Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Another day closer

Well, I'm in the middle of packing and was busy talking to my sister. We couldn't believe the team made it so far! There was always optimism, but there were always set backs as well. But after 2 long years of hard work, we finally did something that hadn't been done in 9 years, compete at the World Solar Challenge.

The competition isn't just about building a solar car. There is so much more to it. The project is a massive undertaking of engineering, business, logistics, marketing and good old fashioned wheeling and dealing! After all that, none of the team members really thought much about the final standings. Our goal has always been to build a solid, reliable vehicle to race. Man, have we learned our lessons over the years. Our last car; "The millennium Project", almost took a millennium to work on! Starting in 1998, the vehicle was suppose to be ready for racing in 2000. This project was spear headed originally by the remaining members of the last World Solar Challenge team, SunStang 96, and members of SunRayce 97. Unfortunately, those team members graduated all around the same time. This void of knowledge led to the "millennium Project" not being completed till 2003, for the American Solar Challenge. That vehicle taught the team several lessons. It was the first composite chassis design developed by SunStang. Previous generations of SunStang used a magnesium space frame. The composite chassis proved to be a very difficult thing to engineer. Engineering hard point locations for the suspension was the hardest part of development. Several times we had significant failure of our rear suspension due to the chassis weakening due to uneven loading. We noticed the problem from the day we installed the suspension but it was too late for us to do anything with it. That vehicle did pass all scrutineering at ASC 2003, however, during qualifying, one of those failures occurred and we were forced to retire.

Lessons Learned....
The team, now together for a few years, decided that we would stick with the composite chassis design for the 2005 vehicle. It was something the team had experience working with. We spent a great deal of time researching various joining techniques for the chassis panels. After talking to professors and industry professionals, we finally felt we had something! Plus, we improved the hard point design for the suspension. The new design allowed the loading to be distributed over a large aluminum plate placed on the composites. This prevented localized failure due to torsion and bending of individual suspension mounts. The downside of this system was that it added close to 30 lbs of weight to the car. But the team made a decision long ago. We knew that the weight, the aero dynamics, the efficiency of the vehicle was not important unless the car was reliable and safe.

The team worked hard through out the last year or two. No matter what our situation was with respect to workspace, funds, and overall support, we knew that "if we build it, they will come!". And Boy did we ever build! The team has worked so hard over the last year manufacturing so many of the systems from scratch. Brand new aero shell, new array, new chassis, new suspension, new telemetry, new battery system... Everything developed by the team! We did it. There were many who said this could not be done, many who suggested we were just dreaming, but dreams is what started solar car raycing, and that is what drives our project. Dreamers are the leaders of our world, the inventors, the innovators. I have no doubt that the people involved in this project, will go on to doing bigger and better things for us all.

In continuation to yesterdays theme, We gotta thank a whole bunch of people still! How bout we start with the financial/purchasing folks! Man, I don't know where we would be without the help of Lonnie and Katherine! They are the ones who give us money! We're always asking for things in the last minute (like today, I ran in there asking for a cash advance, 2 days before I leave! :)). They always go out of their way to help us out. Also, Jim and Stephen in stores! They get "stuff"! If we need it, they will find it! Plus they take care of much of our shipping and receiving that is so critical when we're dealing with the last minute schedule we work on!!! Then there's Ray in purchasing at Stevenson Lawson. This guy is awesome. I'm not sure how he gets any work done with me calling him every 20 minutes with new questions regarding shipping! He took care of all the details for getting our car to Australia (and hopefully back! ). Let me tell you, I would hate to have his job! There is so much to know about shipping something like our car overseas. The amount of redtape with international law, customs, rules and regulations, and haz mat shipment, it's amazing all of that was done on time and with out a hitch! I know that without Ray's expertise, the car would still be sitting on the front lawn of the staging building!!!! All and all, there is no way we can repay Ray for his help! He saved us big time!!!

OK.. Well back to packing.. And more to come tomorrow.......

From London (still for a few more days)..
Imran Atcha


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