Concrete Toboggan

An award-winning competitive racing toboggan with a concrete running surface

The Western Engineering Toboggan Team (WETT) is a mega project team under the Faculty of Engineering at Western University. Every year, WETT competes at the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR), the oldest and largest student-run university engineering competition in Canada. For the 2016 season I was selected as the Superstructure Captain for the Western Engineering Toboggan Team. This role encompasses all the mechanical design aspects of the vehicle from the top of the skis up.

The main goal of the competition is to design and construct a toboggan weighing no more than 300 pounds that can safely carry five riders while having a running surface made entirely of concrete. In addition, the toboggan must be able to steer accurately through a slalom course and brake safely and quickly.

As the Superstructure Captain, I lead a team of 25 other students from multiple disciplines and levels of experience to design the steering, braking, impact attenuation, floor, and ski connection systems. Based on my previous experience on the team I decided to implement a horizontal team structure where all members were encouraged to field ideas and provide suggestions in order to maximize productivity and innovation. Once initial concepts were decided on as a group, I picked a few standout leaders from my team to take on the responsibility of leading the detailed design of some of the systems, and oversaw and managed their work with the rest of the team. In the interest of time, I personally took on the design of some of the systems.

There were a number of major innovations developed as a part of this design process. In 2016, WETT was the first team in the history of GNCTR to design an impact attenuation device to improve the safety of their riders in a frontal crash scenario. The impact attenuator was manufactured from an aluminum honeycomb that would absorb energy and slow the impulse of a crash. Furthermore, 2016 was the first year WETT explored using composite materials. This was an important step in building the team’s body of knowledge in composite design, calculation, simulation, and manufacturing techniques, which the team has compounded on ever since.

All designs on the team were developed through an iterative, step-wise design process to determine the best possible solution to the design problem. Design for Manufacturing and Design for Assembly principles were applied to all designs. Because the toboggan had to be designed and built in less than 5 months, time had to be spent efficiently in the design phase to not be wasted in the manufacturing.

After completion of detailed design and CAD, I created manufacturing drawings so the team could manufacture the toboggan. Additionally, I was responsible for ordering parts and materials from suppliers. I oversaw and participated in the manufacturing process, machining and welding many parts myself as well as directing and leading the overall construction of the toboggan. Throughout the entire project, I was required to keep my team on budget and complete my goals on time. Additionally, I had to coordinate with the rest of the executive team on both organizational and technical matters.

The toboggan competed at GNCTR 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, where the team won five awards: 1st Place Overall, Best Theoretical Toboggan, Best Technical Report,Most Improved Team, and Best Braking Performance. We were incredibly proud of our performance and improvement from 14th place the previous year.