On 5 September 2011, Sophia Racing from the Sophia University took part in the 9th Student Formula SAE Competition of Japan and emerged as the Overall Champions of the race. As the team celebrates its win, the members recounted their journey of working towards the coveted title.
Members of the Sophia Racing Team, Sophia University
The Student Formula SAE Competition of Japan is a motorsport competition where university students design and build their own racing car to compete in a series of events that tests the team in various aspects. Teams are scored in these individual events, and top scorers emerge as overall winners of the competition. Other than car design, manufacturing, and participation in the race, students are required to procure materials, negotiate with companies, compile hundreds of reports, and make presentations to corporate representatives in the process of this competition.
Sophia University first participated in the America Formula in 2000 as a team member of “Japan Team Challenge”, which consisted of 6 universities. Subsequently, Sophia University formed its own racing team in May 2001. In 2003, the Sophia Racing emerged as overall winner in the inaugural Student Formula SAE Competition of Japan, perhaps an indication of the students’ achievements after 4 years of participation in the America Formula. The team even went on to place third in the World Cup in 2008.
Sophia Racing obtained all these achievements by participating in races overseas, and has consistently also maintained the first few positions in the Student Formula SAE Competition of Japan.
Insistence on the Use of Carbon Fiber
One of the basic rules of the Student Formula SAE Competition of Japan was that the structure of the racing car had to be made of steel pipes. However, the use of other materials is permitted if the team can prove that the material to be used has thesame strength as that of steel pipes.
Although carbon fiber is seen as a new flexible material, it has several demerits that may discourage teams from using it. For instance, the manufacturing is difficult to manage, the compilation of the cost table is time-consuming, and it is costly. However, the passion to take on new technology motivated the Sophia Racing to go with a carbon fiber monocoque chassis. Other benefits such as its lightweight properties, increased stiffness and design freedom cemented the team’s decision. “We wanted to try out ideas that other schools wouldn’t think of,” said Mr Inayoshi Tarou from the Chassis Production Team. “There are many benefits with using carbon fiber, even after taking the shortcomings into consideration,” he continued.
Need for Speed
Sophia Racing’s first contact with FARO was an enquiry made via Twitter in the second quarter of 2011. The team wanted to know if it was possible to use a measuring instrument to mark the correct position of holes that needed to be drilled in the carbon fiber monocoque chassis of their car. The usual practice in the past was to approach a company with a Numerical Control (NC) machine large enough to hold the car body, so as to drill holes in it. However, the timeline was exceptionally tight as all tasks had to be completed by June 2011 and there were already some delays due to the Japan earthquake disaster in March. The team simply could not afford a week’s time to get the job done with an NC machine, so it took on a new approach and decided to use the FaroArm.
Complexities of the New Task
The body of the racing car uses large carbon fiber materials measuring about 1500 x 700 x 800mm. It measures around 10mm in thickness, and is not cubic in shape or formation. Where the team members had to mark the position for holes to be drilled, certain areas of the car body had angles that were difficult to work with. With FARO’s latest FaroArm — the FARO Edge — the team had to first work out the benchmark position, so as to identify and mark the correct positions for 124 holes that were to be drilled. This involved the use of FARO’s software, CAM2Q, and the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) of the car body as a comparison.
Using the FARO Edge to locate accurate positions for 11mm-wide holes to be drilled
After carefully marking the positions of the holes, the team had to plan the drilling process methodically. Due to the 10mm thickness of the durable carbon fiber material, there was a risk of the drill bit breaking if drilling was not performed properly. To avoid this, the 11mm-diameter holes were made in a cautious manner — in successive stages of 2mm, 4mm, 6mm, 8mm and finally, 11mm. All in, the drilling process took 4 days to complete with great success.
This was recorded as a “new technology” in the event report that Sophia University submitted. The Sophia Racing passed the document pre-screening for its Cost, Presentation and Design reports. These reports were graded as static events of the competition, and the Sophia team was placed second out of 75 teams that participated.
Satisfaction from Participating in Student Formula
While the primary purpose of the Student Formula SAE Competition of Japan is to nurture talents for the development of the automobile industry, the benefits of students’ involvement towards their learning is immeasurable.
Associate Professor Suzuki Takashi, who places an emphasis on striking a balance between study and competition, made the following positive remarks about his students, “I see that participation in the Student Formula is same as taking part in social activities at an early stage of life. Normal university students are not expected to manage an annual schedule, apply what has been learned in the classroom to the actual world, take responsibility for one’s role, or communicate with team members and manage human relationships. However, all these things are essential in the Student Formula. I’ve received many positive remarks from companies on graduates formerly involved in Student Formula — that there is no need for them to undergo training programs meant for newly hired employees.”
A simple comment from another team member, Mr. Inayoshi, indicates that having fun was also a large part of a student’s participation in the event. He said with a smile: “To be honest, I enjoyed myself tremendously!” Hopefully, the Sophia Racing Team continues to be active in the next race, keeping in mind the words of their supervisor, Associate Professor Suzuki: “Good job! Great effort! Let’s go for the world competition as our next goal.”
With cooperation from:
Chassis team leader Mr. Inayoshi Tarou
Planning Group Ms. Haraguchi Yurie
Completed model in action
About Sophia University
Founded in 1913 as the first Catholic university in Japan, Sophia has grown to be one of Japan’ s leading private universities. Its reputation for excellence in undergraduate education, for outstanding graduate programs, and a competitive research environment have allowed Sophia to maintain its ranking as one of the top Japanese private universities.
In 1962, the Faculty of Science and Technology was established. It consists of four departments: mechanical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, physics, and chemistry.
The university will celebrate its centennial in 2013.