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How Engineering Students Impress Judges During Design Contests

Simulations help students optimize components, but they can also wow judges (image courtesy of Coburg University of Applied Sciences, Germany).

It’s unfortunate how often engineering students lose a design competition because they left the report, presentation and Q/A to the last minute.

Judges don’t take kindly to teams that forget about the design portion of the design contest. This is why the report, presentation and Q/A session of a design competition can be worth around a third of the team’s grade.

It doesn’t matter if the design contest is Formula SAE (FSAE), Shell Eco Marathon or the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative. Judges want to know that engineering students are making informed decisions. It’s how judges differentiate between the top tier teams.

Engineering students can prove they are making informed decisions by sharing their simulations within their report, presentation and Q/A session.

“Thinking back to the design competitions I took part in, judges always ask the hardest questions — questions we didn’t want them to ask,” said Jacob Gantz, university program account manager at ANSYS. “Simulation helped us provide answers to those questions.”

Engineering Students Need Simulations in Their Design Competition Reports

Structural analysis of an FSAE car’s roll cage (image courtesy of Gophermotersports FSAE team, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities).

So, what simulations do engineering students need to focus on when entering a design competition?

“That really depends on what you are designing,” said Gantz.

For instance, students participating in FSAE will have to show that their car’s chassis has a factor of safety high enough to survive a crash.

But students participating in high speed vehicle design competitions, like the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, will need to determine their drag coefficient from a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) study.

“Judges want to make sure you are using simulations. Not that you are just throwing them into your report as a picture,” joked Gantz. “Engineering students need to show their thought process and methodology through the simulations.”

For example, engineering students can show all the designs they came up with for the competition. They can then show the judges how the simulations from these designs informed the next iteration.

“Simulations allow engineering students to take their parametric designs and analyze a wider design space,” said Gantz. “They can evaluate how changing their designs leads to more or less efficiency. They can then use this data to show judges that they not only made a safe design but an optimal one.”

How Engineering Students Can Learn Simulation Software

Students can learn to make simulations like this from a lot of content online (Image courtesy of University of Utah Formula SAE Electric team).

If a university class does teach simulation software, it’s likely treated as secondary or extracurricular.

This is a shame considering the importance simulation plays in design competitions and the current job market.

“The top companies are requiring simulation experience before they even look at entry level resumes,” notes Gantz. “The best way to show you know how to use simulation is to show companies your design competition report.”

Students may not know where to find — let alone how to use — the simulation tools they need to win a design competition.

Applying for ANSYS’ Student Team Sponsorship is a good place to start. Design competition teams that get the sponsorship will gain access to ANSYS’ portfolio of simulation software.

The team can also try out the ANSYS Student Community. The student community is a great place to ask questions, watch webinars and learn how to perform tasks within the ANSYS software.

If engineering students are looking for a more structured learning experience, they can educate themselves about structural simulations, CFD, electric vehicle design and autonomous vehicle design from a series of YouTube Tutorials.

Alternatively, the students can also sign up for an in-depth look into structural and CFD simulations from a free online course from Cornell University.

In the end, there is plenty of material online to learn how to use simulation to impress the judges of an engineering design competition.

To watch the first YouTube tutorial, click on the video below:

ANSYS’ Back-to-school training on topology optimization and structural simulation.
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