For the past four years I’ve had the privilege of judging the Formula SAE (FSAE). An event where university students from all over Australia take their passion and knowledge out on the race track with a car designed and built by the students in a battle of skills and technical knowhow. As an avid Formula One fan and an engineer myself, an event such as the FSAE is right up my alley. Every year I look forward to this new breed of designers and engineers pushing the envelope and the judges rule book by bringing out new and cutting edge designs; yet every year I’m left a little underwhelmed and can’t help but wonder where all the innovation has gone?
As engineers and designers, we’re always innovating but I think with the rules and regulations placed on events like the FSAE, it’s easy to fall into the “norm” of engineering. Rather than sit and complain each year, I put myself to the test to see what concepts I could come up with to innovate this event, so here are the top 25 ideas I came up with.
1. The 100kg Car
Remove weight from everywhere, if it’s not needed don’t have it, if you need instrumentation for testing then add it on for the testing but not the racing. Bespoke lightweight tyres, single ply carbon bodywork with extra layers only at fixing points, drilled bolts, glue items were possible, ceramic valves, multiple material pistons etc, if it can reduce weight use it, I understand that 100kg is an extreme target but lets see someone try to do it.
2. Sliding pillar front suspension
Morgan have been doing it for years and it would take out all compliance issues and tolerance from the suspension, this could possibly allow a further integration of the chassis, bodywork and aerodynamic elements that could see the positives out way the kinematic negatives.
3. Drum brakes within the wheels
Why not remove the disc and caliper all together and add the piston into the upright and have a brake shoe acting on the wheel rim directly, this could help heat the tyre up which is often a problem, plus remove the added fixings of the discs and calipers, so a few less grams of weight.
4. Planetary gear electric drive
There are several ways of using an electric motor for propulsion and its divided into a single large motor or several in-wheel motors, but if smaller electric motors were placed around the main output there would be the option for an in built gear reduction plus the option of switching motors for better efficiency at part power.
5. Covered wheel arches
The teams always complain that its hard to get heat into the tyres and yet none ever try to shield the tyres from the cooling air when driving, why not look at trying to overcome the rules for the bodywork and making wheel covers. If you had a clear cover over the wheel you can still see the tyre as per the rules but you smooth the airflow.
6. Blanked wheel covers
A lot of turbulence is created around the wheels and yet no team has tried to smooth either the inside or outside of the wheel to gain a small aerodynamic advantage, F1 did this a few years ago before it was banned.
7. High mount rear suspension
A lot of teams are going for a large diffuser but then have low mounted suspension, why not try to have a higher mounted lower suspension arms or even use a beam that goes around the back of the car at driveshaft height to give even greater room for single or double height diffusers.
8. Lowest drag car
The FSAE event limits the power by using small air intake restrictors and as such any efficiency gains possible give that low power less work to do, normally this is from the use of low weight, but what about a low drag car? While the big wings have an effect what is being lost due to the poor enclosures of the car mechanics and the turbulence on those wings and the general power sapping drag of the open cars, smooth the airfow and reduce power loss.
9. Covered cockpit
When a lot of people talk of a covered cockpit they immediately think of a fighter jet canopy, but what about something similar to a tonnau cover on a car that is either fixed to the car and the driver jumps out or part of the drivers clothing and fixed to the car. This would close the open area of the cockpit and help clean up the airflow to the rear wing.
10. Helmet aerodynamics
A lot of aero work goes into the wings and car but what about the drivers helmet, is there a small gain to be had by adding small wings or extensions to the helmet that could stop the head being buffeted around and improve the visibility.
11. Vortex modified air intake
The rules have a very clear statement about the use of charging the air intake through the use of a turbo or supercharger but what about the use of a vortex generator near the air restrictor to make the air flow through the intake cleanly when the air speed normally chokes the flow. There is even the possibility to have these devices spinning to create turbulence and help with distribution of the air in the plenum.
12. Exhaust blowing of aero parts
Most of the air that comes out of the exhaust is just pointed out of the car and does not seem to be used for any purpose, some are even pointed forwards, there is an energised airflow that can be used to aid or guide the rest of the aero package but it is often not being used.
13. Use the silencer as a wing
If the silencer was made into a wing shape and the inlet used as the mounting then the rear edge could be a very small slit outlet that is used to pull the airflow over the wing and further generate the downforce, a similar idea is being used in the fanwing airplane concept.
