How the engineers of tomorrow are hitting top gear

Team Bath Grid

If I told you that I spent the morning with a handful of bleary-eyed students, the more cynical amongst our readers may assume that it was a case of them having to deal with the morning after the night before.

Well, you’d be right, but not in the way you might think. The morning in question was spent down in Bath talking to the university’s Electric Formula Student Team about its inner workings and what they have been doing to make them the most successful Electric Formula Student team for the past two years.

Far from recovering from the previous night’s Jaeger Bombs, one of the team hadn’t actually been to bed, having to juggle his time between his final year studies and his commitments to the Formula Student team; while another was still in the throes of recuperating from jet lag after having returned from a team event in China.

Team Bath Racing background

Formula Student is the world’s largest student engineering competition, with over 600 universities taking part worldwide. The competition targets the development of enterprising and innovative young engineers and to encourage more young people to take up a career in engineering.

Thanks to its strong links with industry, a large percentage of Bath University students take on industry placements as part of their studies, making Bath graduates some of the most employable in the country. A key part of this is Team Bath Racing Electric, an Electric Formula Student team based out of the university faculty of engineering and design.

The format of the Formula Student events provide an opportunity for the students to test, demonstrate and improve their capabilities to deliver a complex and integrated product in the demanding environment of a motorsport competition. At Bath University the Formula Student project forms part of the degree and is viewed by the motorsport industry as the standard for engineering graduates to meet, transitioning them from university to the workplace.

Project Manager, Kieran Shopland commented: “The racing team project contributes to 40% of our final degree mark – 20% is design and business and 20% for the final year project. That 40% only equates to around 10-20% of the actual project time in truth, as there’s a huge amount of extracurricular work that goes with it. However, having time to do that work at university is such a huge help. You hear of teams at other universities where a project like this would all be extracurricular.”

Each year the teams are challenged to design, manufacture, test and race a formula style racing car, and the Bath team have been the UK’s top Electric Formula Student team for the past two years.

The team comprises students from all academic years studying engineering, computer science, and business, among other disciplines. The core team comprises primarily of final year students, who take the lead roles in delivering the car.

The challenges

The competition allows the students the opportunity to demonstrate their technical, engineering design, and manufacturing skills, as well as learn important lessons in team working, time management, project management, budgeting and presentation.

Formula Student graduates also find that the professionalism they gain as practising engineers means they are well equipped for their future engineering careers. This is certainly something I noticed while talking to the team at Bath. The professionalism, dedication and passion for their work would echo that of any Formula One pit crew, and in truth the only factor that made the Bath lab stand out as a university were the fresh faces starring back at me.

The team is tasked to produce a prototype for a single seat race car for autocross or sprint racing, and present it to a hypothetical manufacturing firm. The car must be low in cost, easy to maintain, and reliable, high performance in terms of its acceleration, braking, and handling qualities.

During the competition the team must demonstrate the logic behind their proposal and must be able to demonstrate that it can support a viable business model for both parties, with every team going through a rigorous testing process.

The teams are judged by experienced industry specialists across two events, static – which consists of design, cost and sustainability, and business presentation; technical and safety scrutineering; a tilt test and a brake a noise test; and dynamic – which features a figure of eight skidpan; sprint; acceleration; endurance; and fuel economy.

Discussing the five-day competition, Shopland commented: “The scrutineering process can be one of the most challenging and certainly the most nerve racking parts of the competition. You’ve put so much work into designing something and you think you know it inside out, but there’s always this nagging doubt that the judges could pick up on something that you haven’t seen. The dynamic events take place on the final two days of the competition, and these happen whether you’re through scrutineering or not, so although you’re allowed to tweak the car if the judges pick up on something, if you take more than two days to get through you start missing points from the dynamic events.”

Team Bath history

The team at Bath University have come quite a long way in a short period of time. It formed with just nine members in 2015, when it received initial support from the university and produced a proof of concept vehicle. A year later the membership had nearly doubled, the racing team became an established part of the university and acquired a dedicated laboratory space, and it attended its first FSUK.

Jumping forward to 2018 the team now has 60 members, were the most recent winners of the Class 2 competition, has retained the title of Top UK Electric Team, finishing all events at FSUK 2018, and has become the first UK team to attend FS China.

The team’s success is driven by the desire to innovate and there is an emphasis on developing bespoke designs that ensure that the car is fully optimised for Formula Student racing conditions. Not only that, but this same philosophy provides the platform for the students to continue developing year-on-year.

Shopland added: “We try to get first and second year students involved in any way we can, from as early as we can. There’s a year and a half development cycle per car. But we’re developing next year’s car when the current team are building theirs, so you learn lessons along the way.

“The big benefit of getting first and second years involved early is they get an idea of the complexity of what we do. Most of the stuff we do is not in the curriculum. There’s much more of a practical element that they would not normally be taught, so anything that they can learn early is only going to help later on.”

Since the team’s inception they have made several significant advancement in seven key areas of the car.

