Michigan State Solar Car Team and Saturn Electronics to…

The Michigan State University Solar Car Team will collaborate with local PCB manufacturer and team sponsor Saturn Electronics to cover expenses of participating at the NAIAS 2015. This will be the first participation of the MSU Solar Car Team at the show after the team was re-launched in 2007. “Participating at the NAIAS is of great significance to us as it gives us a platform to showcase the team’s most innovative designs and cutting-edge technology advancements within the renewable energy and automotive fields.” Ali ElSeddik – Project Manager of the Solar Car Team.

Saturn Electronics will be covering the team’s logistical expenses related to exhibiting at the show. Saturn has been donating all the printed circuit boards for the Solar Team’s latest car: Leonidas. Together, MSU Solar and Saturn are working on advancing technologies used in the team’s solar cars to further realize the team’s goals.  “As a MSU graduate and  stakeholder in the State of Michigan’s economy I feel it’s important to support our educational institutions and programs like the MSU Solar Car and hope that other Michigan based companies will step up to the challenge and contribute as well” Raj Sutariya –V.P. Saturn Electronics.

Exhibition Details: 

Press preview: January 12-13
Industry Preview: January 14-15
Charity Preview: January 16
Public Show: January 17-25

About Saturn Electronics:
Saturn was founded in 1985 by Nagji Sutariya. From the beginning, Saturn’s mantra was to focus solely on quality and to learn from, but never repeat, mistakes. From this seemingly simple philosophy Saturn grew from a humble 3 person operation at an average rate of 25% per year to become a top 10 PCB fabricator in North America.

Saturn copy1

About MSU Solar:
Re-launched in 2007 after an unsuccessful initial founding in 1999, the MSU Solar Car team is a student-run organization dedicated towards the design, building, testing, and racing of entirely solar-powered vehicles. Compromised of undergraduate and graduate students at Michigan State University, the team gives its members a hands-on multidisciplinary experience within the engineering, business, and management fields.

To learn more, please contact:

Michigan State University Solar Car Team


Flakeboard and Demmer Corporation

The MSU Solar Car Team would like to extend a very gracious thank you to Flakeboard for generously donating all of the mold material for the body of the solar car. The team had a lot of trouble finding a proper supplier for mold material, and we were extremely fortunate to connect with the great staff over at Flakeboard.

Furthermore, we would like to thank the incredible members from Demmer Corporation that helped us machine our car’s design out of our mold material. Without Demmer’s guidance and assistance, our car’s body would never have gotten close to its potential. Thank you!






Images of the MDF (medium density fiberboard) that Flakeboard donated to the team and Demmer Corporation machined for the team.


Sheets of the MDF were glued together and cut into the shape of the solar car’s body.   It was our team’s goal to create a competitive solar car, and a very important aspect of that goal is to have an aerodynamic body that can support the solar array. While creating Brasidius III for ASC 2014 the team was forced to use an in-house designed manufacturing process to create the body, resulting in a less than stellar product. However, thanks to Flakeboard and Demmer’s help, the team will be able to create a much more aerodynamic and aesthetic solar car body.

Go Green!


Array Encapsulation Testing

Michigan State is one of a few schools that encapsulate their solar array by hand. Manually encapsulating, although more work than buying panels, gives us not only more flexibility in our design and ability to fix issues with the array but gives team members a greater understanding of how solar technology works and the challenges with creating a good product.

You can see in a past blog post the encapsulation process we used for our last array which used a continuous baking process to protect the cells between layers of EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate). This year we are looking to bake our cells statically in a standard oven with more layers, a back sheet and a top glass layer, for greater stability and protection.

Before we go and try baking sheets of cells in an oven we are doing single cell test runs in a small toaster oven to see what will work to get the best finished product.

Here you can see we’re preparing a single cell to be baked. The blue tape around the edges is to seal the materials in order to create a vacuum while the in the oven.


The toaster oven and vacuum pump set up.


One of the biggest difficulties is baking the cell under the right pressure and temperature conditions to have no air bubbles trapped in the EVA after it has cured. You can see in the final result of the first test run below that air bubbles were a problem.

Final Result
For the next test we used fresher EVA, monitored the temperature inside the oven more accurately and baked the materials in between two 7″x 7″x 1″ Aluminum plates for more consistent applied pressed.
Letting the Aluminum plates heat up before inserting the materials.


The packaged materials
The final results!
Looking at the results from both the tests side by side, as seen below, there was a major improvement in bubble reduction although still not perfect. By continuing to further tweak the bake and cure temperatures, times and pressures we should get it down soon!



