Angus McDonald is leading the Ascend Mechanical Team for the World Solar Challenge 2023. Angus graduated from the Deakin Engineering program in 2021 and was part of the student program working on the solar car during his undergraduate studies. The mechanical team is responsible for designing and manufacturing the mechanical systems of the car which includes, suspension, chassis, and aerodynamics.
Hear what Angus has to say about his experience on the ASCEND Solar Car Project:
How did you get involved in the solar car project and when?
I have been involved with the solar car since the end of 2019/ right at the start of 2020, I was poached to complete my Final Year Project (FYP) on the drivetrain of the car. At that time, it was planned out that the car would run the challenge at the end of that year, however, it was right when the pandemic hit. My studies were pushed back along with my FYP as well as the challenge itself and my project was finished at the start of 2021. After keeping in touch with the supervisor at the time, It was found that the drivetrain prototype I had designed developed, and manufactured had merit, and was asked if I wanted to manufacture two more working prototypes for the car as well as suspension components, chassis components, etc, and then further gained employment as a Mechanical engineer once I had graduated and now, I’m here
What is your role now? What have you literally been doing recently?
My role on this project is Head Mechanical Engineer alongside Xander the Head Mechatronic Engineer, and we are in charge of designing and manufacturing the whole car. We are both supervising a bunch of hard-working engineering students and working with them to come up with the best solutions for the design challenges this car has. Recently I have been working closely with Xander on testing the efficiency of the vehicle from the electromechanical perspective (ensuring we are utilising as much electrical power into mechanical power as we can) so we may gain an understanding of the theoretical range of the battery and its actual range.
What do you enjoy most about working with the current students?
Being in my current role I am highly enjoying the leadership aspects and ensuring what these students may learn from this project will help them with their studies and understanding of engineering. The work they produce and the thought processes they use surprise me constantly and it is not only a goal of most workplaces but an absolute privilege of mine, that the team dynamic is working so effectively and smoothly. They’re a real delight to work with.
Were you a part of the project team during lockdown/s and how did you navigate that?
During the pandemic working on my FYP, not unlike most students at the time, it was a struggle with turning both our studies and the team dynamic to online platforms. It always fascinated me how necessity is always the mother of invention, and we saw so much testing, design work, and manufacturing being completed at home with very limited access to the workshop. With the challenge being postponed, it took the pressure off the manufacturing side of the car and allowed so much design work in detail to be completed ready to hit the ground running when everything opened up. With this, we completed so much of the car in such a little time being back on campus.
What is exciting about this project? What have you learned?
I have learned SO much on this car with the practical side of engineering, the real hands-on stuff. The high level of scrutineering standards and rules we need to meet dictates so much of the project and is a true lesson on how designing something well is to design something accurate and faultless. The whole idea of a student-built, hyper-efficient, electric solar vehicle, which is safe, keeps the whole project exciting. Now at the testing stage of the project where we are driving this car around and feeling how smooth and natural this car feels to drive is not only a thrill but something I am really proud of all of us for.
Any funny anecdotes or stories about the build so far?
During the initial stage of the build when we were installing the steering rack, we had weeks’ worth of CAD design and parts on the bench and difficulty managing to mount everything accurately. It took 3 days of searching under car wrecks and an amalgamation of 3 resourced steering columns to make the differing steering shafts fit. Only to find out that the steering rack and pinion, out of a right-hand drive HQ holden, steered the front uprights from behind the wheel and not from the front like ours; meaning that after all of this hard work, all the engineers didn’t stare at the steering rack long enough to notice that when we would turn the steering wheel left the front wheels would steer right haha.
What is your ultimate goal in being involved?
My ultimate goal of being involved would be not unlike the same motivator of any engineer; to rise to the challenge and create something to be proud of. I am truly driven to see this car drive and to drive well, with every engineering drawing and every part I’ve put on this car being a representation of me and my engineering abilities, alongside my team and its abilities. It just so happens to have a beautiful representation of what Deakin and solar technology has to offer engineering development as a part of an enticing and exciting larger picture.
What are your Engineering goals beyond working on the Solar Car project?
I hope to gain as much leadership and engineering design experience to enhance my goals for consultancy engineering or prototyping. I enjoy solving problems and having a new challenge to meet every week makes the work I complete enjoyable. I hope to find myself working in a similar role in design and build engineering, to one day open my own consultancy.