December 28, 2014
Formula SAE experience invaluable for budding race (or other) engineers As mentioned in last weeks episode, Formula SAE provides a hands-on learning opportunity that is difficult to duplicate at the college level. Formula SAE forces a group of like-minded individuals to work together for the common good of the team. Often times the stress of deadlines competes with classwork, personal life, girlfriends (or boyfriends), and jobs. Those are the same types of real world interests that will try to steal your time and necessitate budgeting and prioritizing in order to maintain a career in motorsports. Often we see the driver or crewman in the pits at a NASCAR event performing their job as a professional despite the fact that a son or daughter may be sick at home or the lawn needed to be mowed. Since we are placing the emphasis on career building I thought it would be appropriate to hear from four former UMO Formula SAE team members who are now at the beginning of their careers as engineers. As you will see not all of them are directly working in a motorsports career, however, their words of wisdom can almost universally apply.
Luke has been a tinkerer most of his life. I had the privilege of reviewing his portfolio which went back to his home school days when he built a working to-scale model of Leonardo De Vinci’s flying machine from a picture in the encyclopedia. This 170 page document was a fascinating story of the dozens of projects that this budding engineer either built or was involved in.
One project in particular caught my attention. In his sophomore year at high school he, along with five other students, formed a board of directors to renovate a room at the local community center to provide a safe and entertaining place for area youth to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights, This youth board of directors raised nearly $10,000 from grants they wrote as well as contributions to renovate, hire a director, and implement this dream.
A newspaper report quoted Saindon stating they raised as much as $100 in profits each weekend. Saindon’s dozens of projects included scratch built robots and high-powered rockets. The rockets became his obsession netting him jobs which allowed him to work with rocket engines, NASA internship, as well as controls. I mention all of this to show that a diverse background with self motivated projects are crucial for success in any higher performing career not just motorsports.
Saindon also works with the arts primarily with charcoal sketches and sculpture. He stated in his portfolio, “I believe that engineering and art should work together more closely and would both benefit as a result.”
So how did Formula SAE involvement while at UMO benefit Saindon. In his own words, “The realities of working with groups. For any engineer the hardest thing to do is work with other people. At least this is the case for me. ”
“Communication skills, and a determination to keep going even when things get rough are just two examples of what it could help teach a participant.”
“School doesn’t even begin to cover how hard it is to keep a larger group organized, let alone the work involved with simple administration tasks.” Every engineer would love to just sit around and work on technical problems, but that never happens, and unfortunately that is all school prepares you for. In fact, if all you did was sit around and work on technical problems you would be quickly left behind in the engineering field.”
“You need to be able to communicate your ideas, and record your achievements, get the word out there; and if you find a mission you are passionate about you need to be able to spread that enthusiasm. At work I am lucky because I get to be just a ‘technical engineer’ most of the time, but in fact I have been thankful for my continued participation on Team Ursa and my past with FSAE; because without it I would quickly lose any small leadership or communication skills I manage to hang onto.”
“I count on those skills at brief but very important moments at work, and I know I would be unprepared without my FSAE and Ursa history.”
Saindon has also modified his 1986 Porsche 944 with a Chevrolet LS 1 aluminum V8 powering it. He machined the adapters and has been fine tuning it for street use as well as autocross competition. He has competed in several Cumberland Motor Club events including making excursions to Loring in Aroostook County, which boasts some of the fastest speeds of any autocross on the East Coast.
“My current location is Boston, Massachusetts working at Mide Technology doing small engineering research and development projects,” said Saindon. “I love the work because it changes regularly and it involves tricky problems that teach me to be a better engineer.”
Heman Norris from New Sharon, Maine grew up in a stock car racing family with his dad, Mike Norris. He has autocrossed a wide variety of cars ranging from 1992 Acura NSX, BMWs, Honda Civic, Mustang Cobra, Scion TC, Mazda 3, Toyota MR2 Spider, Honda S2000, and Porsche 944.
He also had the most racing experience of any of the four UMO Formula SAE team members being featured. Norris was asked about his background and why he got involved in Formula SAE.
He replied, “Getting involved in Formula SAE interested me because I had a strong background in motorsports, I had served as a crew chief (for Mike Norris his Dad) on a pro stock at the track in Wiscasset for three years after having been a race day crew member on a super street for four years, and because it seemed to be a great opportunity to emphasize the more mechanical and technical side of my engineering education.”