Test Cockpit Construction

Finals week has just ended for Michigan State, which marks the beginning of the most exciting process for our team: design finalization and fabrication!

Yesterday and today we assembled a rough mockup of our chassis and butt bucket based on our current frame designs. The primary purpose was to determine how well our designs conform to Dan and Scott, our drivers.

Based on the mockup, we were able to determine that we needed to reduce the width of our butt bucket significantly, as well as decrease the depth of the butt bucket for visibility purposes. Additionally, we were able to obtain measurements for use in designing our roll cage to meet the ASC 2014 regulations as well as minimize frontal area.

Early construction


More construction


Where soccer conditioning comes in handy…


We can’t see out of the car based on our current designs


Optimal distance for foot location


Optimal foot location and angle


Measuring distance from helmet to roll cage bars (must be >50 mm according to ASC regs)
Simulating the array for visibility testing



3M Shipment has Arrived!

3M has very generously donated several boxes worth of crucial supplies to build our solar car, including all the sandpaper and electrical tape we need, various types of panel adhesives, and the most important supplies of all: duct tape and zip ties!

The body team is especially grateful for the abrasive paper. 3M sent us as much sand paper as we need in grits ranging along a continuous spectrum from very a large grit to a very fine grit. We will hopefully be receiving our molds from Demmer by the end of April, so the abrasive paper from 3M will be used extensively to make our molds, and thus the outer surface of our final body, as smooth as possible.

Here are the unopened shipped boxes below:

And here are the boxes after we opened them and categorized everything in the shipment.


Thank you 3M!!!



A Photographic Journey through the ASC 2012

Its easy when we are caught up in the sleep deprivation, stress, and workload associated with the solar team to forget about the great times that the solar team has given us. I want to share a few of the photos that resonate with me as I reflect upon MSU’s first ever competition in the ASC 2012. The expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, is certainly how I personally feel about the photos you will see below.

Members of the team watching Sam Lenius and Steve Zajac diagnosing our motor controller
Steve Zajac is the hero of the MSU Solar Car Team. At scrutineering, we fried not one, not two, but three motor controllers. We were almost certain that our car would never drive. However, Steve was unbelievably persistent. With three burnt out motor controllers, plus spare parts from Minnesota, Steve stayed up an entire night and successfully combined the parts from the 3 damaged controllers into one functional motor controller. The photo above shows our apprehension as Sam tests whether the motor controller Steve rebuilt would work. If the motor controller in the above photo didn’t work, we would not have competed in the ASC 2012.
Meeting Oregon State for the first time at the race

The Oregon State University Solar Car Team was hands down the most awesome team at the competition. They were all super fun, relaxed, and nice, and they were unbelievably generous to our team. For several nights of the competition, we stayed at the vacation home that Oregon State was staying at, thanks to their much appreciated invitation. Also, Oregon State helped us with their experience and equipment to help us pass scrutineering. I can’t put into words how much respect I have for their team.

Eating dinner with Western Michigan!
One of the great pleasures of participating in the American Solar Challenge is spending time with bright engineers from across the country (and even some from outside the US!). We very much enjoyed eating dinner with and talking solar with Western Michigan, one of the most established solar car teams in the nation.
Miles Turrell on the team scooter

One of the greatest assets our team had during scrutineering was an electric scooter that our logistics manager, Ethan Akerly, brought along to the race. Our trailer was a ten minute walk to the scrutineering station, so this scooter allowed members like Miles above to zip back and forth to our trailer for tools and other miscellaneous needs.

Dan Howarth and Meng Cao taking a quick snooze

Sleep deprivation was a serious limiting factor at the competition. Multiple days of 5 hours of sleep or less started to add up by the end of the FSGP 2012!

Dan Howarth, the new Project Manager, with Brasidius

Here is a photo of Dan with Brasidius after we successfully passed the dynamics scrutineering and realized we were going to compete in the qualifying track race. Dan was the brains and the motivator behind Brasidius’ new shell. During the summer before the race, Dan spent every night and weekend at the shop after his full-time internship constructing the shell and fastening the shell to the frame. Indeed his passion and drive for making a new solar car for the ASC 2014 has made him the ideal candidate to manage the 2-year design cycle of Leonidas!

