University of Windsor's Formula Electric team with Pete Naysmith.

Supporting UWindsor Capstone Projects Series 3/3: Formula Electric Team Designs an Electric-Powered Race Car

In the final year of the Engineering degree program at the University of Windsor, students have the opportunity to complete Capstone projects, where they are challenged to apply theoretical knowledge to solve real-world engineering problems. The Capstone experience enables students to combine the knowledge they learned in their undergraduate classes with practical skills gained from internships and co-op experiences to design a project related to their chosen discipline. Their work is then presented during Demonstration Day at the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.

Since 2015, Pete Naysmith, our Director of Service and Spare Parts, and the Valiant TMS team have been important Capstone Endowment Partners with the University of Windsor. Pete Naysmith’s role has been instrumental in many UWindsor Capstone projects, offering support and guidance that was critical in bringing these projects to fruition.

This year, we continue to be amazed by the intelligence and dedication of students as they tackled engineering projects in various industries, from rocketry to agriculture and automotive. Over the past weeks, we walked you through the journeys of Rocketry and Rover for Chicken Deadstock Collection teams — make sure to catch up on their stories if you haven’t already. To conclude our series of Capstone 2023, we are thrilled to dive into the adventure of Formula Electric, an exciting automotive team that Valiant TMS had the pleasure of supporting.

 

Building a formula-style electric race car for UWindsor Capstone project

Formula Electric is a diverse, student-run group of 4th-year University of Windsor engineering students working on designing, manufacturing, and assembling formula-style race cars as part of their Capstone project. The team has been successful with combustion cars for over a decade. However, given the increasing prevalence of electric vehicles, 32 team members came together to build an electric-powered formula-style race car this year. The UWindsor Capstone group was divided into several sub-teams, including Powertrain, Suspension, Driver Interface, Chassis, Thermal Management, Aerodynamics, and Electrical.

“This project mimics the transition from combustion engines to electrification that the automotive industry is seeing and prepares students who will be future leaders in their fields to work in that atmosphere,” said Sandra Mooney, Administrative Lead.

University of Windsor's Formula Electric team with their electric race car.
The team with their electric race car at the Michigan International Speedway. From left to right: Lana Almasalkhi, Evan Taylor, Sandra Mooney.

Navigating complexities in fabrication

The project started with background research from 2021 through 2022, followed by a design process and fabrication in the 2022-2023 school year. “There was no previous Formula Electric vehicle for us to look at. We had the research and data from previous years about the suspension geometry and a miniature model of the rear wing. Still, the actual fabrication was built from the ground up,” Mooney said.

After successfully presenting their sponsorship proposal, the group was one of the chosen UWindsor Capstone teams granted an Endowment fund by Valiant TMS. Additionally, since two team members were co-op students at Valiant TMS, they could leverage our additive manufacturing lab, 3D printing technology, and machinery to manufacture part of the aero package mold, including the side venturi tunnel. In addition to access to services, Pete Naysmith, Director of Service and Spare Parts at Valiant TMS, reviewed most of the design concepts. “The resources we got from our co-op experience at Valiant TMS were a huge benefit. Having Pete as our design consultant and mentor helped us tremendously in the applications of the project — and that goes for both practical and creative aspects,” said Evan Taylor, Powertrain Team Lead.

According to Lana Almasalkhi, a Thermal Management Team Member, the team’s biggest challenge was not having a specific mentor to ask questions to. “We had to use COMSOL and other very complicated software during the process, with no one to turn to for help. Many of the sub-teams were responsible for highly specialized tasks, so they struggled to find a qualified person to lead the team.”

Due to the lack of practical experience and exposure to the industry, the students also faced obstacles in estimating how long the fabrication process would take. “Even in the design phase, some of us did not consider how fabrication is done… so we had to change the design,” Almasalkhi shared.

University of Windsor's Formula Electric team members working on the fabrication of the chassis in their electric race car.
The team working on the fabrication of the chassis.
When building the chassis, the team struggled to join suspension wishbone tubes to the tube frame. Since there were many Capstone teams this year, the group experienced delayed support and faced complications with technical time at the University of Windsor. With no hesitation, Pete Naysmith took the parts and machined them at home to create a proper fit. “We are extremely thankful to Pete for having taken the tubes home to machine them over the weekend for us. When he brought the pieces back, he also explained how he did it. Rather than just giving us the solution, he provided us with the knowledge of how to achieve that solution in the future,” Mooney shared.
The suspension wishbone tubes in the electric race car, developed by University of Windsor's Formula Electric Capstone team.
The suspension wishbone tubes that needed to be cut to create a proper fit.
University of Windsor's Formula Electric team member machining holes in the main roll hoop bracing disconnects during chassis fabrication.
A team member machining holes in the main roll hoop bracing disconnects during chassis fabrication.

According to Mooney, other benefits of having an industrial advisor in their UWindsor Capstone project include experience in navigating roadblocks, different approaches to solving problems, and access to reliable contacts in the industry.

“When we were having trouble getting the weld time for our chassis, our initial thought was to set up meetings with the university’s Faculty of Engineering, which could take much more time. Instead, Pete referred us to MPD Welding, a local welding company in Windsor, to outsource the welding work. In another example, we were trying to notch the headrest tubes and were advised that it could only be done on the CNC machine. We all thought it was the only way until Pete informed us it was also possible using a Bridgeport Knee Mill,” said Mooney.

University of Windsor's Formula Electric team member learning how to use the Bridgeport Knee Mill.
A team member learning how to use the Bridgeport Knee Mill.

Journey of learning and improvement

Before the presentation at Demonstration Day, the team competed at Michigan International Speedway in June against universities worldwide. The product was the first electric race car to join this competition since 2018. The judges highly commended their efforts, given that it was their first time working on such a big project with limited experience and having to develop new knowledge. The team also received invaluable technical advice from the judges on enhancing their designs, project management, testing and validation, and setting realistic goals. “It was an excellent learning experience. Some third-year students also came with us to the competition and are now leading their Capstone teams next year. The knowledge and lessons from joining the competition with us provided a solid foundation for their project. They now know what to expect and won’t have to start from scratch, like us,” Almasalkhi shared.

The insights acquired from the competition proved valuable in their Demonstration Day presentation. When presenting to the university’s faculty members, the team was able to share the lessons they learned from industry leaders and contribute to conversations about how their design and process could improve for next year. “The professors mostly agreed with what we said. We are on the right path. It’s the process of continuous improvement that we have to implement,” said Taylor.

University of Windsor's Formula Electric team with Pete Naysmith.
The team with Pete Naysmith at a Valiant TMS facility. From left to right: Pete Naysmith, Lana Almasalkhi, Evan Taylor, Sandra Mooney.

The road ahead

The future of the project looks promising to the Formula Electric team. According to Taylor, the overall design scope can be helpful in the transition to electrification in the automotive industry. As their project is an electric race car, their system packaging, design, and challenges can be applied in the manufacturing process of both electric commercial and personal vehicles in the future.

In addition, the lessons and analysis gained from the competition and Demonstration Day serve as indispensable sources of continuing education for future University of Windsor Engineering students, particularly those in the automotive engineering discipline.

“We were excited to sponsor the Formula Electric team because their project aligned with our company’s mission to focus on electric vehicle production. The team was the first from Windsor to compete in an international competition. I’m very proud of what they achieved. Being a UWindsor Capstone Endowment Partner also aids us in a couple of ways. We not only get exposure to the talented engineers-to-be who we would love to have on our team full-time but can also stay up-to-date with emerging technologies and challenges in the industry,” said Pete Naysmith.

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