Engineering students participate in international off-road extreme challenge

The Baja SAE competition tasks engineering students with designing a dune buggy that can withstand harsh terrains.

Amanda Guillen

The Baja SAE competition tasks engineering students with designing a dune buggy that can withstand harsh terrains.

Helen Yip, Staff Reporter

UTEP’s chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers International will take off-roading to another dimension. College of Engineering students will show off their ingenuity and capability in automotive design from April 24–27 at the 2014 Baja SAE Competition.

SAE International is a global organization, comprised of engineers and technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries.

UTEP will host a variety of schools from all over the world including teams from Mexico, Canada, South Korea and United Arab Emirates.

It’s been 16 years since this competition has been held at UTEP. This is the first of three regional competitions that will be held nationwide—the other two will be held in May ainKansas and on June in Illinois.

UTEP, along with students from 96 universities, will participate in the collegiate design series, and they will be tested in design, engineering, marketing, building and finally the testing of a one-person, off-road vehicle that they built.

Sergio Maldonado is the project director of Baja SAE 2014 and is working on his graduate degree in mechanical engineering.

“We have 100 teams registered to compete and in the first time of the history of the SAE competition, the first out of the three events sold out,” Maldonado said. “The point of this event is to simulate real-world engineering and design projects. There are many elements involved in this competition that create a real-world professional environment.”

Maldonado said it is more of a challenge to build and manufacture the vehicle than just participating in the endurance race. Students must develop a business plan, design a cost-effective model and deliver a sales presentation.

Baja SAE challenges students to develop a vehicle and be able to sell it using a variety of skills that will give them a competitive edge.

The kick off will begin with presentations given by each team, who will deliver their business plan. The plan includes things such as market analysis; the cost of the car from start to finish, and the cost to mass-produce the vehicle.

The company Briggs and Stratton donated all of the engines for the competition.

“At the end of the day, all of the engines are the same, so really depends on the competitors and their design,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said the competition being held at UTEP means the terrain will be a unique one.

“We are seated in a desert that has a lot of rocks and mountains, where the cars can drive in a natural setting,” Maldonado said. “Most of the other tracks in the country are man-made.”

This gives UTEP a bit of an edge in designing a top-performing Baja car, which must have the ability to handle extreme and tough terrains, which the cars are built for.

UTEP has two teams in the competition this year. Chris Caviglia, graduate student in mechanical engineering, is the captain for the upper-level team.

Caviglia said sponsors donate most of the parts they use to build the cars and that the sponsors are an important part of making this event happen.

“We always go back to Armor Metals,” Caviglia said. “They always help us out with the metal for the frame, along with other companies who donate.”

The toughest part of the design for the competition is the technical inspection of the car, Caviglia said. He also said there are a lot of specifications that go into making an off-road vehicle certified.

“There is a rule book of about 60-70 pages with specifications we need to meet to even have our car considered,” he said.

The inspection consists of about 30 judges from Honda Research and Development, who will inspect every car from top to bottom.

According to Maldonado, Honda Research and Development judges are rigorous and the planning must be done methodically.

“If they believe the car is not safe, your team will get disqualified,” Maldonado said.

The Static Events for the competition will take place at the Rudolph parking lot on Sun Bowl Drive. The Dynamic Events, which include hill climb, acceleration, suspension, traction and maneuverability and a four-hour endurance race, will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Recreational Sports Complex.

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Helen Yip may be reached at [email protected].