Penso British Engineering

Bridgestone world solar challenge is inspirational for young engineers say industry leaders

Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) secures support vital to maintain momentum.

Aspirational projects – such as building innovative solar powered vehicles for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge that push the boundaries of aerodynamics, new materials and teamwork – are vital in sparking the imagination and ambition of young engineers. Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER), which announces its first full-time Programme Director on 3rd July, has succeeded in attracting over 60 members to its team, many of whom are not reading engineering.

Engineering contributed £1.17 trillion to the UK economy in 2014 and continues to grow. Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research shows that meeting the demand for new engineering jobs could generate an additional £27 billion per year from 2022; equivalent to building 110 hospitals.

The first full-time Programme Director for CUER is Aurelia Hibbert, second year engineering student at Newnham College. She says the team is working around the clock to get their ultra-lightweight racing car ready for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2015, a gruelling 3,000 km endurance event across the Australian outback.

“The race is biennial; as a student society we lose knowledge and skills at the end of each year when many of our core team graduate and leave the university. We have managed to secure funding for the role of a full-time team leader and this will make a huge difference. I feel excited and a bit daunted by the role; it is a fantastic opportunity.”

The team has recently gained the backing of BNY Mellon, who join an impressive collection of industry champions supporting the team.

Scott Stevens, BNY Mellon says: “By designing a car to run on solar power alone, CUER is driving the step changes in vehicle efficiency and new technologies for a low-carbon future. Their passion for innovation in clean technology is truly awe-inspiring.

“We’ve seen the early designs and believe the CUER team has an incredible opportunity to do extremely well in this year’s race.”

More engineers are needed by industry and CUER sparks the interest of students from a range of disciplines.

Alan Jamieson is taking a PhD in fluid mechanics at the University of Cambridge, a highly theoretical course, but through CUER he is gaining practical engineering skills. He remembers: “I saw one of the older models at the societies fair; it was just a massive car with solar panels. One of the team explained how they were starting from scratch to design and build a car and race it across the Australia outback. That sold it to me – I was committed.”

A benefit of being involved is the interaction with professionals in all fields of engineering and business.

Alan says: “We went to Jaguar Land Rover one weekend and staff came in just to be there and help us, they let us use the environmental chamber to replicate conditions in Australia. I sat in the car to see how hot it would get and see how much the driver could handle. I was blown away that they were this massive company but they gave us their time and facilities to help.”

Andrew Foster, Chief Engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, says he has been impressed with the team’s creativity, ambition and determination. “Our research team has provided assistance on calculations, making models for the wind tunnel and rapid prototyping for some of the components. Working alongside experts and being hands-on with problem solving is invaluable to creating a well-rounded engineer.” The students have also had the opportunity to pitch their ideas and bid for funding, important skills for business.

The involvement of Jaguar Land Rover has encouraged niche specialists to support the team.

Michael Collins, Sales and Marketing Director of Penso, comments that his business is heavily involved in next generation material development. He says: “There is a requirement to make cars lighter by 2020 and this is increasing interest in the use of composites. We have shown the team how to machine the moulds and layup the composite material to get a good finish and a better material. There is a shortage of people with this knowledge and the technology is applicable to different industries.

“A significant investment of our time has been required but there are some innovative lightweight structures in the car which are of real interest to us and we are planning to take the vehicle to JEC World, the largest composite show in Europe, when we attend next year.”

Collins was surprised to learn that the team are working on the car in their own time in addition to academic studies and exams. He comments that this is a big commitment and says that a long view is needed so that the learning points gained are retained within the team and that a full-time team leader will make a big difference.

Allan Carmichael of the Technology Partnership plc (TTP), which has provided training, says: “This is engineering in practice, similar to the demands of a commercial environment – a team facing demanding challenges to a tough deadline – a perfect opportunity for a novice engineer to develop technically and professionally.”

Christopher Walkinshaw, Group Corporate Communications Director at Marshall, agrees. The Cambridge-based engineering company employs 4,500 people in the UK and overseas and provides CUER with workshop space.

“Our hope is that the team have a successful campaign, completing the testing, solving the many challenges and getting both the car and the team to the start line in Australia. Of course we want them to do really well in the Challenge but the project is also about much more than turning up on the line and driving 3,000 km. It has been very hard work. They have some great people, doing amazing things in many different ways, all of which plays a vital part in the success of the team. We hope they come out of it feeling really proud of all their achievements.”

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge Event Director, Chris Selwood, acknowledged the integral role of commercial sponsors, paying tribute to those organisations with the foresight, economic and social commitment to the future of the planet.

He says: “Without the support of forward thinking business partners, many of our teams would struggle to compete and the event itself would not have been able to produce and foster the litany of inventions, innovations and creative thinking that is our legacy to future generations.”

“With the creation of my role it provides me and the team with an exciting new opportunity and even stronger chance to compete in this year’s Bridgestone World Solar Challenge,” says Aurelia. “This has only been made possible thanks to our many sponsors, supporters and advisers, and we hope to make them all proud in October.”

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is a 3,000 km endurance event across the heart of Australia from Darwin to Adelaide which takes place 18-25 October 2015.