“The additional resources I drew upon from the mandatory SAE membership and the educational component of the Formula SAE program enabled me to better understand the suspension tuning and chassis setup that is so critical to autocross, at which I have now vested 7 years and returned two class championships.”
“The additional fabrication skills learned from building the car put me in a more solid position for gaining a job directly after graduation. Students who had chosen simplistic capstone projects or who lacked internships seemed to struggle to justify their worth to employers.”
“With the Formula SAE’s emphasis on design and technology, to better your car’s capabilities and performance, being balanced with the need for proper engineering communication and reporting, I was better prepared for the needs of the workplace, and feel that placing a successful novice Formula SAE team on my resume gave me an edge.”
“I brought with me my experience as a (stock car) crew chief to my captain’s position on the Formula SAE team, but I bring with me my composites experience in fabricating the body shell and control arms of the Formula SAE car with me to my current position as a Research Engineer at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center.”
Travis Elliot from Mt. Vernon, Maine graduated from Maranacook Community School in 2009. While majoring at the University of Maine at Orono he began getting involved in the Formula SAE team his junior year and led the team his senior year.
His primary job was suspension design and fabrication. He and his UMO team mates worked in collaboration with Caribou Technology Center Welding students, Caribou FFA/Ag Mechanics class members, and master machinist/fabricator Richard McNeal of Presque Isle. The high school members helped build suspension brackets, tie rod and coil- over shock mounts, and fuel cell fabrication.
Elliot and team successfully completed the Formula SAE car in time to compete at Michigan International Speedway in May 2013. The Maine Formula SAE team finished all areas of the competition 64th of 108 teams from all around the United States and the world.
Elliot went to work for Honda USA directly after graduating for University of Maine in the Spring of 2013. He worked at manufacturing engineering which did not satisfy his desire to work on actual cars. He heard of a job opportunity at Roush Industries headquartered in Livonia, Michigan.
He currently is employed in Roush’s Allen Park location in the Detroit area as a chassis engineer. His department works on Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), Finite Element Analysis (FEA), design and release, concept geometry, static and dynamic vehicle benchmarking, chassis and component durability testing, and constructing functional show vehicles.
Elliot attributes much of his fortune in landing this job to the interview where his enthusiasm for Formula SAE was apparent. “They would rather hire a Formula SAE participant that may be wet-behind-the ears than one who does not have that experience or display such traits,” said Elliot in a phone interview.
When asked about how Formula SAE experience helped him while in college Quatrano said, “Being part of a large group working towards completing a vehicle was the most important part. Just as in a ‘real world’ situation, your design can’t always be optimized if it is going to interfere with someone else’s part. In that sense it teaches a lot about interfaces – one is not likely to be responsible for every component on a vehicle, so it is important to work closely with others on the team and make sure everything will fit.”
“Working through timing plans is another aspect that would not be learned from an engineering textbook. On the scale of an auto manufacturer, there are thousands of people working to bring a car to the market. Being responsible for the part that delays a vehicles launch is not a good place to be. This is similar to FSAE – each group on the team (in our case, suspension, engine, and drivetrain) needed to develop a plan to get our parts completed in time to allow for testing.”
“I have been able to use many of the CAD skills gained through FSAE in design for my job. Even though the systems are different, being able to think through the design of parts has helped greatly.”
“Most important was the hands on experience gained by fabricating components and assembling the car. Working at an OEM, ease of assembly is always a part of the design. The car needs to be able to be put together quickly and efficiently to maximize output. I have been able to use many of the skills learned through FSAE on personal projects outside of work.”
Final thoughts on Part III
I fully realize that not every person who wants to be involved in motorsports is interested in an engineering degree at UMO. In fact the Formula SAE team at UMO is no longer existent due to a variety of issues. There are other such programs as close as University of New Hampshire. Some FSAE programs are power houses that can be researched on-line before applying to a particular school.
In the end it comes down to the individual! The person that you look at in the mirror every morning will determine just how much sacrifice and hard work you are willing to put in to accomplish your goal.
Part IV will be in next week’s episode. I was absolutely thrilled to write about the stories of these four UMO grads featured this week. In no way will I claim to have told the complete story of each of these talented individuals.
Let’s go racing!
Soli Deo Gloria