You’d never know what to expect when you walk into Victoria School’s DnT workshop. Situated in a quiet corner of the first floor, tucked away from the majority of the school population, and endearingly termed ‘the dungeon’, that workshop is where I found myself one Thursday evening just before the SUTD1 Electric Vehicle Design Challenge.
It was an electrifying buzz of activity, with the varying shades of yellow PE T-shirts, the black of Veritas and Nexus, and the celebratory red shirt of the 140th anniversary of VS. Powered by pizza, cans of coffee, and Red Bull, this was a team that was sprinting down the home stretch, and were not afraid to work late into the night. The team was assembled back in November, however, work only commenced in February when they were allowed to collect the chassis of the vehicle and the car parts from SUTD. The journey to a working electric vehicle began with sanding off the rust from its metal frame.
An engineering problem faced by the team early on was the assembly of the steering system, where they had to optimise the steering to prevent the car from swerving and to ensure safety. “We had no idea how to adjust the tie rods2 so that the wheels would be parallel to each other, and so we basically had to try out all the different combinations,” said Kim Young Jin (17S52). This example of perseverance through painstaking trial-and-error is but a snippet of what the team had to endure throughout their four weeks building the go-kart.
On the last day, students were still assembling and painting pieces of acrylic that were precisely cut and shaped by hand. Though the aesthetics of the car were not an important aspect of the competition, many were in agreement that as long as it showcased premium workmanship and contributed to the safety of the driver, the work wouldn’t be in vain.
It goes without saying that any car needs brakes to stop without killing its occupants and damaging property. However, the brakes of the go-kart were plagued with performance issues till the very end. It was only on the final day of work where we managed to prevent the brake pads from touching the disc while disengaged, by realigning the disc along the drive shaft. This prevents the braking system from heating up excessively, and losing speed through excessive friction.
In addition, the team had to ensure that the brake remains at rest when disengaged, and making sure that both the brake pedal and the brake system will revert to its original state. After finding out that the internal tension provided by the spring in the brake wasn’t enough, the team’s solution was ingenious, by attaching three springs, we could deliver enough tension for the brake pedal to disengage after being used.
In the end, there was one problem that could not be rectified. The 1000 rpm3 motor produced too much torque initially, which meant that the electric motor would spin too fast before the driving wheels of the vehicle could keep up. The drive chain4 would skip a gear, producing a loud gnashing sound of metal against metal. The only way to avert this was to skilfully control the acceleration pedal of the go-kart, which was left in the good stewardship of the driver, Park Jiwon (17S43), who performed admirably on the day of the competition.
On the day of the competition, the Victoria-Cedar Alliance managed to achieve the edge over National Junior College and Hwa Chong Institution in three categories: a braking test, a straight-line speed test, and an endurance test where the go-kart had to last ten laps around a track. Along with the clearance of a safety inspection and an impressive presentation on the engineering process, the spectacular performance meant that we clinched the championship for the inaugural SUTD Electric Vehicle Design Challenge.
When asked what was their greatest takeaway from the entire process was, many students remarked that the greatest lessons weren’t about skills and knowledge, but instead, values and friendship. Shubhangam Prasad (17S64) and Advait Deshpande (17S49) explained that the competition reminded them about the importance of time management and how additional commitments should not be at the expense of other aspects of their lives, along with valuing the sense of fulfilment and bonding the team achieved upon the project’s completion.
Experienced seniors such as Muhammad Amal Muzaki (16S52) expressed that they too, had much to learn, “Having done most of my engineering projects alone, I realised how working with others really helps in bringing ideas to life and dealing with the workload. Overall, I learned that engineering is really about the team, and how each of us play our roles, and working on different areas to really bring the project to life.”
Amal also expressed hope and confidence in the state of engineering and science in the VCA. He was pleasantly surprised to find people who were willing to take their interest a step further, to get their hands dirty and to commit long hours to a project. He believes there is a keen interest in engineering in the VCA, however more such collaborative endeavours can be introduced to provide exposure to younger students, such as Denzel Tan (4F, VS). He commented that, “the VCA alliance bred warmth within the team and it really helped us work with each other effectively,” when asked about the collaborative nature of the project.
A feat of this scale would certainly not be possible without the extensive support given by the teachers-in-charge. Mr Pang Jeng Heng5 was known to be exceedingly dedicated, accompanying the team of students late into the night to resolve their numerous challenges. Indeed, when the drive chain malfunctioned and ripped off the rear bracket from the chassis of the go-kart, it was Mr Pang who heroically welded it back together.
“The last time I welded something was also in VS, back when I was in Sec 4!” he quipped jokingly. Mr Pang is a capable Physics teacher, and a Victorian through and through, being a graduate from both Victoria School and Victoria Junior College many years ago.
Engineering was never something that junior colleges placed an emphasis on, therefore, many of the skills and sensibilities required for such a competition had to be picked up from scratch by the team. For science students, it’s about seeing how tangible mechanical systems stem from fundamental concepts, and appreciating how electrical systems function away from the circuit diagrams in lecture notes and textbooks, and into the real world. Beyond that, it’s the key to fuelling invention, and employing science in service for humanity.
And I believe that’s a message that would resonate with all of us, to take the tools of our academically and analytically-centred education, and put them to work to solve societal problems.
Teachers and students from both Victoria School and Victoria Junior College were encouraged and heartened by the displays of cooperation and commitment from both schools. And without a doubt, we are one Victorian family, transcending generations, and the schools in our alliance.
1Singapore University of Technology and Design
2The linkages connecting the wheels to the steering wheel
3revolutions per minute
4The roller chain that conveys power to the drive axle of the vehicle, similar to the chain connecting bicycle pedals to its rear wheel.
5SH Physics, Victoria School
Wayne Yeo, 17S61