Solar Team Uses PLM to Compete: Who Says Lib Arts Students Aren’t Tech-Savvy?

Gary S. Vasilash

“So easy, even a team of liberal arts college students can successfully use it.” We’re guessing that that’s not the sort of thing that the marketing people from Siemens PLM Software will use to promote their NX digital product development system, but it caught our attention that a team from Principia College, a small—as in about 525 students—liberal arts college in Elsah, IL, has used the software to design and engineer a solar race car, the Ra 7, which they are presently campaigning in the 2011 Veolia World Solar Challenge in Australia.

The school’s solar team has been using the software to design cars for the past several years. It has entered cars in a number of solar races in the U.S. Greece, Taiwan, and Australia. It has consistently finished in the top 10.  Clearly, the software is as effective as it is comparatively easy to use.

Principia Ra 7

Principia Solar Car Team on Track

One benefit of the digital model that they create is that they’re able to avoid fit and interference problems, as well as use it to digitally test the movement of parts (e.g., the suspension) prior to physical build. Also, they use the NX data of the outer shell as input to an ANSYS Fluent CFD package to perform aero analyses.

While we know that there are plenty of schools that enter the various solar challenges—such as the nearby University of Michigan’s solar car team, which is also in Australia—and while we cheer all of them, we find it interesting that even a school that has a curriculum ranging from Art to Women’s Studies (yes, there are also Computer Science and Engineering Science, but those are dwarfed by the non-tech major and minor offerings) is using software to design, engineer and manufacture advanced products like solar cars.