University competitions allow students to excel and contribute to research in technological solutions that benefit the industry.
In engineering, as in many other scientific fields, there are numerous university science and technological student clubs where our future professionals apply their knowledge for the benefit of technological advancement.
In some universities like the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), there can be close to 30 student clubs in various technological fields relating to human-powered submarines, wind-powered vehicles, concrete canoe races and many others.
These student teams generally participate in inter-university scientific competitions year after year in order to illustrate their advancements, in the hope of winning prestigious awards. The knowledge acquired during university is therefore showcased in a real project.
One of the student clubs present in many Quebec universities is the Baja, designed for participation in a championship organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers with the purpose of developing a single ATV prototype.
To participate, each team must design and make the prototype based on rules established by the organizers to ensure the safety of all. As part of the championship, each team is restricted to using the same motor, a Briggs & Stratton 10 hp, the type usually used in snow blowers. They must build their vehicle around this motor by optimizing the chassis, suspension, powertrain and many other sub-systems.
The championship takes place during the school year from mid-April to mid-June. The teams have about eight months to design and make their vehicle and conduct all the necessary testing.
Every year, three competitions take place in North America, with representatives from more than 200 universities from around the world to compete for the Mike Schmidt Memorial Iron Team Award. This award is given to the team that accumulated the most points in the competitions.
ÉTS team in first place
In 2017, the ÉTS team placed first in two competitions and second place overall, the best result for a Canadian university this year. Over time, the ÉTS team members have come up with numerous technological advancements to perfect the vehicle.
As these projects are rarely overseen by professors, the most experienced students take the initiative to develop or improve one of the vehicle’s sub-systems. Using literature and their technical experience, new notions are perfected and tested, often retaining more conservative safety features from previous versions.
In previous years, many major projects were developed by the ÉTS team, such as:
- Complete suspension analysis using strain gauges;
- Complete optimization of the transmission box;
- Optimization of data acquisition systems.
Last year, the team made significant improvements thanks to the development of a new application for a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), i.e. an Electronic Variable Transmission (EVT).
CVT and EVT technologies
CVTs modify the transmission ratio thanks to a pulley-belt system. The pulley varies in width through a combination of weights and springs that utilize centrifugal acceleration. The weights and springs are determined to optimize transmission in a pre-determined power range.
With an EVT, the benefits stem from the fact that transmission ratios are changed using an actuator controller that optimizes at the ideal power at all times and provides the maximum amount of power possible from the motor, regardless of conditions.
All situations can be optimized using a mechanical CVT. However, it only maximizes one power range, which represents a compromise. EVT technology therefore allows you to handle situations that otherwise would be impossible to control, such as controlled deceleration. The technology is based on the fact that a motor is especially efficient at a given rotation speed. As a result, the transmission ratio can be adjusted to maintain this rotation speed as a target point. Therefore, it’s possible to read fluctuations, understand the situation and predict the vehicle’s behaviour.
From ÉTS to B-Cinq Technologie
After this student project, several members of the Baja team launched B-Cinq Technologie to develop this technology on a larger scale. Such an advancement could easily be incorporated into off-road vehicles in the coming years since most already use a mechanical CVT principle. This is a good example of how far university student club projects can lead.
While one of the premises for designing race cars is being as light as possible and that the built-in electronics are, according to many, not very useful when racing, ÉTS’s Baja team has gone against the current.
For many years, the team has been promoting the idea that technological evolution happens through the acquisition of data, which makes it possible to better understand a vehicle’s behaviour in multiple situations. Improvements can therefore continue to be made and we can continue winning awards!
This article was drafted by Guillaume Dalpé, an ETS mechanical engineering graduate, and trainee with Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton’s Innovation and Technical Development Financing group in the winter of 2018.