For budding engineers interested in an automotive career, there's no better resume builder than the Formula SAE competition.
This year, the race-car-design competition is at Michigan International Speedway, and college teams from near and far are performing their final tune-ups as they prepare to compete in the 120-car field.
"It encompasses a real engineering world, a real engineering job," said Lucas Kizer, a University of Toledo junior and team leader for Rocket Motorsports.
"Everything from team management to design to failure of parts and remanufacturing. It's a perfect opportunity to take the equations you learned in the classroom and apply them to the real world."
It's fun, sure. But it's also incredibly time-consuming. Work is done after classes, not for credit, and students sometimes dig into their own pockets to help cover the costs of the build.
Tuesday morning, the team from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology stopped at IMCO Carbide Tool Inc. in Perrysburg Township to thank the company for donating cutting tools they used to fabricate much of their wholly custom car.
Weary of cheap tools that broke down easily or weren't exactly right for the job, the team wrote tool makers around the country asking for help. Only two responded. One was IMCO, which sent two big batches of specialized tools and a bit of tech advice on fabrication.
"I believe that the manufacturing base is what built this country, and they're going to go into manufacturing. They're young, they're problem solvers, and I just wanted to support them. And who doesn't want to be involved with a race car? It sounded like fun," said Matt Osburn, vice president and technical director at IMCO.
Team member Evan Hog- lund said nearly every part of the car relied on equipment donated by Mr. Osburn's company, from creating molds to machining wheel components. Especially useful was a prototype tool used for cutting carbon fiber, a super lightweight and strong material that can be tricky to work with.
"A lot of the problem with carbon fiber is the layers will peel apart," said Mr. Hogland, who graduated this year and is heading to a job with Honda Motor America in Ohio. "It's kind of like a fraying rope. If you do it correctly, it comes out pretty clean. You can look at these, and there's really no postmachining work done. It came out pretty much perfect."
The cars compete in a series of runs that test acceleration, road-holding, and endurance.
The UT team placed 17th out of 120 in 2011 and 12th out of 120 in 2010.
"We're hoping for a top-10 finish this year," Mr. Kizer said. "The car's looking really strong, really good. We've got enough driver training in. I think we're pretty well set for this competition."
Sponsors of the Rocket Motorsports car include Dana Holding Corp., Holland Engineering Co., TW Metals Inc., and Harmon Sign.
Building a car is nearly a yearlong process. Mr. Kizer said design typically begins in June, with fabrication beginning in August or September. The competition begins today and runs through Saturday at MIS.
Each car is slightly different and is limited to 100 horsepower, although most don't put out nearly that much. The South Dakota school's car produces 42 horsepower but weighs only 372 pounds. That's good enough to shoot it to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. It has a top speed of 72 mph.
IMCO's Mr. Osburn said the team from South Dakota contacted him about stopping by to show off the car.
The event ended up drawing a large crowd. Students said they needed to thank Mr. Osburn and the rest of the company.
"They've been fantastic to us," said Jordan Krell, another graduating senior who has a job lined up at Pratt & Miller Engineering in Michigan.
IMCO, founded in 1977, makes tools for many industries, including aircraft and automotive. Between its Perrysburg Township location and a second office in Warren, Mich., it employs about 100 people.
Mr. Osburn was impressed with the team and the future of American manufacturing.
"Health care, financial services, computers, those are all honorable professions, but making things, we need that. And that's what these guys are going into. I was more than happy to support that."
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.