Team Interviews: Stef Vermeulen
Stef Vermeulen is in his final year Electromechanical Engineering Sciences at the University of Leuven at Campus Group T. At Punch Powertrain Solar Team he is responsible for the department Aerodynamics & Strategy.
What was your motivation to take part in the Punch Powertrain Solar Team?
“In high school, I was already studying Engineering Sciences so it seemed a logical choice to me to continue this in university. I already knew the Solar Team, since a friend of my brother’s was part of the fourth Solar Team. From this time onwards I continued following the Solar Team when it came in the news or was on television. To me it seemed to be an interesting adventure to finish your time at university with. It was because of the Solar Team that I went to study Engineering Sciences at Campus Group T. I applied for a technical function and was glad that I was selected for Aerodynamics & Strategy.”
What is your task in the Aerodynamics department?
“My task starts after the drawing of the car model. I interpret all data and variables surrounding the car and the different simulation that are performed on the car. In these tests you place the car in a virtual wind tunnel to measure different forces such as resistance and lift. Apart from this it is possible to find certain aerodynamic phenomenon such as separation. After this the consequences of these forces are rated and the model is adapted if necessary. After the solar car is built, we go to a real wind tunnel to test the aerodynamics of the car in real life. WE do this because a computer program will always see the car as perfectly smooth, while in real life there are always small imperfections e.g. the edge of a solar panel that is sticking out. This can all have consequences on the speed and efficiency, and that’s what it’s all about of course.”
And the part Strategy?
“In Strategy, I optimize the computer program that we are using during the Solar Challenge. This program analyses the different parameters that are necessary for an optimal speed. During the race, I am in the follow car right after the Solar Car with my colleague Jonas from ICT. This way we can analyze at which speed the car will drive in the most efficient manner. Jonas can read the car at certain points in time during the race with a computer program. These parameters are sent to me, and with my computer program I can calculate the optimal speed of the car. Apart from us in the car, there are different team members in this car. If there is a problem during the race, we all decide whether the problem is severe enough to organize a pit stop or if we can continue.”
What is the most important thing you have learned from this experience?
“The corporate experience! In the Solar Team, you get your very first work experience, but in a student environment. You learn to work together with different people who each have their own vision and attitude, but you work towards a common goal. Because of this, you also learn to take other departments into account, who each have their own tasks and deadlines. Apart from this. You do things here that, as an engineer, you would do only years later or not do at all. You learn to work with different materials and techniques of which you otherwise would never have heard of. Because of this practical experience, I possess knowledge and experience that I would not have had otherwise.”