California State University, Long Beach
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Race Is On For SAE Summer Formula, Baja Competitions

Published: June 1, 2012

Race Is On For SAE Summer Competitions
PHOTO BY DAVID J. NELSON
Industrial design students (black shirts), engineering students (gray shirts), instructors and technicians gather around the two cars they collaborated on during the past semester. The two vehicles will be taking part in summer competitions beginning this month. Also in the photos are College of Engineering Dean Forouzan Golshani, College of the Arts Dean Raymond Torres-Santos, industrial design faculty member Max Beach and mechanical and aerospace engineering associate professor Christiane Beyer.

Senior students from the industrial design program within the College of the Arts are teaming up with engineering students, most studying mechanical, aerospace, and electrical engineering, to design and fabricate two automobiles for Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) race car competitions this summer—one model to challenge the deserts of Baja California and one to cover Formula One tracks. Under the guidance of industrial design faculty member Max Beach and mechanical and aerospace engineering’s Christiane Beyer, the Industrial Senior Design Class and the SAE Student Society find themselves under global scrutiny.

The concept behind Formula SAE and Baja SAE competitions is that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a design team to develop a small and affordable formula-style race car and an off-road vehicle. The prototype race cars are to be evaluated for their potential as production items. The target marketing group for the race car is the non-professional weekend autocross racer or weekend OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) enthusiast, in the case of the Baja. Each student team designs, builds and tests a prototype based on a series of rules whose purpose is both to ensure on site event operations and promote problem solving.

SAE International is a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industries. SAE International’s core competencies are lifelong learning and voluntary consensus standards development. Its charitable arm is the SAE Foundation, which supports many programs including A World in Motion and the Collegiate Design Series.

“These international and intercollegiate design competitions for both cars are held every year across the U.S. and around the world,” explained Beyer, a member of the university since 2009, who teaches the mechanical engineering students in design and the use of cutting-edge technologies. “The challenge for the Baja competition is to design the car and build it to survive the severe punishment of rough terrain, while Formula is meant for the track, compared on static and dynamic performance. Student participation is the key to success and promotes excellence in engineering, because it takes the students out of the classroom and allows them to have hands-on experience. However, all of the work is voluntary, because it’s in most cases not class related. The students learn how to work under time pressure, because there is a tremendous amount of work to do on top of their class work. To be part of the team, requires a strong commitment as well as an enormous and constant effort for everybody who is involved.”

Design’s Beach wants his 20 industrial design majors, who graduated this spring, to gain real-world experience.

“I want our students in design and the SAE Student Society to have a positive understanding of what it takes to work together and not just theoretically but practically,” said Beach, a part-time lecturer in industrial design. “I want them involved in creating something they can get in and drive. We ask questions such as what needs to be done to the car to guarantee entrance or exit in seconds? That is the kind of ergonomic connection that ties together engineering and design. It is all well and good to create a sexy car but is it a sexy car you can get in and out of? The idea of the competition is to showcase how engineering and design can cooperate.”

There is more at stake in the project than speed, Beyer explained. “It is a good preparation for the real world, because the students need to work together in teams with different educational backgrounds (engineers, designers, etc.) and expertise. The engineers and designers need to find a consensus between functional and aesthetic aspects. In addition, there are a whole bunch of rules for the students to obey,” she said. “The Baja competition is more diverse in its design demands for the all-weather and rugged course with hill climbs and rock crawls. The Formula cars are more track-oriented. The cooperation was particularly important for gaining a basic understanding of the thinking and aspects of all team members.”

Organizational gears must mesh without breaking any teeth. “The engineering students developed their chassis for these two platforms for a full semester before we joined,” Beach said. “Our design seniors were tasked with catching up very quickly and completing the assignment by the end of the semester. Coming from a professional environment, I’ve gotten used to wrangling cats. One of the challenges right off the bat was the fact that the SAE had a club approach while we had to fit their work into our course. We had to hit the ground running. It was a challenge.”

Students responded quickly. “I think one of the big positives here is the students’ quick recognition that this kind of collaboration happens in industry,” said Beach. “I remember feeling it was a shame our mutual departments were only a few feet apart yet they did not have a record of meaningful, high-profile projects. The students seem appreciative of what each other brings to the table. They challenge each other based on their passions and experiences.”

Beyer applauds the student competition. “I hope we are teaching our students to support each other,” she said. “They all need to be on the same page. As a club, our students took on this challenge on top of their classroom work. Everything they learn in this project will help them in the job market. These are not just theoretical exercises. Every success will encourage the college to devote more support to mechanical and aerospace engineering and design.”

Beyer and Beach selected two managers for the Baja project, two for the Formula project and one for documentation. Four out of five of the managers are female.

“They are strong, solid designers who were among the first to step up and take responsibility,” said Beach. “This is an industry that has been dominated by male leadership for a long time. Not only are women designers gaining new acceptance but they are taking leadership roles. That is great to see.”

Beyer senses the women’s confidence. “This project reinforces these roles,” she said. “Even though the teams have a healthy competition, it is often the women members who make the diplomats and help the teamwork happen.”

Designing cars packs a cultural punch not found in making better mouse traps. “My real mission is my love of cars. (Beyer loves them, too.) I exorcised some demons in the project,” laughed Beach. “Cars personify many ways we express ourselves. That always has been captivating to me. We are creating two diametrically opposed vehicle designs and this project is the first time these students have looked at these things as part of a team. But the cars are the same in that they represent the CSULB team.”

Beach has more than 13 years’ experience of product, multi-media and exhibit design as a founding partner of IDA in Culver City. For his design contributions on the cy-fi wireless speaker, he was honored with the 2009 CES Innovation Honoree Award. Before IDA, Beach managed his own design practice and worked as design director for Sugar Sand Marine in Fargo, N.D., where he produced projects for a new line of jet boats and accessories. Beach has served as the Los Angeles Chapter chair for IDSA since 2004. He received his BFA in industrial design from Detroit’s Center of Creative Studies.

Beyer is an expert in product development design processes and cutting-edge technologies who came to CSULB after 16 years of academic and industrial experience in Germany. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Magdeburg.

Beyer and Beach know the project has plenty of eyes on it. “All the extra eyes may have added pressure but they also add motivation,” said Beach. “Now there is a feeling of student responsibility to perform at a much higher level as a team than they would as individuals.”