The well-known saying “Let perfect not be the enemy of good” is perhaps an accurate way to sum up this year’s UNM LOBOmotorsports team’s performance in the latest international collegiate electric car competition.
The University of New Mexico’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) team came in 16th out of 65 teams from programs around the world in the June 15-18 competition at Michigan International Speedway near Detroit.
And while UNM didn’t really get a chance to drive the car in competition because it failed to pass scrutineering, the team is proud of the fact that they were able to finish so high despite some challenges, especially as this is the first time that the team with an EV at a competition after almost 25 years building cars with combustion engines.
As FSAE director John Russell said, only 12 of the teams were able to race (and only five were able to participate in the acceleration event), the fact that UNM’s team was in 16th place indicates how well the team was prepared.
“There were a lot of teams that couldn’t prepare, including many from large and prestigious engineering programs,” Russell said. “It is a challenging competition. We actually design and build a Tesla from scratch. If only one wire is bad, it will kill you. A small change in circuits could mean a total redesign.”
The team was able to collect points from the design, operation and cost presentations and passed the mechanical, battery and charging tests, but it was a 5V relay switch that held the team back during the electrical inspection. According to the rules, if there is a malfunction in the system, the car should be turned off and only restarted manually for safety. Instead, the UNM car restarted automatically once the fault cleared. To stay within the rules, they needed a 5V relay switch, which could not be obtained in competition.
“A lot of cars don’t pass, so we certainly weren’t the only ones, but it’s frustrating,” said Russell. “It was one of our best cars and got a lot of compliments from the judges on the design.”
In the results released after the event, the UNM team placed No. 7 in sales presentation, No. 15 in cost and shared 19th place in design.
With several challenges related to supply chains, the ongoing pandemic and the fact that the team was designing and building a whole new kind of car, Russell wasn’t sure they would have a car to take to Michigan. But the team’s many long hours paid off, and although the team was not ready in time to test and drive the car (which affected the overall score as they had no validation data), the car was ready and driving. .
Russell said he acknowledges project manager Rhianna Oakley, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, for ensuring that the 18-man team was ready for the competition, no matter how tough it was. And he said that by 2023, project manager Addison Portman is already making leadership decisions for next year.
“Our program creates leaders, not just oversight managers,” said Russell. “That’s why so many employers like to hire our students. They already know how to get things done.”
While he knew this year’s car wouldn’t be perfect, Russell wanted to make sure the car made it into the competition because it’s such a learning experience for students.
“We still learned a lot, even though we didn’t know if the car would drive,” he said.
The most important lesson we learned is that the team needed more time to test and run the car. He believes that the relay switch issue would have been discovered during testing.
“Our goal for next year is to have the car ready two months in advance so that we can run the car and have validation data,” he said. “But we’re going in the right direction.”
Portman agreed, saying it is crucial to ensure the team has good time management and efficiency.
“A key to success in the competition is to get through the technical inspections as early as possible to ensure the car is ready for both the design events and the dynamic events,” she said. “The experience has also shown me how valuable it will be for the team to verify the performance of each system after production to match the analysis models done in our design phase.”
Jarrod Montoya, Deputy Project Manager for 2022, said the FSAE experience has been extremely valuable to him, teaching him the “essential soft skills needed to work in a large group with many different perspectives, while focusing on the big picture remains.”
“This program as a whole has been an extremely valuable experience in so many ways. From learning engineering design methods, analyzing and manufacturing physical components/systems, to proposing ideas and defending them with consultants and higher education professionals.”
He is proud of both the team’s achievements and the way they represented UNM.
“LMS22 [LOBOMotorsports 2022] didn’t skip a beat when we arrived. Our team showed some of the highest levels of professionalism and continued to work hard throughout the competition; our product really spoke for itself,” said Montoya. “This competition was very meaningful and gave our team a chance to really showcase what so many have devoted most of the past year to.”
Team member Ely Teran said being part of the 2022 team was a “surreal experience.”
“It was the culmination of all the hard work we put in as a team to get there. When we saw our car in its finished state while other teams admired it and asked questions, we showed how great we had done,” he said.
While the result was not what the team had hoped for, Teran said the team has laid a great foundation for teams to follow.
“FSAE has been a great experience and if given the chance to do it again, I would,” he said. “There’s so much you learn by being part of the program that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Russell points out that most successful EV programs have taken years to achieve that, so continuing to compete, adapting and perfecting will ensure that the EVs of the coming years will compete well.
Russell is also reaching out to other departments to grow the team and gain knowledge that could be useful to the EV. The three-semester program was based in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, but now with the Electrical component, students of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering can take a senior design course, ECE 419, as part of the program. And he contacts the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering to also integrate FSAE into their senior design curriculum.
Looking ahead to the 2023 team, Portman said she has several goals as a leader, most notably preparing the team early for competition, which means sticking to the design and production schedule.
As for changes to the car, she said there will be a lot of 3D modeling and simulations to determine if a second engine would be useful. The team is also looking for ways to improve suspension design for better dynamic performance.
Russell said he is proud of the team who ventured into uncharted territory in this game, especially the 16 members who traveled to Michigan.
“They never didn’t work on the car and make it better,” he said.
The Formula SAE program is funded almost entirely by private donations. Contributions can be made online.