Software gets student engineers into top gear

Robert Roe looks at how software can help train the engineers of tomorrow

Two software companies have recently taken the initiative in helping to promote STEM skills at university level and in equipping the next generation of students with experience in using real world software.

IPG Automotive is offering free software licences to young engineering students, so that they can hone their skills by developing designs for motorsport competition, by taking part in the Formula Student competition.

At around the same time, Ansys donated a campus-wide licence to the University of Connecticut to give students and researchers there access to leading structures, fluids, electronics and systems simulation. The programme aims to help consolidate curriculum tools, reduce software procurement and IT costs, expand simulation scope and increase research innovation.

During the 2014 season, 113 Formula Student teams were equipped with CarMaker and IPGKinematics licenses from IPG Automotive, a German company based in Karlsruhe, which offered the free software licences for its Formula CarMaker program to help the students test and optimise their designs in a virtual environment. With the help of IPG Automotive’s software, models can be integrated and altered during the concept phase, just as in the development process, in order to be able to test different functions before construction and carry out sensitivity analyses. IPGKinematics is also used for the chassis design; CarMaker allows users to test different setups and settings as well as observing the effects that optimisation has on lap times

A virtual vehicle, a virtual driver, as well as the virtual traffic infrastructure (streets, racing tracks, and objects) are available for students in the virtual environment. With the graphical user interface of CarMaker, designers can easily simulate different settings individually. The results can be monitored in detail in IPGControl, whereas IPGMovie serves to visualise the consequences of setting changes.

In addition to the traditional ways of educating students, the formula student race series enables budding young engineers to get hands on experience with designing a race car. The most recent European Altair Technology Conference (EATC), held in June, showcased the work of a number of young engineers, including participants in the Formula Student race from the Racetech team, based in Germany.

One of the projects featured at EATC was Hydro2Motion, which started out as a student project at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich, supported by professors, sponsors, and the University. Its main purpose is to participate in the annual Shell Eco-Marathon. The Shell Eco-Marathon challenges student teams from around the world to design, build, and test extremely energy-efficient vehicles. The goal is to travel the furthest distance using the least amount of energy possible. Entrants have used energy sources ranging from diesel to solar, depending whether they are built purely for ultra-energy efficiency or one that also considers the practical needs of drivers.

In his presentation to the conference, Sebastian Henneke, a Hydro2Motion team member, explained that the team consists of around 25 members, although the numbers fluctuate due to the nature of student’s limited time at university. He said that the Hydro2Motion team competes in the prototype class, streamlined vehicles where the primary design consideration is reducing drag and maximising efficiency. The vehicle weighs 35 kilos and uses a hybrid propulsion system, comprised of a fuel cell that generates electricity which is stored in super-capacitors and then used to power an electric motor. The last time the team competed in the competition, they achieved 225 km/kWh – the equivalent to about 3,000 km per litre of petrol ‘or a little less than a shot glass of gasoline for 100km’, said Henneke.

In Germany, the Formula Student Germany (FSG) has been annually organised since 2006 by the Formula Student Germany sponsored by the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure. Several teams from different universities compete against each other for the top honours. This summer, 115 teams competed at the Hockenheimring with their race cars in various events. In addition to placement on the track, the construction, business plan as well as required costs are taken into consideration during evaluation.

Speaking of Ansys’ donation of a campus-wide licence to the University of Connecticut, Baki Cetegen, head of the university’s mechanical engineering department said: ‘This is a win-win arrangement. This allows our students to learn to use the state-of-the-art computational software for fluid dynamics, structural and thermal analyses to analyse complex engineering problems.’

‘We are proud to be narrowing the gap between classroom learning and practical experience,’ says Murali Kadiramangalam, director of the Ansys academic programme. ‘This initiative makes students more marketable to employers by giving tomorrow’s engineers hands-on experience with the software they are most likely to use after graduation.’

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