Team Interview 3: Kobe Vandeven and Martijn Schaeken

The third interview is special, since it’s the first double interview we do in this series. We ask two members of the mechanics department about their function in the Punch Powertrain Solar Team. Martijn Schaeken and Kobe Vandeven teach us that theory is often different from practice, the transition from an autonomous boat to a solar car is not that strange at all and that it can be beneficial to cut holes in components of your car.

Kobe and Martijn, the Solar Team has once again looked in the field of electro mechanics in their search for people capable of handling the mechanical systems of the new solar car. Yet, there are some differences regarding your background.

Kobe: That’s right. I’m currently doing my master year in combination with the Solar Team. I’m doing my last master year over two years instead of one, in order to have enough time to work on the next solar car.

Martijn: I’m in a slightly different situation, since I’ve already completed my engineering studies. I however decided that I wanted to get some more practical experience before starting in the professional world. I therefore joined a new program, called postgraduate innovative entrepreneurship, and was therefore able to join the Solar Team.

Did you think you would become part of the Solar Team when you started your engineering studies?

Martijn: I started thinking about joining the Solar Team in my last year of studying. For my master thesis, I was part of a team that built something too. Instead of a car, we built a boat and it was my responsibility to make it autonomous. This was a very practical application and personally, an opportunity for me to do something with my hands. After I finished this project, I’ve decided that I wanted to do something similar. Joining the Punch Powertrain Solar Team seemed logical regarding my interests.

Kobe: I started my engineering studies, already knowing a lot about the Solar Team project. I’ve however never thought about applying for it when I started my studies. This didn’t change, until I got into my masters and needed to find a company to do my thesis in. The unfortunate thing while doing a thesis , is that you have to put a lot of effort into something very theoretical that you will never see finished in practice. That is different with the Solar Team. You have the opportunity make something from scratch to completion in one and a half year. That you can race in competitions over the entire world with the car you’ve created together, is a pleasant extra.

You’ve talked about the theoretical side Kobe, is that something that was important for you.

Kobe: It is important for me. I do like to make technical drawings, but I find it a pity when we don’t see these drawings come alive in a practical application.

Martijn: And by producing these components, we get a chance to work with our hands. Something we both enjoy.

Was the vacancy for Mechanical Systems your first choice?

Martijn: It was for me. It was the most logical choice considering my theoretical and practical experience gained through my thesis. I found great similarity within the function description of mechanical systems, where the same things were highlighted as important.

Kobe: I didn’t have a very clear choice and opted therefore for different functions within the team.
The previous team made an educated guess to give me the function to design and build the mechanical systems of the car. I applied for this function, but it was not my first choice. I myself was hoping on a position within the aerodynamics team. Yet, looking back I’m not disappointed about the choice of the previous team at all. Mechanical systems is something that is better for me. And guess what! We get the chance to work together with the aerodynamics department. In a way, I get the best of both worlds.

Talking about collaboration, mechanical systems is one of the teams that make up the Solar Team. Did you know each other before the Solar Team?

Martijn: No, since I already finished my studies last year. I haven’t met Kobe on Campus Group T.

Kobe: Another advantage of the Solar Team. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people with other knowledge and experiences. It is especially useful in mechanical systems. The first model you come up with is usually not the best one. When improving it, you need other ideas to do so.

How is the collaboration going between the both of you. Didn’t had any big arguments yet?

Martijn: No we didn’t. That is one of the strengths of our team in general. The previous team did look for two things when choosing the next team. Apart from being competent to do the job, they also searched for the right soft skills and character.

Kobe: The advantage is that they also work on the team spirit. They don’t simply put everybody together. No, the previous team actively worked on getting the group atmosphere right. We went on a teambuilding weekend and we often do recreational activities together.

Maybe you can explain what mechanical systems is all about?

Kobe: A short summary is that we keep ourselves busy with the mechanical systems of the car. The most important focus lies on the suspension, the steering system and the brakes. We work together with the aerodynamics department that shows us how much space we have to fit all these components in the car. The moment we get this information, we start modelling the different components on our PC and we start contacting partners that are able to produce the parts.

What are the most important factors?

Martijn: Everything should be small and very light. It is very important to make the car as light as possible, since we’ll be able to go faster with it. This is one of the most prevalent differences between solar cars and normal cars. Normal cars have a lot of components made out of steel, while we focus on carbon and aluminium. This gives us the advantage of very light components, but we don’t stop here! No, we sometimes drill holes in components to lower the weight while keeping the most important properties of that component.

Every decision is therefore a team decision, right?

Kobe: Yes, weight is the most important factor through all the different departments. You have to start with one of the lightest vehicles to have a chance on winning the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. That’s why we do team meetings from time to time. It gives us the opportunity to discuss the different things we want to do with the car. We can’t always do the things we want to do, because it would give rise to problems in the other departments.

What is the most important thing that you’ll get out of this adventure?

Kobe: I won’t take anything for granted anymore and will ask feedback a lot quicker. Sometimes we had situations in which everything seemed to match in the theoretical model, but when we made it in practice, the results were completely different. That’s why we ask our partners and consultants to take a look at the objects we’ve designed. Together, we often find minor mistakes that reduce the efficiency of the designed materials.

Who will be your biggest competition during the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge?

Kobe: There are a lot of good teams. The team of Hungary joined the BWSC last year for the first time and they already finished very strong. I think that they will surprise everybody in the upcoming edition.

Martijn: I hope it will turn out on a competition between us and the two Dutch teams.

Where will Punch Powertrain Solar Team end in the World Championship?

(Together) First!


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