University of Waterloo Brings Its Designs to Life

“I’m always surprised when one of our designs comes to life. It’s amazing to see the culmination of a student’s design become something you can touch and hold,” says University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) Technical Lead Gurhari Singh. “However, sometimes the manufacturing process can be a rough ride and you need some help from a few friends.”

One example of a manufacturing challenge was UWAFT’s effort to accommodate a new TM4 rear motor in its vehicle. The new design needed to be stronger than the existing one, maintain suspension geometry, allow for servicing and be as light as possible. The team went through five different designs before finally arriving at one that met all the criteria… except cost. Manufacturing this initial design would have required $26,000 or more, so the team headed back to the drawing board to reduce costs. The final design was much easier to manufacture and cost a fraction of the initial estimate.

UWAFT team members

UWAFT team members

The structure for the front sub-frame was another design challenge because a motor, gearbox, generator and engine needed to be supported on the stock sub-frame. When the team’s initial design was simulated for strength, it was discovered the material selected was not easy to modify. UWAFT then redesigned the sub-frame with Aluminium 6061. After all the parts were cut the team needed to bolt all joints in place prior to welding in order to retain the shape. The final welding was done by the experts at Grand Valley Welding, who provided advice on how to make welding easier in future designs.

While these manufacturing setbacks are not pleasant at the time, they serve as an excellent learning experience. The hands-on approach of EcoCAR 2 allows students to see their projects from paper to reality and learn what worked and what didn’t. “The number one comment I get from students who graduate from EcoCAR is how much more they learned about design in the competition than they did in the classroom,” says Gurhari. “Many students wish they were involved in EcoCAR earlier so they could have been exposed to real-world challenges in design, such as manufacturability and costs. The experience EcoCAR 2 offers is unmatched.”