Clean machine team’s sno-go a no-go

Shaun Milke and Mike Golub hastily try to repair their battery powered snowmobile at the Clean Snowmobile Challenge in Houghton, Michigan after blowing their motor controller. Photo by Jesse Hoff/The Sun Star

By Jesse Hoff
Sun Star Contributor

Time was running out for the 2010 UAF Clean Snowmobile team. A crucial battery-welding tool had broken, the sled was in pieces, and their machine needed to be crated and shipped to Chicago the next day. “If you don’t have this thing done by tomorrow maybe you should think about throwing in the towel,” said Doug Goering, dean of the College of Engineering and Mines.

Mike Golub, the team leader, wasn’t about to give up so easily. Golub teaches a class on electric car conversion and is the ASUAF Sustainability Director. To drop out of the Clean Snowmobile Challenge now would be too much of a disappointment.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) started the Clean Snowmobile Challenge in 2000. The underlying theme of the competition has always been the same, to engineer a clean and quiet trail sled.

Last year the UAF team had taken 2nd place overall in the challenge. It was quite a feat for a handful of technical rookies with no prior competition experience and limited funding. Their success set the bar high for this year’s entry. But as the 2010 competition approached, things were not going smoothly. The team’s numbers had dwindled to four and their rider was out of the running with an ear infection.

“We need to pick up the pace,” said Golub as he hastily wired together battery packs the day that shipment was to be made to Michigan. Shaun Milke, the project’s co-leader was also having doubts about whether they could make the flight.

“I don’t know if we’re going to make it,” said Milke. At 3:30 p.m., with just 90 minutes left before their deadline, the team started to crate the 700-pound machine for shipment to Chicago, where they would meet it for the eight-hour drive to Houghton, Michigan, where the competition was held.

The misfortune continued in Houghton. Once the competition got underway, a combination of unfinished wiring details and a major part failure kept the UAF machine sidelined while other teams racked up performance points.

Team UAF did get points from a static display, an oral presentation, an engineering design paper, and a weight event; and they even managed to take 2nd place honors in the retail-pricing event. With a price tag of $12,000 their machine was by far the cheapest of the five and gave the team desperately needed points. But having a non-operational sled, no matter how cheap it was, proved too much of an obstacle to overcome and UAF finished the competition in last place out of five competitors.

“It’s a rebuilding year,” said Golub, when asked about the team’s drop in performance. “It gives it [the program] some continuity.” Golub’s team is young and he hopes that will translate into future successes.

This year they learned the valuable lesson of time management,” said judge Mark Sheifer. “I see it all the time in competitions like this.”

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