Design and Manufacturing of a Steering Wheel for a Formula SAE Car

Challenges: From design to manufacturing, how can the success of a newly developed steering wheel model be guaranteed?

The steering wheel is often seen as one of the most critical elements of a racing car because it commands the electronic shifting and anti-roll, selects the vehicle traction and launch control modes, and displays critical information to the driver. Simply put, without a working steering wheel, the vehicle cannot perform. Students tasked with designing a new, optimal steering wheel must be able to integrate a number of different engineering disciplines, including advanced embedded electronics, carbon fiber manufacturing, and SLA 3D printing.




Knowing that the design of a steering wheel involves integrating multiple systems together, how can students optimize the design cycle and complete a reliable wheel within the project time frame?

The design of a steering wheel is often seen as one of the most complex projects for FSAE teams because it requires the management of multiple sub-teams, which can lengthen the design cycle due to too much external influence. Indeed, a chassis team generally manages the structure of the wheel, a composite team leads the fabrication, the drivers deal with the ergonomics, and an electrical team handles all internal electronics. Therefore, the difficulty of integrating all these systems together can generate conflicts between the sub-teams and even lead to the wheel’s failure; unless just one sub-team is dedicated to managing the entire project and assumes complete responsibility for the wheel’s completion while consulting senior members for input.

Knowing that the steering wheel will be used for several subsequent years, how can they develop a design that future team members can understand and improve upon?

The tools needed for the design and manufacturing of the steering wheel must be easy to understand and work with, without the need for an extensive training. Plug-and-play tools and user-friendly interfaces facilitate future students’ understanding and help them discover improvements that they can add to the design.

Knowing that different students will drive the FSAE car in the coming years, how can the steering wheel be made to be customizable to each driver?

To truly optimize ergonomics, drivers have the opportunity to sculpt their own grips from molding clay. These custom grips can then be scanned, processed, and printed using a flexible yet robust thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). To do so, the design and manufacturing teams use fast, easy-to-use, and high-resolution portable 3D scanners.


Live mesh going on computer while 3D scanning
Car steering - Before and after 3D scanning


Solutions: Fast, Easy-to-use, High-resolution, and Portable 3D Scanning Technologies

  • Speed is defined as the capability to generate real-time mesh, which is already lightened and processed and ready to be seamlessly integrated into the students’preferred CAD or 3D printing software.
  • Portability is made possible thanks to dynamic referencing, where both the part and the instrument can move freely while measuring. This way, 3D scanning can occur in the design and innovation lab, in the classroom, or at the automotive shop, without affecting performance.
  • Simplicity is illustrated with plug-and-play devices and user-friendly interfaces that enable the FSAE team to easily learn 3D scanning and perform 3D scans.
  • High-resolution scanners are made of precise cameras for geometry and color cameras for texture; they provide the design and manufacturing teams with the scan quality needed to visualize and characterize the finest details of the custom grips.

Metrology-grade 3D scanners, such as the HandySCAN 3D or the Go!SCAN 3D, as well as the educational suite Creaform ACADEMIA are good examples of these fast, easy-to-use, high-resolution, and portable scanning solutions.

Benefits: With Speed, Simplicity, High-Resolution, and Portability, the FSAE Team has a New Steering Wheel in Time for the Race

Not only was the steering wheel ready in time for the competition, but also time was saved during the design and manufacturing phases. 3D scanning technologies and additive manufacturing contributed to bringing the following benefits, which are essential to achieving the goals set by the FSAE team.

  • Robust enough to endure years of use: Preliminary simulations and torsion tests enabled the students to conclude that both the carbon fiber and 3D printed parts could endure the required maximum loads while racing and still be used for several subsequent years.
  • Easy to assemble: Thanks to 3D scanning, students could extract dimensional information from the current wheel (and the car environment) and represent it as an instant mesh. This way, they were able to fit the new parts into the assembly easily
  • Customizable to each driver: Drivers were able to model their hands with clay, which was then scanned, 3D printed, and easily assembled, making the steering wheel suitable for the specific driver’s palm that was taking the wheel for a race.
  • Easy for future team members to understand and improve upon: Since the chosen 3D scanners were simple and easy to use, scanning objects without preparation was within the reach of all students, regardless of their experience and skills.


Wisconsin Racing and the Makerspace

Wisconsin Racing is a collegiate engineering organization that competes internationally against 140 FSAE teams. Over the last 30 years, Wisconsin Racing has dominated the highest levels of this competition and produced a generation of outstanding engineers.

John Ryan, Electric Sub-team Leader and Steering Wheel Designer, depicts the contribution of Creaform 3D scanning solutions as follows: “Having access to a terrific scanning tool, such as the HandySCAN 3D, made it possible to create accurate, custom scans of the driver's ergonomic preferences. In my experience, driver satisfaction is a critical element in vehicle design. And, happy drivers yield faster lap times.“

The Makerspace, a Design and Innovation Lab in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, welcomes engineering students with various kinds of projects, such as the Wisconsin Racing team.

Since 3D scanners are mostly handled by students, Makerspace director Lennon Rodgers says their most important buying criteria were that the chosen technology be “really easy for the students to use and very mobile.”

The Makerspace is now equipped with a HandySCAN 3D, which set itself apart from the competition due to its “portability, resolution, speed, ease of using software, and industry standard hardware,” according to Rodgers. Actually, the team found that the portability and resolution they needed could ONLY be found with Creaform products.

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