What constitutes the best Formula SAE car for a given team?

That is the question that is presented to a Formula SAE team when the first outlines of a car are begun. Perhaps the simplest answer to this question could be a car that provides the best result at competition given the resources of the team. So question answered?

Well not quite. This answer very quickly brings about further, perhaps more difficult questions. What performance characteristics would this car have? What is our budget? Is weight more important than power? Can we build it in time? Should we have wings? There are many more such questions that follow such a response and these questions present themselves not only in the initial concept development stage, but also during the build and testing of the car.

To be successful in answering these questions a team needs to have an understanding of the impact of each design decision on the car’s performance and team’s resources and timeline. A solid understanding of these impacts allows the team to make intelligent compromises between each factor to produce the best overall result. In this article I’ll take you through how Monash Motorsport quantifies these effects to manage both resource allocation and technical direction.

Car Performance
Central to Monash Motorsport’s understanding of our car is an in house developed competition points simulator, which simulates each of the dynamic events at a competition. This method was first used by Geoff Pearson, an alumnus of both the Monash and RMIT teams, and has the ability to compare differing car concepts with varying power, lateral grip and mass on any specified track.

The resulting data provides points sensitivities for each variable, data that is critical for relating a particular improvement in car specification to resulting car competition performance. An example of its application would be the decision of whether to turbo-charge our single cylinder engine. The additional power and torque benefits of a turbocharger can be compared to the additional weight and fuel usage to give a balanced view of whether it would constitute an advantage at competition. This data is used in each design period, but also for future planning of projects that require significant research and development to bring a competitive advantage.

With data that can quantify technical improvement, the focus falls to which improvements are best invested in. A very simplistic way of doing this is to make the derived points advantages specific, that is to say how many points per dollar does this improvement constitute?

This allows the team to make compromises across sections, potentially unevenly allocating resources between sections to create a car that is greater as a whole. The general process is completed by giving each section a provisional lean budget through which they complete initial costings, conserving a further amount that can be allocated to sections for projects that will give the team a competitive advantage at competition.

As a result, it can be seen that the teams resources, be they technical, financial or infrastructure based, pose the first restriction upon the team. A strong business section is critical in reducing the financial and resource constrains of the team by constantly talking to local and international businesses. In some instances, they completely facilitate options that the team would otherwise not be able to pursue through access to facilities or resources. The work of the business section and the support from our sponsors is therefore invaluable and directly results in the quality of the vehicle we produce.

The final factor to be considered is time. Time is effectively another resource within the team, but is treated slightly differently. A global car timeline is first produced by setting rolling, driving and flying dates, which subsequently define the design, manufacturing and testing periods. Of note here is the inherent trade off between the lengths of each period. Each will improve the car in different ways, with diminishing returns past certain durations. To determine the correct length of each period, the team reviews previous timelines and testing data to iterate towards the best tradeoff.

These global timelines then flow down to the sections, and each section creates their own timelines, incorporating the timeline of each part. Important resource allocations for each part are also timelined, such as time on a CNC machine, setting further critical dates for each part and ensuring manufacturability within time restraints.

With hundreds of parts and over 50 technical team members on the team, this becomes a complex task. It requires a continual review process as the project progresses and this has been aided in the last 2 years by the use of a project management tool called Wrike. Wrike does a fantastic job at allowing us to visualize the timeframe of the car, and by allocating individuals to each task, work out whether we are loading individuals too heavily during time periods to accomplish our objectives. If projected workloads of individuals exceed what can be expected of them, we adjust our timelines or even part design before and during manufacturing to ensure we maintain our global car timeline.

These tools and processes form the backbone on Monash Motorsport’s design process and we believe have been central to our success in recent years. It is not perfect, but the process that we take allows the team to continue to iterate our activities towards a better solution, and we believe produces the best Formula SAE vehicle for our team.

Edward Hamer, 2014 Team Leader