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Friday, 31 August 2018

Cycling up to the solar challenge

FRAMEWORK: Lungile Ntshulana and Apiwe Madikane putting together the steel frame of the CPUT Solar Flyer. FRAMEWORK: Lungile Ntshulana and Apiwe Madikane putting together the steel frame of the CPUT Solar Flyer.

Students and staff are working hard to assemble the CPUT Solar Flyer in the TIA Adaptronics AMTL research unit’s workshop.

Our entry into the Sasol Solar Challenge 2018, South Africa is still a shell, but the plan is in place and work schedules have been drawn up.

Prof Graeme Oliver of the Mechanical Engineering Department says they could only fully commit to the Sasol Solar Challenge 2018, South Africa once funding approval was received so a compressed time schedule meant using a design and manufacturing process that would be achievable in a limited amount of time.

He calls the truncated schedule a great learning experience for the ten staff members and ten students, all drawn from the Mechanical, Mechatronics and Electrical Engineering Departments. 

“As we are very new to this competition we are also happy to receive advice such as the input from our LiFePO4 battery pack fabricator, who is also sponsoring some small electrical components, on battery management and switching systems to protect our battery performance,” said Oliver.

The CPUT Solar Flyer vehicle design will incorporate in-wheel hub motors and a covered space frame reinforced with composites for safety, with an-offset adjustable roof mounted solar array.

The solar array is assembled from commercially available panels and the hub motors are imported kits supplied by a local Cape Town supplier, with some additional design fabrication needed to mount them in motorcycle wheel rims with the in-wheel hydraulic disk brakes.

Initially there was a problem with mounting the motors in the wheels. The hub motors are made for bicycle rims and spokes and the CPUT Solar Flyer will incorporate motorcycle rims to meet the Challenge’s specification for tyres.

The holes on the motorcycle rims are too big for bicycle spokes so drilling holes in the motor to fit the motorcycle spokes seemed the simpler option.

The complication was fitting the spokes from the large hub motor to the relatively small motorcycle wheel. The solution was to punch washers into the right shape to fit the motorcycle rims to take bicycle spokes.

 “I got a bicycle shop to size and make bicycle spokes and lace them to build the wheels for us. It can be the small things that mess you up on a project like this.”

Oliver pointed out that once you have a working vehicle it can act as a platform to test out improvements. “These days things like motors, solar chargers and even battery packs can be hooked up to a computer and you can change the way they behave to adapt them specifically to your system as you gain experience. With the system we chose you can get live readings on your cell phone about the power being produced by the solar panels so it is setup for future research.”

Written by Theresa Smith


Provides coverage for the Applied Sciences and Engineering Faculties and the Wellington Campus.