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A Formula for Success

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students take racing to the next level with a little help from Sandvik Coromant

Ask yourself this: what's better than a fast car? The answer, of course, is winning a race in that fast car, and thanks to plenty of hard work, guidance from knowledgeable instructors, and some high-quality tooling from Sandvik Coromant, that's exactly what the students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, N.Y., strive to achieve.

Teamwork and Tooling

As participants in the Society of Automotive Engineers' Formula SAE program, RPI students have the opportunity to compete with colleges and universities in racing events across the United States, and in some instances, around the world. Working in teams, the students learn to design, build, and of course race their vehicles, learning a great deal about machining and manufacturing along the way.

Randy McDougall, technical manager for the Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering Departments at RPI, said he works with all three of the school's racing clubs, the Rensselaer Electric Vehicle team, the Formula Hybrid team and the Formula SAE team, which is now called Rensselaer Motor Sports. Each is supported by RPI's well-equipped, well-staffed manufacturing facility, which uses a variety of CNC and manual machine tools to manufacture a large percentage of the components the different teams use to build their race cars.

Resized 2019 Formula SAE car.jpg

One example of this is a pair of Front Uprights (the piece that connects a car's wheel to its steering mechanism) designed and machined recently by electromechanical technician Scott Yerbury, who consulted with Sandvik Coromant sales engineer Dayne Mosconi on the tooling selection before tackling the aerospace-grade 7075-T651 aluminum component.

Yerbury describes the lengthy process. "The uprights required five separate operations and a custom-built fixture to complete," he said. "Once the programming was done, I used one of the school's 3-axis CNC vertical machining centers equipped with a Sandvik Coromant 390-series 3-inch diameter indexable milling cutter to face the part, then proceeded to rough the outside with a 390-series 3/4-inch end mill before completing the perimeter. That same tool was also used to rough out the pockets and bores, which I finished with an assortment of ball-nose end mills and other cutters for the required geometry. There was also some 3D surfacing involved. All in all, it was a challenging project due to the tight tolerances and relatively large amount of material removed from the workpeice. I was very glad to have Sandvik Coromant on my side, not only for the tooling, but also for educating me on the science and engineering of material removal."

Senior Team Leader Ryder explains the process.JPGSandvik Coromant's Mosconi noted that this is but one of the many projects he's been involved with during his two years of working with the school. "Because they make so many of their own parts in-house, the students will sometimes run into challenges with different materials, so they'll ask us questions about what cutting tools would work best, what feeds and speeds to use, or how a particular part should be processed. It's one of my favorite accounts."

Dotting the Is

According to RPI's McDougall, the stakes are high. "The students don't just go in there and wing it; these vehicles are truly engineered, with each team focusing on various aspects such as the drivetrain or suspension," he said. "They have to design dozens of different components, so there's a lot of CAD work, some finite element analysis work, and no small amount of math. And once the design is approved, they then have to machine and assemble everything. There's a great deal of planning involved."

There's also the paperwork. Because so much of engineering work today is about documentation, each team is graded as much on their paperwork and drawing management skills as they are the vehicle's performance on the track. "It can be a grueling process," McDougall said. "If you don't dot all the Is and cross all the Ts, you're not going to win."Students put final touches on engine.JPG

More Than Stickers

Grueling or not, building a race car has proven to be valuable experience post-graduation for many of the program's participants. McDougall can point to literally hundreds of students who've gone on to high-paying careers in the aerospace, power generation, and of course automotive industry, including working for such prestigious companies as GM, Fiat, Chrysler, Tesla, Hondo Motor Corporation, Borg Warner, Space Acts, General Dynamics, General Electric, and Pratt and Whitney. 