Battery technology
Designing the battery from first principles in previous years has allowed the team to develop a wealth of knowledge in this area, from the characterisation of individual cells, to the design of battery wide safety systems. The challenge of tackling the complexities of cylindrical cell architectures was incorporated into the design of the TBRe18 (the team’s 2018 car). This was commended at FSUK and was used as exemplar material for other teams.
Carbon fibre
Integrating electrical safety features into the manufacturing process of carbon fibre has allowed the team to fully realise the material’s potential. Research, combined with the production of test panels and scale chassis prototypes, has allowed the team to vastly improve its capabilities with carbon fibre. As a result, the TBRe19 hopes to provide a 20% mass reduction compared to the TBRe18 car, primarily through the light weighting of the chassis and battery.
Driver environment
The continuous recording and analysis of diagnostic data in real time is essential for advanced vehicle performance. Bath’s custom interface enables the monitoring of important parameters, enabling fast, customised fault detection while ensuring a robust driver experience. Resistive touch technology lets the driver operate the system with gloves, providing an interactive live examination of the car, from which they can adjust their handling accordingly and deliver to their maximum racing potential.
Sensors and telemetry
To aid vehicle tuning, Bath has designed an entire sensor network and wireless telemetry system. This will allow Bath to gather as much data as possible during testing and competition. This will be achieved by using technologies such as ZigBee and the development of an Android app to allow the live monitoring of data from the vehicle to the supporting team.
The mixture of high voltage electronics and competitive racing makes safety the Bath team’s highest priority. Automated systems are in place to shut down the output from the high voltage battery under any fault conditions and dual modular redundancy ensures that the team has confidence in the electrical systems of the car. The driver is protected from impact and mechanical failures due to the team’s rigorous implementation of safety factors, professional manufacturing procedures and part testing.
Motor control
With attention to a host of control tools, the team aims to unlock the full potential of its electric powertrain to deliver even more sustained power. Through the thorough characterisation of the motor the team can design and implement advanced, adaptive control to customise performance for the Formula Student competition. Techniques such as field weakening, regenerative braking and traction control will propel the car into modern competitive racing, ensuring the best results on the track.
Vehicle dynamics
In racing, the optimisation of vehicle dynamics to extract valuable seconds in a car’s performance can be the key to victory. Bath’s vehicle dynamics model, developed from first principles and utilising industry leading software, will ensure customised set ups to suit the varying racing conditions of different Formula Student events.

The bath team lists a number of key industry players as their sponsors, including Basingstoke-based, Newbury Innovation. Commenting on the company’s involvement with Team Bath Racing Electric, Technical Director, Jon Hawkins said: “Being involved with Team Bath Racing Electric brings undoubted benefits for both us and the student team. We get to work with some of the best young electrical engineers and learn with them, whilst they gain a far better understanding of what is really required in a commercial design and production environment. Supporting their personal development whilst watching them encounter and overcome real engineering challenges through the course of the programme is very rewarding.

“If industry wants the best possible engineers then it must play its part in helping them develop. What better way is there of showing that support than to be part of this exciting development programme. Last year’s car was great and we look forward to supporting the endeavours of the 2018/19 team.”

Commenting on the team’s sponsors, Ben Caretta, Technical Manager, added: “Our sponsors have dedicated time and resources to the cause, without which we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

Shopland continued: “I think that’s one of the biggest unwritten challenges for Formula Student. You have to go out and get the money yourself. You design the best race car you can on paper, which is all well and good, but cost is such a huge factor. For example, we’re playing around with composites this year which are notoriously expensive, so that is only possible with sponsorship, which we receive either in the form of cash, sponsorship of parts in the form of an account to a certain value, and technical support.”

Team Bath Lab

“Newbury have been really helpful,” Caretta continued. “Although we have some experience with the software, they’ve been able to come in and show us fundamental good practice and guidance.”

And, in terms of preparation for a career in engineering, the experience the students have gleaned whilst being a member of the racing team, combined with the expertise and guidance they have received from sponsors such as Newbury Electronics, will also stand them in good stead. Caretta continued: “We’re all looking at what we want to do and where we want to be when we leave university, so working with sponsors provides an insight into the opportunities that exist and what happens at companies day in day out which you don’t see at university.”

He added: “Working on the project is certainly a challenge but once we get out into industry we’ll be facing exactly the same sort of challenges. It’s not going to be career that’s a nine-to-five job and then you go home. And that’s something that’s been quite eye opening for me.”

Commenting on being part of the Formula Student Team, Shopland concluded: “For me it’s about having a sense of purpose. I used to come into university and I knew that I was here for one reason, and one reason only – to do coursework, some exams and then get a grade at the end of it. Working on the racing team has given me a sense that there’s something to pull me into university each day, walking around, getting things moving, and feeling like you’re giving something back – which is odd because you’re paying the university for your degree, so you’re a customer in that sense, but you really feel like you’re giving something back, and this is a great way of doing it.”

Industry experience whilst studying is something the team members felt shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of the career development of future engineers, as Caretta commented: “Our year in industry is optional, and when you come back it is very obvious who has been and who hasn’t been in industry. That experience of the industry was pretty key to success regarding my work ethic and working in groups, and it was another reason why I came to Team Bath Racing Electric because I knew that just working on the course I wasn’t going to come out as a fully-rounded engineer. You do need that practical experience and working in a group.”

Shopland concluded: “There’s certainly a change in maturity level when you come back from placement. You come back knowing why you’re doing your degree and what your end goal is. Even if your placement wasn’t in the automotive industry you have a clearer idea of what you want to do.”