12 Questions with KSU Motorsports: 3D Printing For Formula SAE

By Samantha Bild on

We’re getting ready for our 3D Printing event with Stratasys and KSU Motorsports next week in Marietta, Georgia. This week, we had a chance to sit down with the team’s president, Alec Blair, a Senior at Kennesaw State University majoring in Mechanical Engineering Technology. He was able to give us an in-depth look at the impact 3D printing has on their team’s performance and the school’s engineering program. 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your role as the team president?

I transferred to SPSU (Now KSU) in Fall 2013 to work towards a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology. Throughout my first year with the team, I took an interest in vehicle dynamics and found myself spending more and more time involved with FSAE throughout the course of the year. After our competition was over in June 2014, the leadership of the existing team nominated me for 2014-2015 president. I was a bit apprehensive, but accepted the role and have gained invaluable experience. Our team is on track to finishing its lightest FSAE car to date, and the future is only looking brighter.

2013 Racecar
2. For those unfamiliar with the program, what is Formula SAE racing?

Formula SAE racing trains students at the collegiate level in the skills necessary to become effective automotive engineers. Students are tasked with designing, building, and racing an open-wheeled formula-style racecar. The 1000 point competition derives its winner from a careful compilation of points from areas such as driving, design, research, testing, and fuel efficiency. The competition also requires that students prepare a business-format presentation that hypothesizes the potential their car has for mass production. This includes realistic costing and marketing plans.  

3. How many teams does KSU compete against?

As a team, Kennesaw State University competes against anywhere from 80 to 120 teams at the two competitions in the U.S. and is ranked among 507 teams internationally. Our next competition takes place in Michigan this upcoming May and will involve teams from across the globe. Interestingly enough, 15-25% of the competitors are usually from an international school.

4. How frequently do you race?

Because of the extensive planning and design required for each competition, KSU usually competes in two competitions per school year. Despite the fact that our team has a smaller budget than most, we perform well at every competition we attend.

 Formula SAE West Competition – Lincoln, NE

5. How long has KSU Motorsports team existed?

The KSU Motorsports team was founded in 1992 to provide a hands-on forum for the development of the engineering program. During my time with the team, our greatest achievement was during the Lincoln, Nebraska competition in June of 2014. Here we received 3rd place in acceleration, 6th place in cost, and 17th place overall.

6. What type of 3D printer do you use? What materials do you use?

We began using 3D printing technology in 2013. Originally, Stratasys printed the intake manifold using PPSF (polyphenyl sulfone) material on the Fortus 400mc. Our 2014 intake was also printed with PPSF but with vastly different geometries for improved function with the engine. PPSF was initially used for its high temperature and resistance to fuel/oil. However, the material isn’t the strongest when it comes to dealing with stress, and we’ve had a few issues with hairline cracks developing around the piece which is attached directly to the engine block.

Recently, KSU has obtained a Fortus 400 which will allow us to print using Ultem 9085. This material ranks far higher in durability than PPSF and ABS, and we have high hopes for the benefits it will bring to our team. We think we should be able to build a stronger, lighter intake made from Ultem without worry of a cracked part while also maintaining the high-temperature resistance of PPSF.

7. What initial challenges did you face with 3D printing?

Our initial challenge and the one that still presents an issue is the rapid development of the 3D printing industry. Our team craves the newest, most developed materials which are not always possible to obtain. It is my belief that our Fortus will give us an upper hand in being able to design parts which possess complex geometries with relative ease compared to many of our competitors. The KSU 3D printing lab is a huge advantage for the university and the motorsports team. Many other teams are still using traditional crude manufacturing methods to develop their cars and often are not posed with the 3D printing capabilities that our team is blessed to have.

8. What solutions (if any) did you try before turning 3D printing?

Before 3D printing, our intakes often used welded aluminum during our design-build process. We were a considerably weak team in terms of avenues for manufacture. We often relied on general fabrication techniques. The result was often crude, and that failed to be competitive due to excess weight and a much looser hold on the specific tolerances required for intake geometries.

3D Printed Welding Jigs

9. Why was 3D printing the best solution for those challenges?

With the broad spectrum of options available, technologies such as electron beam melting and sintering are often a great tool but not necessarily cost effective. 3D printing with Stratasys proved to be the most cost-effective and timely option for our purposes. We looked at how much it would financially impact the team to consider other options, and 3D printing had the most benefits for the relatively low cost. Choosing this option has since helped us place high in the cost division of competitions because of our mindful spending when engineering our machines.

10. How do you currently use 3D printed parts in your car?

Currently, our cars feature 3D printed welding jigs for fixturing tubes which require tight tolerances in how they must be welded. We have repeatedly used steering column jigs accurately to define the columns and support tube orientations. This year, We’ve created 3D printed exhaust runner molds which line up the individual exhaust tubes in their exact orientation for it to be tacked, welded, and assembled to the engine. These exhaust jigs have turned a one-week process into a 2.5 hour process, opening up much more time to resume manufacture with other parts of the vehicle. We also have plans to create a PPSF oil pickup to see what kinds of unique geometries our team can create and incorporate into our strategy.

11. Has your experience with 3D printing been positive? Negative? Please explain

We have had a very positive experience with 3D printing as it has helped us place higher in competitions and has allowed us to have more abstract approaches to many of the manufacturing stumbles we face throughout the year. With Stratasys 3D printing technology, we can often rely on the machine to produce parts very close to tolerance with little need for post-print modification. Our 3D CAD programs shows exactly what will be printed. There are no unwanted surprises.

12. How do you foresee 3D printing growing your competitive advantage in the future?

Additive manufacturing will continue to give our team a competitive advantage as it serves as both a method for creating ready to use parts and a medium for top-notch end parts. As our newer members become more familiar with the printing technology, it will develop our teams capabilities and have us performing at new heights in the future.

2014 Car In Action – Sporting KSU Colors

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