Team Interview 6: Michael Faes & Niels Hawinkel

A new week, a new interview! This time we talked to the aerodynamics department of the Punch Powertrain Solar Team, which consists of Niels and Michael. They tell us more about CAD models, wind tunnels and how the solar team can be a stepping stone towards a career in the Formula One.

Gentlemen, you started earlier with the Solar Team project than the rest of the current team. Is that correct to say so?

Michael: Yes, our master thesis addressed the aerodynamics of the previous solar car.

Your master thesis?

Niels: Yes, Michael and I started collaborating on school projects in the first year of our engineering studies. We both chose Electro mechanics to specialize in, what eventually lead to the thesis we did together.

Michael: It was fascinating to do a master thesis about the previous solar cars. It enabled us to do something more practical. We rather do projects from start to finish, because it gives a feeling of accomplishment. It was our promotor who came up with the idea to study the aerodynamics of the previous solar car.

So, participating in the Solar Team was an easy decision?

I saw the previous solar car quite often on our campus, but hadn’t really thought about joining the project myself until I decided upon doing my thesis. The more I learned about aerodynamics of the previous solar car, the more I wanted to join the solar team myself. Seeing our design of the solar car drive in the Australian outback, will definitely give the feeling of accomplishment I’m searching for in the projects I do.

Niels: I made my decision to join the solar team, quite fast. I’m fascinated about aerodynamics and want to work in sectors where it is really important, like a Formula 1 team. The Solar Team is a perfect stepping stone to a career in this field.

So, it was aerodynamics or nothing?

Together: Yes!

How did you two start with the development of the aerodynamics of the new solar car?

Since the entire team changes every two year, we start with an introduction session from the previous teams. We discussed the aerodynamics of the previous team and their approach to tackling the immense challenge. By doing so, we discovered the major issues while designing the aerodynamics and their opinion about possible improvements.

Michael: Apart from that, we also addressed our network of sponsors and professors to gather as much information as possible. The rules changed this year, imposing different opportunities in our department. This needs to be taken in account to while designing the next solar car.

How does this change of rules influence the next solar car and the competition?

Niels: The solar panel will be a lot smaller. This enables the teams to choose from a variety of new shapes, which will result in different looking solar cars. Something to look out for at the start of the next Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. All solar cars looked the same last year, this year will probably be different.

Everything starts by designing a CAD model of the car?

Michael: Rather CAD models, considering we designed more than 500 cars together. We start with a concept which we test in various simulations. Afterwards we choose the right improvements based upon the obtained results and the process starts over again.

Niels: Some team members have components that need to fit inside of our solar car. This means we sometimes have to be creative when components are initially too big to fit inside our solar car. Our last resort is a change of design, when compromises don’t work out.

What will happen once the solar car is finished?

Michael: We validate our results in a wind tunnel. It is good way to see whether we need to fix imperfections on the body of our car.

Niels: It also shows the gap between theoretical and practical work. It is uncertain to predict whether the car will behave the same way in the wind tunnel as in simulations. Our goal is to make our CAD drawing of our solar car as close to perfection as possible. We hope that nothing needs to be altered after wind tunnel tests.

How do you look back on the past months in the solar team?

Michael: It has been fun and I’ve learnt a lot. The Solar Team gives you the opportunity to develop our soft skills. You learn to respect deadlines, work in team and appreciate different personalities in that team.

Niels: I agree. It’s the network that teaches you the most on a short period of time. Former team members, teachers, sponsors and suppliers are always eager to help us out. We learn a lot in a short period of time.

So, this is already an open application to work in a Formula One team one day?

Together!: yes!

Just like in the Formula one, there will be a lot of competition. Which team will be your most fierce competitor?

Michael: Tu Delft and the University of Twente are always able to get a top 5 position.

And, you’ll finish?

Both: First!




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