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Hard work earns second place win

Hard work earns second place win

Mar 16, 2007

Kettering's Clean Snowmobile team is lightening their load to make a greener and quieter snowmobile.

Final Results - March 27, 2007

Against almost overwhelming odds, Kettering University's Clean Snowmobile Team earned the Yellowstone National Park Award for Second Place Overall in the Clean Snowmobile Challenge March 19 to 24 at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich.

After blowing up their second pre-production engine just two days before the competition, the team detoured to Wyoming, Minn., to the Polaris plant where team Captain Jason Sanger, of Ankeny, Iowa, is a co-op employee through Kettering. Sanger's boss, Gary Simons, powertrain development manager at Polaris, gave the team the engine from his personal snowmobile to use in the competition and let them rebuild the sled at Polaris before heading to Houghton.

"They let us in a facility that is strictly a prototype center to work on our sled," said Sanger, "they said they understood our situation and wanted to help us out." Normally the prototype area is closed to non-Polaris employees, according to Sanger.

The engine challenge made earning second place a sweet success. "Throwing a sled together in one day and still earning second place," said Sanger, "showed that we really came through.

In addition to tying for second place with the University of Maine, the Kettering team also won the BlueRibbon Coalition Award for Most Practical Solution, based on a combination of best point total in the emissions test, the noise test and overall cost.

They were also one of six teams to win earn the Michigan Snowmobile Endurance Award for completing the 100-mile Endurance Run. "The trail was really rough," said Sanger, "it was definitely an endurance run. I'm surprised we made it," he added of the almost snow-less trail. This was the warmest year on record since the competition started, with virtually no snow in Michigan?s Upper Peninsula.

Reinforcing the maxim that what you don't know can't hurt you, the team didn't know until they returned to campus that some of their professors didn't think they would make it due to issues with the pre-production engine.

A timing wheel attached to the end of the crank kept moving out of position because of a broken key. The key holds the timing wheel in position on the crank. When it is out of position the engine does not know when to fire the spark plugs. The team had to take the engine out and put the timing wheel back where it was supposed to be.

Still trying to catch up on sleep, Sanger said the biggest lesson he learned from the experience is to "maintain your cool when things go wrong. Keep working through it and eventually it will work out."

He will get to put the lesson into practice later this year. Slated to graduate in June, Sanger will be graduating in December because he took a lighter class load (12 hours) this term to serve as team captain. "Because of this competition I'm adding another academic term," he said. But what he learned this term couldn't be found in a classroom anyway.

Competition Update: March 23, 2007 The serious mechanical difficulties that often plague entrants were nearly nonexistent during the first major event of the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, now in its fifth year hosted by Michigan Tech.

Six of the original ten fuel-powered sleds completed a 100-mile course in the Endurance Run Tuesday, March 20, including Kettering's team, powered by E85 ethanol fuel.

Riding 100 miles in an ethanol-powered machine proved an engineering challenge, since ethanol does not provide as much energy to an engine as does conventional fuel.

"We lost a panel and a couple of nuts and bolts, but we made it," said Kettering's Brian Schickel. Bystanders enjoyed the ethanol experience, however; the exhaust was reported to smell vaguely of popcorn.

Warm weather had taken out the original Endurance Run route, snowmobile trails north to Copper Harbor. Instead, the drivers traveled around a 2.8-mile track at Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center.

Heading for the Clean Snow Challenge: March 16, 2007

There hasn't been much snow in Michigan this winter, but that hasn't slowed Kettering University's Clean Snowmobile team down at all. And while their class and homework loads aren't any lighter, their competition sled is.

They will join 15 other teams in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich., from March 19 to 24, when teams of engineering students will compete with stock snowmobiles they have re-engineered to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or improving performance.

Improving on last year's design, the Kettering team (the Bulldogs) has shortened their sled's track from 144 inches to 121 inches to reduce weight and rotational mass, making the sled lighter and making it easier for the engine to get moving, according to team captain Jason Sanger, of Ankeny, Iowa. It also helps with maneuverability and handling - a happy bonus.

They have also improved the exhaust system by adding a third muffler and tuning each muffler for a different frequency (or vibration). This variety of mufflers and tuning frequencies allows the engine to work better at differing RPMs, and do so more quietly.

"No matter what the motor is doing, one of the mufflers will be absorbing that sound frequency to keep it running quietly," said Sanger, "it's (the engine) already better than it was last year."

In addition they modified the geometry of the front end suspension for better handling (it makes the sled more fun to drive according to Sanger) .

The team is also using E85 ethanol-based fuel. This year could be the cleanest in the Clean Snowmobile Challenge's eight-year history. Participating teams are slated to earn a big bonus for using ethanol fuel, and up to four all-electric sleds are competing.

Teams can earn an additional 100 points for using 85 percent ethanol fuel, said Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center, which co-hosts the Challenge along with the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech University. The competition is based at the center, a winter driving test facility.

Kettering's team started designing last year in preparation for this year's competition. The early jump on design was stymied a little when the weather didn't cooperate, When it finally did snow the team faced below zero temperatures to run sound field tests. They laugh about it now, but the night they were stuck in the middle of a frozen lake in a snowstorm doing sound testing they were less than happy.

Thankfully, some of the testing can be done inside in Kettering's engine test cell laboratory. The team has been refining their engine calibration to help improve (read reduce) noise levels and emissions. This year they have to achieve a 78 decibel noise level to pass the noise test. Last year the team barely passed this test. "We're not as worried about the emissions test however," Sanger said, "we pre-test using EPA testing protocols."

Setbacks like being stranded on frozen lakes and rod bearings that spin out and create metal debris in the engine are all part of the process. "Our goal is to keep improving our design and sled every year," Sanger said.

The Kettering team sponsors include Polaris, Bosch and ETAS and McFall's Collision in Flint, Mich.

The Bulldogs will head for Houghton March 16 and teams will register March 19. The Grand Opening, followed by the Endurance Run to Copper Harbor, starts at noon on March 20. The snowmobiles will be on public display from 6 to 8 p.m. March 21 at the Copper Country Mall. The public is also invited to view the Polaris Acceleration and Objective Handling events at 10 and 11 a.m. at the Keweenaw Research Center test course.

Other teams registered include Michigan Tech, Minnesota State University at Mankato, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Idaho, the University of Maine, the University of Minnesota at Duluth, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.

This is the fifth year the Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech have hosted the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Members of the Michigan Snowmobile Association will again be volunteering, serving as liaisons for the teams and providing security at the test site. In addition, the MSA voted this year to give $500 to help underwrite the expenses of any Michigan team participating in the Challenge.


Emissions from sports vehicles like snowmobiles are becoming an environmental concern, especially in fragile ecosystems. The EPA supports like the Clean Snowmobile challenge hoping to find a solution that will satisfy winter sports enthusiasts and protect the environment.

No one is going to be building an ethanol-powered snowmobile for commercial use anytime in the near future, Jay Meldrum admits. "But as a renewable source of energy, ethanol is very topical now," he says. "Plus, it's difficult to design an engine to use high-ethanol fuel, so it gives the students excellent experience in tackling some tough engineering problems, and they carry those skills forward to the job market."

In 2008, Challenge participants won't have a choice. "Next year, we'll require them to use a renewable fuel, such as E85 or biodiesel," Meldrum says.

As many as four entries won't be burning any fuel at all. Teams from McGill University in Montreal, Utah State University, the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology and Clarkson University in New York plan to enter all-electric sleds in the no-emissions division of the Challenge.

Written by Dawn Hibbard
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