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UMD team’s innovative sled sweeps competition at snowmobile challenge

UMD engineering students who developed an award-winning snowmobile design include (from left): Brandon Salaba, Kyle Schroer, Eric Skare, Dylan Dahlheimer, Joe Lofgren, Kyle Levanen, Heather Tinus, Nicole Sovde and Charlie Gordon at the 2014 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge. (Photo courtesy of the Clean Snowmobile Challenge)1 / 2
Joe Lofgren tests out the snowmobile developed by UMD engineering students. The design won the innovation award at a national competition last month. (Photo courtesy of the Clean Snowmobile Challenge)2 / 2

In a competition to create a cleaner-running, quieter snowmobile, the team from the University of Minnesota Duluth reduced friction and turned heads to dominate the competition when it came to style and functionality at the 2014 Society of Automotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge.

The club walked away with the BASF Corporation Award for Innovation for the first time, as it competed against 13 to 16 schools from around the United States and Canada last month.

“I knew our design was going to be unique, but I never thought we were going to get this much stir over it,” said junior Joe Lofgren, team captain.

The Snowmobile Challenge is an engineering design competition for college engineering students that challenges them to re-engineer an existing snowmobile to reduce emissions and noise. Judges examined each team’s snowmobile for emissions, noise, endurance, acceleration and design, among other criteria.

“It is a great feeling to have received this award,” said senior Brandon Salaba. “We have worked really hard to get this design and fabricate the drive sprocket.”

The drive sprocket is what captured the attention of the judges. The drive sprockets are the wheels that drive the track. The stock design involved friction as the sprocket engages and disengages the track. The design of the snowmobile uses ball bearings that remove any friction in the engagement and disengagement process. The drive sprocket, exhaust system with integrated three-way catalyst and a more economically tuned engine control unit for maximum fuel economy is what set the UMD club apart from their competition.

Local parts for the snowmobile came from local resources such as O’Reilly Auto Parts, EBay and donations. There was also a specialized part that came from a company based in Germany.

The snowmobile took about a year to complete.

The club started getting organized last school year and identified all of their team’s leaders to distribute the work.

“We spent a few months designing all of our components, disassembling the snowmobile, and ordering our parts,” said senior Kyle Schroer. “The final couple months consisted of implementing all of our ideas, reassembling the snowmobile and lots of time spent tuning the engine.”

The group often brainstormed for ideas. Every week they met to discuss everyone’s designs and visions. Schroer said they would often feed off each other’s ideas to develop the most practical and innovative design.

“It definitely takes a lot of time and effort to complete a project like this one,” Schroer said. “You have to have strong motivation and commitment to stick with it through the end. We spent many hours not only wrenching on the sled, but also completing less appealing tasks like the required technical design paper and understanding all of the rules for the competition.”

Lofgren agreed that the project was very time-consuming.

“(It) requires a lot of commitment,” Lofgren said. “I had to let my GPA slide in order to get it finished in time.”

The team will be competing again next year with the same snowmobile. They have already started meeting to make improvements.

“We are already starting to figure out what other modifications and further refinements we will be doing to the sled for next year,” Lofgren said.