Innovation meets tradition: the racing team of West Saxon University of Applied Sciences of Zwickau
“Formula Student” is probably the most important competition in the world for aspiring automotive engineers. It challenges student teams to design and build a single-seat racing car without any outside help. For years, the top positions in this international competition have been taken by teams from large technical universities like Delft, Zurich and Stuttgart. Zwickau and its small university, which focuses on automotive engineering, hadn’t really been seen as a contender. “At the 2009 awards ceremony, one of the speakers actually asked ‘Where the hell is that town?’” grins Michael Jakob, a budding vehicle engineer and member of the WHZ racing team at West Saxon University of Applied Sciences for the past five years. Things have definitely changed now. “Last season, we achieved third place internationally in the electric class,” says Franziska Barth, who handles PR for the team. The Zwickau team accelerated up the world rankings with a car weighing just 160 kg. “None of the other electric vehicles was lighter than our eKlaus,” comments Barth.
Creative engineering talent: huge potential for new products and employee recruitment
The FP713e, nicknamed “eKlaus”, is powered by two motors that the team members designed and built themselves. Teams from other universities have their motors made for them, but the Zwickau team takes a hands-on approach, machining parts and winding the coils. “Doing everything ourselves is one of our strengths,” says Michael Jakob. Formula Student generates enormous potential in terms of new technical developments and future employee talent. Accordingly, the young engineers involved are supported by nearly all the major car manufacturers and automotive suppliers. The competition provides a very efficient opportunity for them to establish contact with creative engineering talent at an early stage. As Michael Jakob puts it: “Our course has a strong practical focus and Formula Student allows us to meet potential employers very early on.” Some graduates also take the bold step of becoming employers themselves, like the four ex-racing team members who set up their own business, HERMS Technologies GmbH, in Zwickau in 2011 and now employ 10 people.
An innovative bond: glue from the biomedical sector
It goes without saying that a lot of hard work is involved. “It’s not uncommon to work 10 to 15 hours a days, but it’s worth it,” says Björn Pohle. He and his team mates are happy to accept the extra time and effort required. As technical project leader, the microtechnology student led the WHZ racing team to success in the season just gone. He is excited by the chances the competition offers to think creatively and work on genuine innovations. In keeping with this spirit, the Zwickau team was inspired to take a glue product that had originally been developed for the biomedical sector and use it for a quite different purpose. Used in vehicle construction, it bonds carbon to aluminium on the chassis. Nobody had ever tried that technique before. It is precisely this appetite for innovation that motivates the 50 or so young people who make up the racing team. They have enormous fun finding a new angle every year for the next season’s car. For over 100 years, Zwickau’s car manufacturing industry has been synonymous with engineering skill and creativity, making Saxony one of the leading locations in Germany for vehicle construction.