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.
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."
Sandvik 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."
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.
"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."