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NDSU to compete in Clean Snowmobile Challenge

For the first time, a team of students will represent NDSU at the Society of Automotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Featuring squads from 19 universities, the competition will be held March 15-20 at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich.

During the past two years, three groups of NDSU mechanical engineering students have worked on a clean snowmobile design as part of their senior design requirements. The snowmobile that is being entered in the competition this year is the product of three mechanical engineering majors senior design project: Keith Leier, Steven Schmidt and Michael Fegley. Nine fellow members of the campus Society of Automotive Engineers chapter assisted them in the work, and their driver is junior Derek Pokrzywinski, a civil engineering major from Lankin, N.D.

The competition invites engineering students to take a stock snowmobile and re-engineer it with the goal of reducing emissions and noise while maintaining or boosting performance.

“Competitions like this allow the students to take the technical and theoretical items they cover in classroom activities and bring it to a hands-on application. They can see theory in action,” said Robert Pieri, professor of mechanical engineering and an adviser to the group. “They’ve also learned good aspects of project management. For instance, they’ve developed a time map showing what task has to be done and how it relates to different aspects of the overall project.”

The students literally built their machine from the ground up. They started with a chassis and track, and then added the engine, instrumentation, windshield and a modified suspension.

Through working 30 to 40 hours per week in the shop at NDSU’s Auxiliary Enterprises Building, the team put to the test all their knowledge about such topics as dynamics, vibration, exhaust emissions and heat shields.

“We are really excited to go,” said Leier, a senior who is a native of Rugby, N.D. “As the first NDSU team, it will be a big learning curve for us. Once we get there, it will be interesting to see how our sled compares with the more seasoned teams.”

The competition includes an endurance run where sleds are rated on fuel consumption. There also will be emissions testing and an indoor engine performance test using a dynamometer.

“All of us have contributed some blood, sweat, tears and pain into this sled,” said Schmidt, a senior from Mohall, N.D. “I’ve often joked with team members that we could be certified Polaris mechanics after going through this process. But, it’s really rewarding to take a sled that was basically a frame and build it up to a working snowmobile.”

According to Andrew Blackmore, research specialist and an adviser to the Society of Automotive Engineers chapter, the team members are self-motivated problem-solvers who have developed skills that can be applied to careers in the automotive or snowmobile industry or at any light industrial company.

“This is pretty much exactly like a project junior engineers would run,” explained Blackmore, who came to NDSU after doing consulting work in the automotive field. “I’d be happy to hire any of these guys, if I were back in the industry. If they’ve got a problem, they go out and find the answer.”

The team is aiming for a top 10 finish, confident in their machine and the talents that built it.

“I’ve gained a lot of understanding of how an internal combustion engine works, more specifically using E-85 fuel. We’re running on a E-30 blend right now, and that’s what the competition requires,” said Fegley, a senior from Berthold, N.D. “Our sled’s acceleration will be really strong. We’re limited to 130 horsepower in the competition and that’s about where we are right now.”

But the team also knows that surprises occur and last-minute adjustments and repairs are an important part of this competition.

“Who knows what will happen? Something is going to break down, and they are going to have to figure out how to make it work with limited tools and resources,” said Alan Kallmeyer, professor and chair of mechanical engineering. “That really challenges them. The creativity that students show is really fun to see.”

NDSU’s chapter has a long history of participating in the national Society of Automotive Engineers' Baja and Formula competitions. However, this is the university’s initial team in the snowmobile contest.

“At competitions, we learn the most in the shortest time period. We get to look at everything the other schools have put together," explained Matt Ziebol, public relations coordinator for the Society of Automotive Engineers chapter who is a sophomore from Blaine, Minn. “We’ve done pretty well in past competitions, and for us to break into a new section is great for our NDSU chapter.”

The team’s local sponsors include Case, Praxair, North Dakota Corn Growers Association, Xcel Energy, North Central Society of Automotive Engineers, Jim’s Home Quality Foods, Gerdau Ameristeel, US Bearings and Drives, Fastenal, Rick’s Welding and Propeller, Polaris, the NDSU mechanical engineering department, Tennant, Crary Co. and Caterpillar. Phoenix International of Fargo is one of the sponsors of the Clean Snowmobile Challenge.

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University Relations
North Dakota State University
Phone: +1 (701) 231-8326 - Fax: (701) 231-8969
Campus address: Old Main 204
Mailing address: Dept 6000 PO Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050
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Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013