn the system and teach it to someone.  Since I had taught manual drafting for years and later C.A.D it was a good fit for me.  The software was a 2-D design software called CADKEY that was similar to AUTOCAD that I had used and taught for a few years.

There was a person hired to do drafting designs (Dave) in my office who wanted to learn C.A.D.  We got permission from our supervisor, Ted, for me to teach him, one on one.  This turned out to be very rewarding for both of us.  We spent the summer drawing parts and I even designing the layout for a new building that was to be built in the near future called ISROMS (or just building #238).  I don’t remember what the acronym means.  I spent many hours coordinating the painting shop design with the paint foreman Tom Davis.  It turns out that our design was used by the Air Force as a sample of what was to actually be put into the new building.

At the end of that first summer Keith Allred and I were offered to stay on and work the next summer and Weber holidays that were not federal holidays at HAFB.  Our contracts were renewed for a total of four years until the program was terminated.

Senior Projects in Manufacturing and Systems Engineering

The idea of a Senior or Capstone Project since its inception is to demonstrate the combined learned knowledge and skills of the senior student.  The student uses his or her years at Weber State to create a project of rigor that they can be proud of.

Faculty dating back to the early 1960’s included Cliff Larson and Kent Randall, developed the idea of Senior Project (capstone) courses with the help of industry professionals from the American Society of Tool and Manufacturing Engineers (ASTME) later Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and others.

The first semester is the design portion of the project.  Students and faculty agree upon a project that will be challenging for the students and include several processes learned in the various lectures and labs.  Some projects are existing designs previously made by earlier students, while some projects are new and innovative to the students.  Some projects include multiple copies, of the product, as many as 50, while some are one-off protype projects.  All students in the project have input in the design.

The second semester will entail the actual manufacture or fabrication of the product.  All students in the project have some involvement in the manufacture of the product.  Changes to the first semester design are documented by the students according to industry standards taught professors involved.

The number of students on the projects, as well as the complexity of the product varies.  The skills and knowledge the students bring with them from previous experiences plays a factor in project selection.  Some projects may take multiple years to complete (the satellite projects for example), while most are completed in one year.  Some projects are quite simple while others (satellite, rock crawler, crash tester or seat belt convincer) were very involved and taxed the students heavily.

Most of the manufacturing of parts is done in the WSU shops and labs. When equipment is not available at WSU, parts may be sent out to industries.  Local industries and professionals give the students real-life exposure and teaching experiences to manufacturing processes and help out immensely.   This is often a great recruiting tool for the industries like on-site internships.  Funding for the projects is provided by who keeps the product, being the student or the school.