Saturday, November 10, 2012

Possible Configuration?

Diving into a 3D modeling program with no prior experience was no fun. After struggling with Sketchup 8 for a couple of weeks, here is what I think is a pretty good idea of what our "Small Shock" project should look like. The batteries are not quite to scale, but the image will serve it's purpose for now. Credit for the Doodlebug mini bike model that I started with goes to JDL3.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Mini" Project

A former student generously donated a 1960's Heathkit mini bike to the HEV program today. Adam Parzych asked only that we return the gasoline engine to him - no problem, as this project will not involve gasoline, oil or any fluids at all! Our next class will be converting it to electric power. Normally, a project like this would be involve a few flooded lead acid batteries, a simple speed controller and a DC motor. It would no doubt scoot around and be a blast to drive, but have limited range and a low WOW factor. Our plan is much more ambitious. Roll this around in your head for a minute: let's power this way cool classic with nickle metal hydride battery modules scavenged from a Honda Civic Hybrid battery package. Instead of a direct current motor and simple control unit, let's install a three phase AC induction motor. A special control unit / power inverter will convert the DC power to AC and handle the speed control duties. The process will include hours of fabrication - not only the electrical system but metal work for brackets to mount the batteries, motor, controls, etc. As with the AntiPrius project, we will get this one running, then disassemble everything for paint and powder coat. I'm thinking that the same wild green color that graces the AntiPrius would look great right here. But we have plenty of time to change our minds. In our  lab, all input from students and faculty are considered and I can't wait to start hearing everyone's ideas for bringing this former 60's throwback into the modern world.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Future of Vehicle Design

What better way to wrap up the spring semester than to see what the next generation of automotive engineers are up to right now? Square One Education Network has an annual Innovative Vehicle Design event to coax high school students to seek out higher education in the engineering world. We loaded up our AntiPrius hybrid trainer vehicle and hit the road to attend the event at Michigan International Speedway and were amazed at what we saw. Students designed, built and tested their electric vehicles and brought them all together in one place to see who could "go the distance". Students competed in a variety of classes including full scale, autonomous, mini, and even underwater vehicles! Here a few shots from the event:

To see more pictures from the event, there is an album set up here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Almost Finished

Our class has been hard at work with the final assembly of the AntiPrius project. Just a few more details to finish up and we will be ready to head down to Michigan International Speedway for the Square One Education Network Innovative Vehicle Design event on May 5th.



Thursday, March 29, 2012

Now That's Green!

  Our AntiPrius project is in the home stretch. Some background for those of you who just got here: The first NMC Hybrid Electric Vehicle class transplanted the components from a wrecked 2004 Toyota Prius into a tube frame dune buggy (aka sand rail) in an effort to build a vehicle suited for training purposes. Visible and physical access to all of the hybrid components is a key factor of the design. We have been tweaking the design of the vehicle for over a year, so it was finally time to disassemble it and send out the frame and some of the pieces for powder coating. Our current HEV class had the car down too the bare frame in less that 3 hours. I was quite impressed not only with their organizational skills but also with the way that they worked together as a group. Until today, our "trainer vehicle" has been in raw metal form. Constant wiping with light oil has held back the rust so far, but we needed a permanent solution. The powder coat provides a rock hard, easy to clean finish. And it doesn't look too bad, either! The original plan was to use a powder coat that mimics chrome plating (at least that was the claim). After seeing samples of the finish in person, it was obvious that nothing looks like real chrome unless it really is chrome! So the choice was made to go with a green finish. Not only is green part of the NMC logo, it represents the green thinking that embodies what the hybrid electric vehicle movement is all about - fewer emissions and using less fuel. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


