January 22, 2010
School of Engineering, Amritapuri
To several engineering students at Amritapuri, Sunday morning during their Christmas holidays was the perfect time to take advantage of a presentation by visiting mechanical engineer, Heidi Wolfe.
“If I were giving this presentation in a US college now, no one would be there,” she jokingly remarked, as she began her talk. Currently also studying for a master’s degree in project management, Ms. Wolfe is employed full-time with Boeing in Seattle, Washington, as a structural design engineer.
The students who attended the seminar had plenty of reason for making the effort. They will represent Amritapuri in a competition organized by the International Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) for the best design of a mini, single-person, open-wheeled racecar.
Amrita students from Coimbatore have participated in this contest before. The Baja SAE contest asks engineering students to design and build an off-road vehicle that can survive rough terrain and even water. The vehicle is powered by a ten-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton Corp.
In 2009, an 18-member team from the Mechanical Engineering department at Coimbatore had built a racecar. They used light-weight mild steel SA 106 B and the minimum number of bracings required. A rack and pinion system with a gearbox ratio of 18:1 made up their steering. Learn More »
“Start early and work hard from the beginning,” Ms. Wolfe told the Amritapuri team members. As a college student, she had competed in a similar contest and could offer a number of practical suggestions based on her own experience.
“Start building as soon as you can, even if your design isn’t complete, so that you have time to thoroughly test your design.” She narrated how she was once testing the windshield of her team’s vehicle when, 10 kilometres down the road, the windshield fell off and she had to carry it as well as push the vehicle.
Being a woman in a field dominated by men had clearly made no difference to the career of this confident professional. Ms. Wolfe was one of two women on her college team of fourteen. At Boeing, Ms. Wolfe works on the 787 Dreamliner and is currently based in Italy.
“Build on experience,” she told the students. “Look at other successful designs and improve on earlier designs instead of trying to design something totally different.” She recalled her own contest experience. “We stayed up late many nights and worked really hard. We made a lot of mistakes and we learned a lot. We kept the design simple and didn’t have very high expectations. It was a great experience!”
On the following day, students attended a presentation by Mr. Balasubramanium, Deputy Head of Vehicle Engineering Synthesis at Renault Nissan. This technical centre located in Chennai conducts vehicle performance tests, durability evaluation, benchmarking, prototyping, regulation and homologation. Mr. Balasubramanium had convened Baja SAE India 2009, and he provided an overview of the contest stages.
“We received several practical suggestions from his talk,” stated Rama Krishna, 3rd year student of Mechanical Engineering and Chair of the SAE Chapter in Amritapuri. “He told us how to acquire tires and software through SAE, contact industry members and manage time effectively. SAE started this contest to inspire students to apply the knowledge they gain in school, and we are proud to participate.”
His team will join fellow Amrita students from the Coimbatore campus to participate in the contest. We wish teams from both campuses the best of luck as they move forward in this exciting and education-enhancing adventure.