The University of KwaZulu-Natal has announced that fourth year engineering students - as part of their final year studies - will be designing a Formula Vee racing car.
This undertaking will be the first project to use PTC's product development software, Pro/Engineer, as its backbone. After the end of the academic year the racing car will be sold by the project's key sponsor, Bearing Man, and the proceeds given to charity.
Professor Evgeny Morozov, head of vehicle design projects at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says that a crucial element to an engineering student's training is applying what he or she has learnt during the course of studying, in a practical situation.
"The University of KwaZulu-Natal places much emphasis on this aspect, allowing an opportunity for students to develop associated skills, such as leadership and communication capability - fundamental assets in today's highly competitive engineering world. Practical exercises throughout an engineering degree at the university culminate in the greatest test of a student's abilities; the final year research and design project. This is one of the reasons why we launched the very ambitious Formula Vee project."
"The University of KwaZulu-Natal is just one of the tertiary institutions participating in our broad-based education programme," says Dayne Turbitt, managing director of ProductONE. "In order for us to effectively compete in today's global marketplace, we need to develop the skills and capabilities of our future engineers. It is to this end that we have embarked on an aggressive programme to bring production capable software into the classroom.
"It is not enough to teach our youth old outdated techniques and expect them to assimilate seamlessly into the real world upon graduation. We need to ensure that they are exposed to the technology that they will be expected to adopt when entering the workforce. The students participating in this program will be joining the other 3,1 million students worldwide, who are learning Pro/Engineer as part of their education and will soon be joining a workforce with skills that are globally transferable."
Morozov says that, following an extensive presentation of the software's capabilities - which was given by Turbitt - the team was able to appreciate the extent to which Pro/Engineer could be utilised in the design and analysis phase of the project.
"Essentially, the use of this package will form the backbone of the project and will display the awesome potential that near-paperless design techniques present, allowing the designer to effectively build a prototype of any system, in virtual form. ProductONE, the distributor of Pro/Engineer in South Africa," continues Morozov, "has shown their commitment to broadening the knowledge of product development in this country by recently signing a deal with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, allowing students to be exposed to the product's potential and to gain in-syllabus training for the use of the software. The arrangement involves the issuing of 500 Pro/Engineer licences to the university, with 80 licences already operational in the school of mechanical engineering's two student LANs, and the provision of a comprehensive technical support programme."
Commenting further on the Formula Vee project, he says: "At the beginning of 2004, a few third year mechanical engineering peers conceived the idea of a project involving the design and construction of a racing car, in particular a Formula Vee racing car. Formula Vee is a class of single-seater, open-wheeled racing, which provides the thrill of extremely competitive motor racing at a fraction of the cost of other formulae, such as Formula Ford. It truly represents the ultimate in simple, yet effective technology in an affordable racecar package.
"The formula originated in the United States, where it was first established in 1963 as a learning class of motor racing in that country, and has today grown to achieve global popularity, with associations based in countries including America, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Britain.
"As testament to the success and the merits of the formula on an international scale, drivers such as Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi and Keke Rosberg all raced Formula Vees in Europe or America - they also all won Formula 1 world championships."
The design of South African Formula Vees is based around several Volkswagen road car components, namely the 1400cc water-cooled Golf engine (as opposed to the Beetle Type 1 engine used in other countries), the Beetle Type 1 front suspension and gearbox, and numerous smaller VW components.
Chassis are manufactured from commonly available mild steel tubing, using triangulated space frame construction techniques, which result in inexpensive, lightweight and extremely rigid chassis. Bodywork panels are designed to cover the space frame chassis in an aerodynamically-friendly manner, and are commonly fabricated using glass fibre reinforced plastic.
The formula is restrictive in terms of modifications to any mechanical components employed, with such specifications set forth by the Formula Vee Association - eliminating expensive and complex performance-enhancing adjustments, which are inherently not in the spirit of Formula Vee. Also, no down force enhancing aero-elements, such as wings, may be used by competitors - once again to keep developmental costs to a minimum. As far as the design of the space frame, rear suspension and bodywork is concerned however, Formula Vee is one of the most liberal of all single-seater formulas in the world - allowing the designer the opportunity to be very creative indeed. As a result of technical limitations and scrupulous attention to issues of safety, the formula is extremely competitive, featuring large grids and cars reaching speeds upwards of 230 km/hr, while remaining one of the safest in the country.
After the proposal of the project concept to Professor Evgeny Morozov - and in turn to the school of mechanical engineering - the go ahead was given to the idea, provided that sponsorship to the value of R50 000 was sourced by the end of 2004. Thus, with great urgency, a group of six mechanical engineering students was assembled to form the project team and over the course of the year, members juggled their considerable workload and project commitments in an effort to attain adequate finance by 31 October.
The project got underway in the beginning of December 2004, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Howard College campus. Initial activities, including the creation of a general project plan as well as an overall timescale, have been completed and the project has found a home in the mechanical engineering workshop. The team is now placing focus on the sourcing and modelling of parts, conducting case studies, as well as the development of initial design concepts. Design and analysis activities to be conducted by the team will be significantly aided by the use of the PTC software package, Pro/Engineer.
Once construction of the car has been completed, it will be certified with the FVA and a registration number will be issued. The car will then be taken to a full size race circuit to undergo extensive testing, so that aspects of its performance may be verified.