Every year, teams of engineering undergraduates enter the Formula Student challenge – to design and build a single-seat racing car, and put it to the test at Silverstone, the UK’s most famous motor racing circuit. This year, the Sheffield Formula Racing team from the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Sheffield is sharpening its competitive edge, by working with Protolabs.
This international competition, run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, attracts students from around the world. The competition challenges students to demonstrate their technical, engineering design, and manufacturing skills – and learn important lessons in working as a team, time and project management, budgeting and presentation. The overall aim is to develop enterprising young engineers, and encourage more people to choose engineering as a career.
For the participants, Formula Student usually forms part of a degree-level project. For the motorsport industry, it sets a standard for engineering graduates to aspire to, as they progress from university to the workplace.
Each team has to produce a prototype race car for autocross or sprint racing, and present it to a hypothetical manufacturing firm. The car must be inexpensive to produce, easy to maintain, and reliable, with high-performance acceleration, braking and handling.
The University of Sheffield team, Sheffield Formula Racing, is now entering the competition for the eighth time. As new undergraduates join and graduates leave, the 46-strong group evolves and improves every year – and aims to be one of the best Formula Student teams in the country.
This year, the Sheffield Formula Racing team is placing particular emphasis on design for manufacture – and its partnership with Protolabs is proving especially effective with this. As team member Isabel Brown comments, “Developing a cost-effective, practical design is a hugely important element to our Formula Student project. This is where Protolabs’ quoting system, with its free design for manufacturability analysis with each quote, gives us a real advantage. With design feedback received within hours, it’s really easy to determine if a design needs simplifying before the component is produced. We also receive advice on whether design modifications are feasible, which can reduce our manufacturing costs while maintaining performance of the parts. “
Designed for speed, developed at speed
The latest car is built around a very light steel space-frame chassis. The 45-50 bhp engine has a top speed of 100 mph and electronic throttle control. This year, Protolabs has CNC machined parts for a number of new features, including the steering rack centre mount, rear suspension mounts and front uprights. Sheffield Formula Racing also turned to Protolabs to manufacture the brake bias support for the pedal-box, which is now integrated into the floor of the car.
Continual design modification and refinement is the kind of innovative thinking the competition judges are looking for. Critical to the success of the project is discipline in scheduling—with on-demand production playing a valuable role. This is where the speed and scale of Protolabs’ service is a major advantage to the process for Sheffield Formula Racing. As Isabel says, “Our approach is all about trying new ideas, but we also have strict deadlines. We need to get the car built in time to test it properly before the car is put into action during the competition at Silverstone in July. The rapid response and delivery from Protolabs at every stage of the design and production process is a massive help.”