At Roush facilities and with the guidance of Roush expertise, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team built the carbon fiber body of our car, Novum, which brought home Michigan’s strongest Bridgestone World Solar Challenge finish yet, 2nd place. First and foremost, this means Roush provided UM Solar Car with vital access to a large, professional workspace for prepreg composites manufacturing, providing us the best possible venue to undergo this process.
In doing this, Roush granted us the opportunity to use specialized equipment to enhance our efforts each step of the way.
CNC (computer numerical control) knife cutters, for example, helped with kitting, which makes hand layup easier. Hand layup is a composite fabrication method that involves layering fabric onto the molds. The fabrics that will soon go onto the molds must first be carefully cut into specific patterns or shapes, and kitting makes fabric placement easier because it involves cutting sets of fabric patterns and assembling them into kits. Here, Roush’s CNC knife cutters allowed for precision cutting of our materials.
Armed with these fabric patterns, the team began hand layup, hand-placing layers of dry fabric, or “prepreg” plies, onto a mold, which created something called a laminate stack. Then, resin was applied via resin infusion and the plies were then “debulked,” or compacted in a vacuum bag. This minimizes the creation of voids, or air pockets, in the laminate, which would likely weaken the composite. All the while, Roush staff were on hand, helping UM Solar Car build a better car by providing layup tips, watching for any errors, and advising team members on the best materials to use and where to use them.
After debulking, it was time to cure the laminate. Roush’s facilities are equipped with car-sized ovens and large autoclaves, specialized equipment which were of great use to us. Being able to use an autoclave for this curing process was important, because it helped the team achieve an optimal resin-to-fiber ratio and to avoid the formation of undesirable voids. With such instruments at its disposal, Michigan felt confident that its painstaking work would yield lightweight, strong parts.
We would not have been able to do all of this in our base of operations, the Wilson Student Team Project Center; Roush made Novum’s construction possible, and made the construction process run that much more smoothly. Our Operations Director, Peter Rohrer, highlights how significant Roush’s support is to the success of the Michigan Solar Car Team, saying, “Roush’s unparalleled workspace and expertise in composites manufacturing are a crucial asset to us, allowing us to have total confidence in the performance of our vehicle’s structures, which are made entirely of composite materials.”
Roush enabled us to build the car that performed so successfully in Australia this fall. With Roush’s support, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team moved its cutting-edge design into the three-dimensional world and made its vision a reality. We look forward to continuing this trajectory by collaborating with Roush as we make changes to Novum and prepare for the upcoming American Solar Challenge!