We visited the Mechanical Engineering building of Birmingham University on the afternoon of Friday 4th October. Every academic year the Formula Student competition takes place of which a team of 17 students from the University take part; the project begins one month before the academic term begins. When we visited, the team said they had been working their current racing car for nearly one year (the vehicle will be entered into the Formula Student competition in July). Carl Hingley has worked on this project every year with the students for 17 years, the first thing he told us was that traditionally in the first few weeks of building the car, many parts break or fail! Due to experience he can tell on impulse whether a part is faulty or dangerous and every year he hopes that “catastrophic failures” do not occur.
The current model in the process of being developed is capable of reaching 120 mph if the gear ratios are correct. Each year the car built is a development of the one built previously; new developments in the current model include new carbon fibre, the car is also much more light weight. Carl said that working on the project is a fantastic path into the engineering industry; previous people who worked on the project now run wind turbines in Barbados whilst others live in New York on rather large salaries!
Recently the team competed in China where they were given special treatment; they travelled the country on the famous bullet train, staying in 5 * hotels along the way. The team even spoke on the local news to 6 million people! Carl informed us that he thought China is going to play a prominent part in the future of mankind as it continues to have a greater effect on the wider world.
The competition in July is international, 23 countries are represented all over the world and every country involved must build vehicles under the same rules. Any student with a driving licence may drive the racing car in the competition, annual trials are held to find the driver with the best time and technique. Previous cars used in competitions have been sent to other universities, one is in Jamaica! The price to build a formula competition car is around £17 000, though a lot of expense goes towards the race suits; approximately £3000 to £4000 is spent to ensure suits are fully flame proof. Each car must also be installed with an emergency stop button; known as a “kill switch”. There must be different settings as the size and weight of drivers varies. The weight distribution must stick to the 60:40 ratio which ensures that weight is distributed correctly, the back of the vehicle must be heavier in order to stop the tyres from spinning.
We asked Carl what he thought the future for engineering holds; he replied by saying that a lot of government money is currently being invested in robotics (since investment in this sector will essentially contribute to the growth of quaternary industries). We also asked about the fuel used by the formula students and whether or not the team have considered running on electricity; to this his response was that it is unlikely that the racing industry will switch to using electricity as part of the thrill of racing comes from the roar of the engines .
By Symrhun Dosanjh L6E