14. Use a turbo to drive ancillaries
The rules do allow for the use of the exhaust gas to power other items, such as the generator or water pump, this would lower the parasitic losses of these items from the rest of the engine giving a small boost in power.
15. Use of waste heat to pre-heat the tyres
At no time is the heat generated by the engine being used to do any secondary job, there would be the option to use this heated air to blow onto the tyres to preheat them in some events, skidpan, acceleration and autocross and then by a simple valve have the air diverted to the normal path.
16. Part removal of batteries
The rules for electric cars clearly state that the cars cannot be charged or batteries changed at the driver change, but it does not state that they cannot be removed? So you have the battery pack split into 40%, 40% and 20% of the total power. In the endurance event you use the power from one 40% module and maybe part of the 20%, at the driver swap you then remove this spent battery, the second driver has several kilos less weight to carry around giving a small performance boost. Yes not sporting but also not against the rules.
17. Valveless intake system
What if you removed the intake valves completely? No air! Ok so replace them with 1, 2 or even more injectors that squirt air into the engine, there would also need to be a fuel injector. The injectors could be angled to give the best airflow in the engine for fuel mixing. There is also secondary benefits to this system, as the air injection is controlled it can be late in the “compression’ stroke which means less power is wasted trying to compress the air. On top of this as the air is forced out of the nozzle it expands and cools meaning that the air is denser than normal giving another small boost. A small onboard compressor would pull air through a normal restrictor and put it into gas tanks. This compressor charges the tanks before hand and maybe under braking (similar to a hybrid electric car) removing the need to use the compressor in the events.
18. Swirl generators on the valve stems
Currently the valve stem has a nice smooth transition from the stem to the valve but could you add in vortex generators to help the swirl of the airflow into the combustion chamber and better mix the air fuel together.
19. Carbon fibre engine block
If we can make high performance wheels and gearboxes from carbon fibre why not the cylinder block? With the use of wet steel liners it could be possible to make several complex parts and then bond them together to create a single block with through bolts to hold the head, block and sump together.
20. 3d printed piston
With the ability to 3d print any shape why not use this to print a new highly complex piston with internal oil ways for advanced cooling, you would need to machine the piston after for a smooth finish for the gudeon pins, rings and sliding surfaces but the reduced reciprocating mass might make a benefit and this would compound into a reduced mass conrod and crankshaft.
21. Weight optimised engine parts
With virtually all the engines being brought in from motorbikes where they are highly stressed items with usually a higher power output is there the ability to analyse the engine and gearbox and post machine all the parts to remove excess weight. Most of the aluminium casings will be 3mm for manufacture but this would possibly be too thick for the ideal engine
22. Stronger clutch
Standing at the start line it can be very painful at time listening to the engines being revved and the clutch slipping so that the cars can get moving, all of this is down to the higher weight of the car with the much greater friction of the tyres, is it about time that a team looked at making a new clutch to overcome this area of weakness.
23. Power cutting of the alternator
All of the teams seem to be running the ancillary equipment all of the time, with the limited power of the engines is it better to start looking at ways to optimise the usage of items to only have them powered at part load to give a small power increase at full throttle. The alternator is a prime target as you could over specify the power so it charges more when being used which compensates for the time when its idle.
24. Alternative material chassis
There seems to be a status quo on the material choice for the chassis, either mild steel, chrome moly steel or composite, yet why not look at other options that could be supplemented via a sponsorship deal, materials such as Magnesium, Stainless steel, Aluminium lattice/foam or even 3d print the chassis. Yes it would mean a big learning curve, testing and equivalency analysis but the stand out factor over using the normal materials could be worth it from a CV viewpoint latter.
25. Short long arm suspension
A lot of teams are looking at reducing the reciprocating mass and inertia but it always has a problem of getting the suspension points inside the wheel, but if you moved the upper joint to above the wheel then this could free up room to move other things inside the wheel and allow a new small diameter wheel while still maintaining the rigidity of the suspension pickup points, this top mount would then be ideal for a wing mounting.
25 ideas to move FSAE cars in a different direction. We’d love to hear your thoughts, or even better, if you’re part of the FSAE competition, lets see some of the these ideas in your vehicle.