Mini Baja: No Small Task

Despite the name, there's nothing small about the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Mini Baja Competition. This long-running event, which was established in 1976, has hundreds of schools from the United States and a few schools from around the world participating in three regional competitions in the United States: West, Midwest, and East. In addition to the competitions in the U.S., there are also competitions held in Brazil, Korea, and South Africa.

The Mini Baja team starting preliminary work on the frame design

In May, mechanical engineering students from the University of Hawaii College of Engineering participated in the 2002 Mini Baja West Competition in Logan, Utah. It was the first time students from the University of Hawaii participated in this prestigious event. Despite it being their first competition, the students from UH met their expectations and received complements from other schools.

The main objective of each Mini Baja team is to design, construct, and test their own vehicle. "One of the great things about this competition is that it gives each team member insight into what it would be like to work in an engineering firm," said original Mini Baja team member and present team captain Tyler Sato. "Planning, teamwork, and time management are important aspects of the manufacturing process. Developing these areas will help all of us after we graduate."

Students design and construct almost every section of the Mini Baja, from the frame to the transmission of the vehicle. The only part they don't manufacture is the engine, which is a stock engine donated by the Briggs & Stratton Corporation. According to the rules, no modifications can be made to the engine, so that no team has an unfair advantage of having a more powerful engine. "Many of the students don't have a manufacturing, construction, or automotive background, so in the design and construction process they learn how things need to be designed for ease of fabrication and keeping costs low," Tyler said.

Tyler admits he learned a lot from last year's event. "The most important thing we need to do this year is start earlier. Last year we designed and built the car in less than three months, which wasn't enough time. This year we want to have adequate time to design, build, and test the car," Tyler said.

Taking a spin in last year's vehicle

The 2003 Mini Baja West Competition will be hosted by Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. (Check out their website). Each Mini Baja competition is split into two types of events: static and dynamic. The static events consist of reports and presentations given by team members. The dynamic events allow the vehicle to do all the talking in performance and racing tests.

The intention of the dynamic events is to determine how each Mini Baja vehicle performs under a variety of conditions. These events include acceleration, maneuverability, hill climbing, endurance and rock crawling.

"The best part of the competition was meeting other schools and seeing their vehicles. We were competing against each other, but it was great how friendly the teams around us were. If we needed to borrow tools, another team would gladly help us out," Tyler said.

Having participated in the last competition Tyler feels all the new team members will come away with a lot. "Students involved with Mini Baja will see how concepts learned in class can be applied in the real world. They will get a better understanding of what goes into design and how to approach engineering problems. They also get to know fellow students, who end up being classmates, study partners, and friends," Tyler said.

Xtreme Engineering will be following the progress of the Mini Baja team throughout the school year.


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