One Month In

Welcome to Summer

School's (been) out and the team's (been) hard at work, attempting to put together the first Illini Solar Car of the 21st century. Much has happened since our last blog update which, admittedly, was too long ago. But in the interest of updating our wonderful fans and sponsors on our progress, as well as documentation for the team, the current forecast for this blog and accompanying email list is one that contains more frequent updates.

Currently, this blog is scheduled to be updated every week, with a general update email being sent out once a month. Only time will tell if we stay true to this schedule. Things are optimistic however, because we've all been made aware of the importance of documenting our work not only for the public, but for the future of Illini Solar Car.
Without further ado, here are the updates (with pictures) for the first month of summer:

Mechanical Team

The overarching goal for this summer is to construct as much of the car's body/shell as possible given that it is the most labor intensive process. The task is so rigorous that mechanical's actually had to draft members from the electrical and solar array teams in order to get the job done.

The summer began with the completion of our wood platforms (1 for the top shell, 2 for the bottom shell, and 5 for the wheels and canopy). Simple in design yet crucial to being able to move literal tons of foam, these structures - effectively "bed frames for giants" - proved to be more challenging to build than anticipated.

See the resemblance to a bed frame for giants? People are included for scale, but for those who like numbers, the largest of the platforms is approximately 8' x 16'. Also, most of us used nail guns for the first time. They're scary at first, but super fun.
Though heavy to move around and lift, the biggest issue was not with building the actual frame, but with attaching the wheels. After overcoming the initial problem with finding adequate wheels to support the weight of the platform and the foam, installing them became the next dilemma. Our options were to attach the wheels with the platform on the ground, requiring us to flip such a heavy and large structure, or to screw them from underneath the wood, an uncomfortable prospect. We chose the latter and finished the platforms by screwing in wood sheets on top across the whole area.

While operating a nail gun upside down isn't dangerous, there are more ideal ways to use it. But at the very least, we covered the most important aspect of construction - safety. Always wear the right kind of safety glasses for the job.
We then proceeded to glue dozens of foam sheets (with densities varying from 10-20 lbs/ft^3) together to form large blocks the size and shape of each appropriate part. The blocks themselves were also glued to the platforms so that the foam could resist the force from the CNC and not move.

A picture in portrait? How blasphemous! Those with a wild imagination might anthropomorphize the stacks of foam, giving them life like the toys in Toy Story, and realize that while they sit cozily on the platforms now, they're really just waiting to have themselves deformed and chipped away by rapidly spinning metal. How's that for some unnecessary imagery?

With no clamps commercially available in the size we needed to ensure that the foam sheets stuck together and to attempt to flatten out any curved surfaces - which there were unfortunately a lot of - we had to resort to making our own. Combining long planks of wood with holes drilled into them with threaded rods and hex nuts, we were able to create multiple easy(ish) to use presses.

Here we see iron rod clamps working with the aforementioned threaded rod press to secure large sheets of foam to one half of the bottom shell. In cases like these, the threaded rods are really only moral support as the iron rods do most of the clamping. We also prefer working in the shade because, as engineers, how often do we really see the sun anyway?
For longer than anyone would ever want to do, life was an endless cycle of measuring, cutting, gluing, stacking, clamping, and waiting for the glue to become solid. We were spared the fate of becoming mindless zombies because of the heat, snacks and drinks to fight the heat, and most importantly, a sense of camaraderie that got us through the tough times. Then magically, at approximately 12:40am on June 16th, 2016, we found ourselves starting to clean up, for we had finally finished. 9 hours later, with the help of some amazing machinery, the foam was loaded and on its way to APW near St. Louis to be CNC'd to our specifications.

While forklifts like this are amazing feats of engineering to be marveled at, something arguably cooler is the fact that one of the Campus Facilities & Services employees helping operate the beastly machine has collected and restored 27 Harley Davidson motorcycles over the last 30 years in addition to other vehicles.

There are few things more satisfying than watching months of planning and weeks of physical labor coming into fruition. People and houses exist for scale, but for the numbers people, the truck bed is about 50' long.
If you've stuck around this far, then Illini Solar Car would like to thank you for your viewership, and we hope you continue to check back occasionally to see the latest on our team's efforts.
It is also at this point that you might realize that this writer is part of the mechanical team given the amount of content in the next sections (subsequent updates will include more thorough descriptions from other teams if available).

Electrical Team

We’ve been assembling our high-voltage test bench, which will eventually run the entire electrical testing platform of the car, which will validate our circuit boards, motors and solar panels, and power distribution at the systems level.

I've been assured that this doesn't look as scary as it might appear to those of us without much electrical background.

Solar Array Team

Current efforts are focused towards finalizing the array layout on the top shell of the car, developing a better tool to align the solar cells in the required formation, and soldering together enough cells to test and characterize in order to more accurately assess power outputs.