ITM Provides Data Logging Solution to Miami University Baja SAE Team

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"The NI cDAQ-9191 wireless NI CompactDAQ chassis paired with the NI 9236 quarter bridge module provides the wireless communication to the PC for remote logging and signal conditioning for quarter bridge strain gages."

- Ryan Welker, Integrated Test & Measurement

The Challenge:
Acquiring and visualizing real-time strain data during vehicle suspension tests to characterize chassis dynamics for design validation and Baja SAE documentation.

The Solution:
The Baja SAE Collegiate Design Series is one of the premier vehicle competitions for engineering students, drawing approximately 120 teams from universities worldwide. The Society of Automotive Engineers sponsors the competition, which is held three times per year. The open-wheel buggies must survive both a four-hour endurance race over extreme terrain and the scrutiny of SAE judges who spend days pouring over the preparation and innovation that goes into the design, build, test, and promotion phases.

Ryan Welker - Integrated Test & Measurement

Each year, a new design requires extensive testing prior to competition. The RedHawk Racing Team at Miami University (MU) in Ohio consists of a crew of about a dozen students, including Patrick Gallagher, a senior engineering student at MU. Gallagher and his teammates spend 10 to 20 hours a week perfecting their entry for Baja SAE. Drive train, steering, suspension, and safety systems all need to be designed, tested, and assembled in a matter of months. The chassis strength and suspension performance is particularly important for off-road vehicles. For chassis stress tests, the students suspend the 400-pound off-road vehicle seven feet from the floor inside the high-bay area of the MU engineering building. They pull a release pin to drop the rugged race car, loaded with an additional 150 pounds to simulate a driver, to the concrete, which replicates the force of racing over rough terrain. Extensive testing and analysis to make data-informed decisions along with proper documentation in the report improves both the performance of the vehicle and the judges’ opinions of the team. “The judges always make a point of asking what new things you have done to better your design and this additional testing should help our score quite a bit,” said Gallagher.

The RedHawk team enlisted the help of Integrated Test and Measurement (ITM), a National Instruments Gold Alliance Partner, so they could focus their energy on developing the vehicle than developing test systems. ITM provided hardware and software support as well as start-up assistance.

For data-logging, the team used the RAC-44 from ITM.  The RAC-44 is a measurement-ready data-logger with built in NI data acquisition, DC battery power and environmental connectivity housed in a rugged enclosure. The NI cDAQ-9191 wireless NI CompactDAQ chassis paired with the NI 9236 quarter bridge module provides the wireless communication to the PC for remote logging and signal conditioning for quarter bridge strain gages.

With this unit, a laptop, and ITM’s iTestSystem configuration and analysis software, the team could quickly mount the data logger to the vehicle and begin acquiring data right away without running wires to the PC. Plus, the environmental connectors and enclosure keep out dust and moisture so the team could run it down the road or right through the mud. Having the data logger ride along for the test while actively transmitting strain data was crucial for the team for visualizing live data and performing instant analysis on a PC connected over Wi-Fi.

In addition to using this system to watch the live data, the RedHawk team used finite element analysis with the strain data to model the expected stress from the course, giving them more confidence in the mechanical design. The new testing methods increased the team’s confidence that this year’s car would fare better than last year’s, which suffered a cracked frame at one competition and a complete shear off at another.

“Our new frame design is going to hold up so much better. It was absolutely awesome to see the real‐time data from our test,” said Gallagher.

By making data-informed decisions and improving the design process, the students expect to improve performance in all aspects of the competition, from judging and documentation to the actual race. By enlisting the help of ITM, the students were able to focus on vehicle design and build quality, ensuring that they can meet the tough deadlines of the SAE Baja competition.

Author Information:
Ryan Welker
Integrated Test & Measurement

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