There's much more to Sandvik Coromant's involvement in all this than an educational discount on cutting tools and a few stickers on a race car, however. Sam Chiappone, manager and instructor for fabrication and prototyping at the School of Engineering, said his and other departments at RPI have been working with Sandvik Coromant for nearly 20 years. During that time, the tooling provider has supported a number of training programs, including a senior level technical elective class called Manufacturing Processes and Systems, where students learn about different manufacturing processes and how they are used to  make various products.

Sam talking about MPS.JPG

"I really value the relationship that we have with Sandvik Coromant," said Chiappone. "They'll come in and help with curriculum development, and just last fall we participated in a seminar with them, where we were able to remotely monitor some of the machining systems at their Fair Lawn, New Jersey facility. They are very involved in and concerned with educating the next generation of manufacturing leaders. Quite simply, they're an excellent partner."

Manufacturing Innovation Learning Lab

The Motorsports Team and Formula SAE race car is only one student manufacturing experience supported by the Manufacturing Network's Manufacturing Innovation Learning Lab (MILL) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Sam Chiappone, Director of Manufacturing Innovation, talks about the Manufacturing Processes and Systems classes which is part of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer where future leaders and innovators in manufacturing learn advanced manufacturing topics to increase their breadth and depth of manufacturing knowledge. Sandvik Coromant has been proud to a sponsor the MPS classes since 2004.

Senior working on a Haas to complete the senior project.JPG

The MPS classes give students practical experience through the building of complete manufacturing systems. By the end of the class, students will have manufactured hundreds of units of a product by designing and engineering a manufacturing system, optimizing their system, managing a project budget, developing and modifying manufacturing processes and packaging plans, and more, all while staying on a tight production schedule.

Sam explains the mold process for the senior project.JPG

Practical, real-world experience

This year's MPS class was assigned the task of machining 400 fire boats complete with a water cannon as a senior project. But according to RPI's Chiappone, "The completed fire boat is not the end goal for this class. It's just the vehicle that gets them through the experience. The most important learning for the students is the manufacturing journey which includes developing the processes and specifications, choosing optimal tooling, and proving out that the idea will work using engineering theory." Each class applies for the annual ASME/SME Student Manufacturing and Design Competition in June by submitting their comprehensive technical package, which is an in-depth reporting of all the planning, design and production of their senior project.

close up of aluminum cannons.JPG

But the students also learned another practical lesson in this class. They learned that it is beneficial to rely on technical partners to achieve success. Dayne Mosconi, Technical Sales Representative for Sandvik Coromant, regularly checks in with Chiappone and the students. In the beginning of the school year, Dayne participated in the initial student presentation of the senior project where they already identified a manufacturing challenge. The through-hole of the aluminum cannon for the fire boat was giving them problems. Their current process was taking a long time to drill a hole using a High-Speed Steel (HSS) drill on the Haas VF2. According to Mosconi, "We knew we had something that could help them, so we brought in the CoroDrill 861. This is a solid carbide drill with high stability for drilling deep holes with high speed and efficiency. That one tool change reduced the machining time of that hole from 10 minutes per cannon to five seconds." In the real world, that productivity improvement would have helped a machine shop save time and money, so they can remain competitive.

explaining the through hole in the cannon for senior project.JPG 

Importance of partnerships

As one of the original Haas Technical Centers (HTEC), students have opportunities to work on the many available Haas machines to complete their projects. RPI's MILL relies on the solid relationships with partners such as Haas, Haas distributor Allendale Machinery Systems and Sandvik Coromant. Access to the MILL provides students with a collaborative atmosphere and access to resources such as tooling, machines and technical support to autonomously work on projects, such as the fire boat, on their own time and schedule. According to Mr. Chiappone, "Once students take an introduction to computer-aided machining (CAM) class, they get a sense of how the machines are programmed and operate. Then they apply the knowledge from lab to lab to use the CNC equipment in support of manufacturing requirements for the project."

The hands-on, real life experience students get from this program is why graduates are job-ready from day one and have promising careers ahead of them. Click here to learn more about the Manufacturing Network at RPI and the programs available.

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