  This week our class began the portion of the course that focuses on battery technology. The students have removed the batteries from our Ford Escape, Honda Civic and Mercury Milan hybrid electric vehicles. They also removed the battery package from our AntiPrius trainer vehicle, which is the same as any 2004 to 2009 Toyota Prius. The AntiPrius battery package has  been disassembled right down to the individual battery modules. A total of 28 modules make up the package. At 7.2 volts each, that adds up to just over 200 volts. The modules are connected to each other in series by bus bars (flat strips of metal with holes in them). We were not surprised to see corrosion on the bus bars, as our studies have found that this problem is not uncommon after 100,000 miles. The point of this exercise is to train our students in the art of rebuilding hybrid electric vehicle batteries. I am often asked the question of what happens to all of the large hybrid and electric vehicle batteries when they have reached the end of there service life. Do they end up in the landfill? Can they be recycled? Will they bring about the end of our planet? Rest easy. There is now an entirely new industry springing up around the millions of HEV and EV vehicles on the road. HEV battery failures rarely render the entire battery useless. The usual scenario is that one or two of the many individual modules that make up the battery can no longer retain and give up energy at the same rate as the rest, resulting in loss of power, a drop in fuel economy, warning lights, and other problems. Businesses such as Re-InVolt will test all of the modules in a battery by running the modules through multiple discharge/recharge cycles to determine their health and capacity. Poor performing modules are recycled and the battery package is reassembled with only the properly performing modules. The finished product is available for a fraction of the cost of a new battery and come with a warranty. The result is that used batteries from crashed hybrid vehicles are in high demand. It would be foolish to dispose of even the worst hybrid battery; there are simply too many valuable parts inside of them! To add to the demand, many ecologically minded persons have found that they can use the individual battery modules in small groups to power electric bicycles and scooters. Others have figured out that with a small package of these modules they can power their campsite all weekend. And some folks have built portable 110 volt A/C emergency power supplies with them. 
   I feel extremely fortunate to have the support of the forward minded department heads at Northwestern Michigan College who saw the demand for training in this new technology. Thanks to them, the students who finish our class will have a valuable skill set to offer their future employers. Over the next few weeks, students will test and treat the batteries from our small fleet of HEV's. There are over 2.5 million Toyota Prius HEV's on the road today. Add to that the rest of the automaker's offerings and it's obvious that the demand for qualified technicians with the skills to maintain and repair these vehicles will surpass the available workforce. 

Bus bars connecting the modules

Corroded bus bars

Battery bottom showing temperature sensors

Individual battery modules

Ford escape battery

Charging an individual Prius battery module

Friday, February 17, 2012

Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive

Our Hybrid Electric Vehicle class is undertaking a new project, thanks to the generous support of Gene's Auto Parts here in Northern Michigan. A Prius transmission arrived at our doorstep this week, along with inverters from Toyota and Honda vehicles. The transmission is equipped with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive unit, which blends the power from two electric motor/generators with the power from the internal combustion (gasoline) engine. It allows strong hybrids such as the Prius to operate on electric power alone. I cannot overstate the value of having our students dive into this unit. Textbooks and lecture can provide an understanding of the systems that are used in HEV' but "hands on" training has no substitute. After disassembling the unit, the class cleaned up all of the components. Next week, we will cut away the cases and assemble the unit to provide a cutaway view for use in display and for future training. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Big Display

Teaching automotive technologies today involves a good deal time spent demonstrating how to use a scan tool or oscilloscope to view and gather data and/or electrical waveforms. Those demonstrations become difficult when trying to present the data on a laptop computer screen to a group of students (yes, most of the programs that we use today are computer based). Eighteen students divided by one 15" display equals the possibility that someone gets left behind. We are resolving that problem with a large screen TV and a rolling cabinet in which we can store all of our test equipment including test leads, laptop computers, scan tools and various other pieces of testing equipment. We're tackling this project "in house" with the help of NMC tech staff. We started with a rolling cabinet and built a raised counter top. Under the counter will reside a PC, keyboard and mouse. A switch will allow us to swap the display from the PC to another input (scan tool, laptop, etc.). A webcam on an articulated arm will act as a document camera to magnify and display parts and documents. The camera will have a clip which will allow us to remove it from the arm and place it under the hood (or anywhere else on the vehicle) and allow all to view the subject matter at a very high resolution. We are about halfway through the project and should have it finished in a week or two.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


We are in the process of installing all of the bits and pieces needed to make the Hybrid Trainer Vehicle legal for use on the street. After studying the Michigan Vehicle Code, I found that we would need mirrors, lights, a windshield and a few other items to make it come together. The mirrors are installed, as are the headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals. The taillights, brake lights and turn signals are high efficiency LED units. The cool thing about that is they appear to be clear, but light up red or amber when energized. Actually, the lights are merely mounted. Our next class starts next week, and they will design and implement the lighting controls and wiring to get everything on line and working. I can't wait to get them started!

The turn signals are below the headlights, to the outside.

Turn signal on the left, taillight/brake light on the right.