Altair software and technical support was crucial to the construction of the University of Michigan’s newest solar car, Novum. A staunch supporter of UM Solar Car, Altair provided the team with generous access to its HyperWorks® software suite and Inspire®, as well as with technical advice. Composites Lead Bennet McGlade says that "Through the use of Altair's powerful analysis and optimization software package and with help from their fantastic technical and engineering support, we were able to build the fastest and safest car possible."
The HyperWorks suite was particularly useful for composite analysis, allowing our engineers to determine whether aspects of the design would fail under specific conditions.
Our engineers assigned material properties to the geometry of Novum’s CAD designs, and then applied loads using HyperMesh®, which illustrated the stress and strain values throughout the structure. This not only allowed us to see where the parts were most likely to fail or how much they might deform, but also allowed us to decide where to add more layers or plies to the structure, decisions that our Race Crew executed during the carbon manufacturing process, when we constructed Novum’s carbon fiber aerobody.
Altair’s OptiStruct® solver also aided in composite analysis, running optimizations that our engineers could base on certain criteria that they assigned. These optimizations told our engineers which were the lightest, safest designs; they then interpreted these results into a manufacturable layout and stacking pattern, which also aided our Race Crew during carbon manufacturing. Our engineers began with setting up the model with the geometry from CAD and with an initial analysis before beginning the three-step optimization process. The first step, free size, gives a continuous distribution of material thickness; the second, size, accounts for the individual thickness of each ply; and the third, shuffling, recommends the order in which each ply should be laid. Once the optimization process is completed, UM Solar engineers polish it and make the model manufacturable before again checking the analysis for all the different load cases.
“It’s a fairly complicated task,” Bennet says of composites analysis. “But HyperWorks is both versatile and powerful, which helps a lot. More importantly, though, it has fairly specialized tools and options specifically for composite analysis.”
Altair’s HyperWorks streamlined the composite analysis process, and its Inspire software was similarly crucial during the metal parts optimization process. Mechanical Lead Perry Benson explains that this is both a powerful design tool in the hands of experienced team members and a powerful instructional tool for newer team members.
“For the more experienced members, it lets the team squeeze every last ounce of unnecessary weight out of our components,” Perry details. Lightweighting was a main endeavor during the design process as the team strove towards its vision of the lightest, most aerodynamic car possible, so this was very important. We also had the ability to run assembly analysis to confirm that these optimized parts would coordinate properly as a system, ensuring that we had a car greater than the sum of its parts.
And for newer members of the team, Perry elaborates, Inspire helps teach newer members how to properly load and constrain parts and assemblies, gaining them a better overall understanding of the importance of design constraints. The software enables UM Solar engineers to visualize where on a given part the material is important; this visualization means they can better know how stress and load “flow” through the part.
“And being able to consider manufacturability during optimization also reduces the number of steps and time required from initial design to final part,” Perry concludes. In the end, this all yields the creation of more superior parts.
From creating ply schedules in CAD to applying forces to the car, Altair’s sophisticated software tools empowered UM Solar Car to optimize Novum to the maximum. And from composite analysis to metal parts optimization, it was all crucial to our mission, because the safer and sturdier our car is, the more reliable it is for our drivers on the road when racing, and the surer we are that we comply with regulations on safety and other things. And, ultimately, the faster Novum moved through the scrutineering phase of the 2017 World Solar Challenge, when officials inspect each team’s solar car to verify that all regulations are met and the vehicle is ready to hit the road.
Between its software and engineering support, Altair played a key role in getting Novum race-ready, and when the time came, Novum performed spectacularly, securing a second-place finish with Altair’s help. And now, as we look to the American Solar Challenge this summer, we are excited to continuing work with Altair to ensure Novum meets regulations. Thank you, Altair!