FUELLING THE NEXT GENERATION
Oxford Brookes University can look back over 150 years of history but the culture that underpins it today is centred on looking ahead. It’s one of the UK’s top modern universities and enjoys a local, national and international reputation for the excellence of its research and its teaching. With a staff of over 2,800, the university also makes a very significant and positive economic and social impact on Oxford, one the UK’s most vibrant cities, famous as a seat of learning.
Oxford Brookes is often cited in industry literature and its contributions to the development of the industries its graduates ultimately work within are notable. Among the many initiatives it participates in is the 'Formula Student International Design Competition'.
'Formula Student' ultimately pits the practical and intellectual talents of more than a thousand teams from respected teaching establishments around the world. The competition has run for many years but the goal remains the same: to design, manufacture, build and race a single seat racing car. The event, and the various teams’ efforts are meticulously scrutinised so avoiding the potential for 'speed at any price' or other distortions of the end goal.
Getting from the spark of an idea to a physical embodiment of the innovations comprising the cars being designed, involves many disciplines. The exercise is run in much the same way that a contemporary business might operate. This imposes a need to budget, to model and to prove any promising design hypothesis. A business plan surrounds the whole design and development plan and a workable business model is needed to maintain a credible front that’s attractive to would-be sponsors from industry whom the teams might hope to attract.
Needless to say, materials science plays a major role in the development of any competitive racing vehicle and the wheeled output of the teams’ efforts are realised in modern structural composites originated from state-of-the-art 3D printed tooling. One notable development recently exercised by the Oxford Brookes team yielded a component, an ‘upright.’ saving about 30% over its traditionally manufactured counterpart with no loss of tolerance to the working stresses to which it would be subject. Electron Beam Melting enabled the production of the component displacing conventional machining technologies.
The cars that are the products of all the team’s efforts are, by definition, racing vehicles, they’re judged though against a very complex set of criteria, several of which are ‘static’ - the car doesn’t move at all. Acceleration, endurance and time-critical performance including lap times comprise, among others, some of the factors influencing the results of the ‘dynamic’ events. Its a very complex and extremely demanding set of performance criteria to satisfy. Oxford Brookes University teams have achieved the top spot six times.
Next years entrant planned by the Oxford Brookes team reflects the interest in the wider commercial world in alternative means of vehicle propulsion. With the technologies it develops being transferable to commercial enterprise, interest in this area of activity is intense. Building and fuelling the next generation of public, personal and commercial transport is probably one of the biggest and most revolutionary commercial opportunities the world has ever seen. It’s entirely possible that the technologies that will fire the revolution will have first turned a wheel in the Formula Student International Design Competition.
Attracting commercial sponsorship is critical to success of the competition and the teams go to lengths to ensure that their market-facing image reflects their credibility and standing. Metamark has contributed materials and application know-how to the Oxford Brookes team so that it can front its efforts with an exemplary level of professionalism and visual impact. The team used Metamark materials for the production of applied livery components, designed and cut in-house at the university, and even prepared its own pit boards completing the ensemble. The results will be widely shared in academic and social networks and among the sponsors the effort attracts.
Just as efforts driving the bounds of exploration have taken man-made technologies to other planets and have resulted in innovations we now rely upon, the inventive output the Formula Student Design Competition engenders may deliver something of profound importance to the world. Some very bright minds capable of abstracting and solving problems are focussed on being the best. The next generation will be the beneficiaries.