Let’s build a race car!

On a typical day, we wind up milling or turning complex aerospace components. The kind of parts that wind up deep inside the airplane. The kind that no one ever sees again. So it’s exciting when we get to do something out of the ordinary for us.

That’s what Mike, our intern brought to our shop recently.

Last summer, Mike ran our 5 axis department. Mike’s a 2nd year student at the University of Pittsburgh in the engineering department. Mike proved himself to be a quick learner, running 5 axis mills by himself in about three weeks time; he’s cautious and aware. He turned out to be a capable machinist. Towards the end of the summer, Mike asked if he could come back during his winter break to work on a project that requires CNC machining for his race team. I told Mike, sure, that sounds interesting!

Each year, selected students from Pitt’s engineering department build a miniature race car.

Solid Model of the 2020 Pitt FSAE car.

FSAE RACING

Apparently, there’s a whole world of racing that I wasn’t aware of, called Formula SAE, or FSAE, with cars built by competing engineering schools across the globe. It’s quite a thing that I hope to see when they race this car on a national level in Michigan this season (hopefully, covid allowing).

The racing team is divided up, and each sub-team is responsible for a component assembly. Mike was building the drivetrain assembly. It appears that Mike is the team. A team of 1.

I’m always looking for the opportunity to help young people get engaged in the trade of CNC machining. I look for the opportunity to share with younger machinists the things I had to learn the hard, long way: by myself, through trial and error, through machine crashes, trashed parts, and countless hours over the years. Back in those days, I would’ve been happy to have someone I could learn from.

So this was the deal: I made a CNC mill available for him to run his parts, but he had to do it all on his own. I would give him a crash course in Mastercam, loan him one of our software keys for mastercam and with that, he went at it in Mastercam for Solidworks. Along the way I would give him, guidance, hints and help him out of the problems arising along the way.

Mike, who’s only 19, went about transforming Solidworks models (that he designed himself) into real parts on our CNC mill.

WHAT HE HAD TO FIGURE OUT:

  • how’s he’s going to make them, that is, establish order of operations
  • figure out cutting tools
  • generate CNC programs
  • Set up a CNC mill

Now some of the parts are simple, and can be banged out in a couple hours, but there are some tricky parts.

He’s accomplished and learned a lot in a matter of a few weeks. It’s going to look good on his resume.

Kudos to Mike for what he learned and accomplished without accident (well, without big accident.) And I got to do what I love, which is share my trade skills with someone who might need them down the road, instead of them having to figure it out the hard way, like I did.