Team Deployment to Design a Race Car for Large Engineering Team Soars

clemson picture - 750x385

Formula FSAE racing is the premier racing program for academic engineering organizations across the world, with competitors working tightly with industry to develop top performing racecars designed with acceleration, tight turns and top speed as goals for the team’s perennial racecars.  Many of the engineers that participate in the program go on to race on professional racing teams including Formula 1 or leverage their skills in top industry roles in racing, automotive and engineering.

Video Interview Update

Updated January, 2014

After using TeamPlatform for 1 year, here’s a video interview of the team chief, Kenny, and chief engineer, Perry.  The 2013 season ended with their best finish in years and high outlook for the season upcoming.  In fact, at the time of posting this video interview (Jan 2014), the team was fresh off a first place finish in Marietta, GA.  Here’s Kenny and Perry answering tough questions and telling their story.

 


 

The challenge for Clemson FSAE race team was to better integrate team members to increase the efficiency of involvement of the growing team.  Kenny Brown, the team leader CUFSAE needed a solution for the growing team.

“Growth was overwhelming.  We had nearly 50 members join the team this year.  We needed a more secure way to manage design files so that there were clear accessibility roles for who could access the data,” said Kenny.

The team had used a network server to manage CAD and team files which was restricting growth.

Existing Data Management and Collaboration Tools were non Existent

With the network server, one wrong click could mean 5-years worth of data could have been lost.  Clemson did not have a way to involve new members with the CAD data because access the data required a high-level of trust so that model structure and naming conventions of files on the server were not harmed.  This meant that team leaders had to manually administer server access, and this meant it was difficult to synchronize what types of changes were being made.

Adding to inefficiency, the network server continually timed-out when trying to VPN into the network to access files and data from a remote location.  Any time data was needed, engineers literally had to go to the server, and therefore did not encourage distributed collaboration.  The headache grew when the team’s chief IT manage graduated, leaving behind an infrastructure without a properly trained successor.  The server became stagnant especially because power supplies were failing regularly.  To say that the on-site server was always up would be incorrect.  It went down regularly.

Kenny knew that enabling more organic involvement in the inner workings of the team would help develop new members and made a system which allowed collaborative environment a requirement.  TeamPlatform was an obvious choice.

TeamPlatform was used to store much more than CAD models

TeamPlatform was employed to manage all of the team’s files, designs, and documentation, and to enable collaboration with outside vendors and suppliers.

“We added the 2013 FSAE rulebook, a 160 page document to the a workspace as a reference for all team members”

If anyone needed to check the rulebook, it was immediately available and could be viewed online in the workspace though a web browser or a mobile device.  Nobody needed to lug around 160 pages of documentation, nor was a 4MB email attachment floating in everybody’s inbox.

Along with the rulebook, the team uploaded key supplier catalogs whose components were regularly used in the racecar.  As the team built the car, engineers would be able to reference the supplier documents to help with the design.

Deploying the Team

In order to control access of the complete CAD model, a small group of senior team subsystem leaders were granted administrator privileges.   The subsystem leaders then defined groups within the team, and created workspaces for each of the respective subsystems.

By using workspaces for individual subsystems and inviting groups to the subsystems, the team was able create focused workspaces which matched the dynamics of the actual team.  Members would primarily be focused on their specific subsystems, which the workspaces reflected.  The administrators had access to other subsystems, which encouraged a complete design review and analysis between subsystems of the racecar.

Migrating CAD Archives

Moving 5 years worth of design files was handled easily by the Clemson race team as they were able to use the synchronization tool provided by TeamPlatform to migrate existing archives of data into separate workspace.  Having models from the previous years’ designs meant they could leverage existing design instantly which would speed the design process.

Rather than migrate files and reconstructing folders one at a time which would be time consuming and prone to error, the complete structure was duplicated on the TeamPlatform server using the synchronization client.  Top level folders were turned into workspaces, and the complete folder structure was preserved.  All files that were uploaded were automatically converted to online viewable format.  CAD files the assembly structure was automatically tracked and meta-data extracted so that engineers, for example, could locate the simulation files and reports related to assembly FEA analysis for a specific subsystem.

Since the synchronization tool worked even in the presence of an unstable or intermittent internet connection, the team knew that eventually and automatically, all of the server data would be migrated to TeamPlatform for more efficient collaboration with the team compared to the network server and VPN.  Because data was securely backed-up on TeamPlatform, all file versions were saved and could be restored, and an auditable activity history was kept for all workspaces and all files, there was no risk of losing data to an errant click affecting years of CAD data.

Setting Milestones and Establishing Expectations

With Teams formed, and data migrated, the team leaders began setting milestones and expectations such as race season and trial events, as well as subsystem groups milestones such as planning and design milestones.  By assigning specific items to engineers, focus was placed on the tasks on TeamPlatform.

Team leaders were able reiterate the importance of the tasks and having a single-point of focus in team meetings.  As a result, the tasks and milestones became a focus of the subsystems groups and were regularly tracked, updated and completed.

Organic Adoption with No Training

After deploying TeamPlatform, uptake was largely organic and subsystems teams and team members began immediately interacting on file and discussing project data and milestones.

Team leader Kenny Brown was modest in taking credit, stating, “I told the team that we’d be setting up workspaces for the subsystems.  After that, everybody seemed to know what to do.  It was very intuitive and the team is working together naturally within the workspace structure that we have provided.”

Summary

The race team was able to quickly develop a coherent, secure platform for handling CAD data and projects for the entirety of the race team that provided engagement for the all members of the team while securely controlling access by dividing subsystems groups into individual workspaces.