University of Minnesota and Oregon State replacing a cracked cell on Brasidius

One of the great parts of Solar Car racing is the camaraderie between different solar car teams. Oregon State and Minnesota had already passed scrutineering, so they were kind enough to replace one of our damaged arrays. Minnesota and Oregon State use EVA tape for adhering their arrays to their shells, while we used silicone, so this proved to be a valuable lesson to Steve Zajac and I.

Driving behind Brasidius as we drive to the dynamics scrutineering
Steve Zajac finally getting some sleep after we qualified for ASC 2012
 I hope you enjoyed these photos!
James Miller
President, MSU Solar Car Team

ASC 2012 Reflection

Exhausted victory after just qualifying for ASC 2012!

Last summer, we pushed the envelope even further for the MSU Solar Car Team by qualifying for the American Solar Challenge for the first time in Michigan State University history. The American Solar Challenge 2012 was a 1600 mile cross country race from Rochester, New York to St. Paul, Minnesota. To qualify for the ASC 2012, our car had to pass a series of standards within the Mechanical, Electrical, Body, Array, Battery Protection, Driver safety, Dynamics, and Support Vehicle categories. Fortunately, we were able to pass each of those categories, compete in the qualifying track race, and embark on the road race. Unfortunately, the motor controller of our car broke down irrevocably on the first day of the ASC 2012, so we could not continue the competition.

Steve Zajac diagnosing the electrical systems after Brasidius’ break-down

The failure of our motor controller was part of the larger issue of a lack of reliability within our car. Several systems of our car, such as the motor, the motor controller, the rear view camera, and the blinkers, were not tested enough prior to the race. Other systems, such as our front and rear suspension, were over designed to the point where they absolutely would not break, however were far too heavy.

Armed with the knowledge earned by preparing for and competing in the American Solar Challenge 2012, we will continue to improve the MSU Solar Car Team. We are now starting the 2-year design cycle of Leonidas I, our second car in university history. This is an extremely exciting time for us, because the current team can now start a brand new car, instead of modifying the previous car. However, this great opportunity presents an unstructured problem; how do we design, build, and test a solar car from scratch?

In order to tackle this problem, we are imposing an iterative engineering design process. Today, we defined our primary goal with Leonidas:

“To complete the American Solar Challenge 2014 and to pass scrutineering on the first try.”

Thanks for reading!

James M.L. Miller

President, MSU Solar Car Team


Solar Array Encapsulation




Cells prepared for baking on seperator


Cells with EVA layers applied




Cells running through oven with a vacuum pump adding compression






Cells added to the array


Sand used to form the rigid cells to the body


Fiberglass Shell and Battery Box Fabrication



The body team has had its hands full this week. After gaining access to the Composite Vehicle Research Center at MSU, we have been working on the molds for the shell of the car, as well as constructing the kevlar battery boxes.




Several weeks ago, the body team constructed the molds for the fiberglass shell. Four molds were constructed: the top, the middle, the front, and the back. The molds were constructed out of Foamular Foam, which was entirely donated by Owen’s Corning.
Here is a quick explanation of the molds: Each of the four molds will be used as a layup surface for a portion of the shell.
-The top mold, which you can view in the photo above, will be used twice to produce two symmetrical top pieces. The top pieces will be joined together at the middle and the array will be mounted on those pieces. The top mold is used twice, instead of one enormous mold, to be more efficient with time and foam.
-The bottom mold, which you can also view in the photo above, will be used twice to produce two symmetrical bottom pieces. Those pieces will be joined together to envelope the bottom of the frame, like a clamshell.
-The front and back molds are behind the two visible molds in the photo above. They will used as a surface to produce one piece each.
Each of the pieces will be joined together by means of ribs and bolted connections, and they will be mounted to the frame by means of ribs and bolted connections as well.
Our goal this week is to perform the two top mold layups and the two bottom mold layups. Completing the top shell will allow Steve Zajac, the electrical ace on the array team, to wire the solar cells to the top of the car.
Here is the body team’s progress this week in photographic form:
Tuesday, May 22nd: The top mold needed a layer of plaster, the plastered bottom mold needed sanding, and two battery boxes needed to be fabricated.



















Wednesday, May 24th: The top mold needed another coat of plaster, and the bottom mold needed more sanding, as well as more plaster to fill up holes in the plaster.

What’s Next? We will be plastering the top mold once or twice more, as well as sanding the molds to progressively finer grits. Hopefully by saturday we can prepare the top and bottom molds for the layups. Additionally, we need to layup another kevlar battery box, as well as layup the tops of the boxes.

Thanks for reading!
James Miller,
Project Manager, MSU Solar Car Racing Team