Baja team competes at Tech: Student engineers finish first among 45 teams

Ellen Holmes

While most college Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja teams are made up from students that are enrolled in engineering classes, Northern’s Baja team, which has recently received much recognition, is entirely composed of volunteer students.

NMU’s Baja team is a group of students that design and build highly maneuverable off-road cars throughout the academic year. These cars are then used to compete against other SAE Baja teams across the country, including large engineering schools like Virginia Tech and Purdue.

NMU was able to pass rugged competition at the 2013 Winter Baja, pulling a first place title on Friday, Feb. 15 at Michigan Tech in Houghton.

Prior to taking first place at the 2013 Winter Baja at Tech, NMU placed second this fall at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The off-road race cars are first designed with the 3-D software Solidworks, which later acts as a guide throughout the manufacturing process.

A car is meticulously built in a few months, according to Andy Shafer, Vice President of NMU’s SAE Baja Club.

“The hardest part of building the vehicles is keeping everything accurate,” Shafer said. “We found that if one side is off by one degree it can throw other things off further down the line.”

Shafer also said that the hardest competition when at a race is the vehicle itself.

“When the vehicle breaks and has to be repaired in the pits, it takes away time in which laps can be made,” Shafer said. “That is actually the hardest part — making a vehicle that is durable enough to last but light enough to go faster than the other teams.

“In [the Winter Baja] the margin was only two and a half minutes — over four hours ahead of Virginia Tech. It basically came down to a durable vehicle, a quick car and quick pit stops.”

While quality and precision are key to a winning vehicle, according to NMU Baja President Dan Klim, time is also one of the greatest obstacles the team is faced with.

“It always seems like we never have enough time,” Klim said. “We have all the resources and skills, just not as much time as we would like. Having an intelligent and hardworking team makes the development of the car really easy, it’s just the fact that we all have school and many of us work part-time jobs.”

However, managing and scheduling the building of the car is comparable to running a business, according to adviser Dr. Robert Marlor, making the club relevant to careers and other opportunities that students may come across in the future.

“I can’t believe the energy level they can devote to it,” Marlor said.  “All of the different components to create one piece of the car is quite the project task. Very motivated students and good leaders are important for this.”

Marlor also said that applying the information that is learned in the classroom towards the Baja projects allows members to take their educational opportunities to a new level.

“Being able to draw in 3-D modeling software and then designing at this advanced level is usually found in the first or second year in the industry,” said Marlor. “This allows the team to learn how to manufacture beyond what they would usually learn in basic engineering classes.”

Students of all majors are welcome to join the club.  More information can be found on the team’s Facebook Page by searching ‘NMU SAE Baja,’ or by emailing Dan Klim at [email protected]

To see the cars in action, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1aIg38HlsA.