2021-11-01 5 min read


Note: A warm welcome to our new sponsors: Hubs - a Protolabs company and Autodesk Fusion 360! We're very glad to have them both :)

Notes, 2021-11-01.

Imagine giving a bunch of college students free reign to design and build a race car from scratch and then letting them drive it themselves. It doesn’t seem like today’s risk-averse institutions would ever allow such a thing to exist, but somehow, it does. It’s called Formula SAE.

In the four years I competed, I saw a driver catch on fire, a wheel fall off, and a crash that bent a car’s frame. But bless whoever wrote the liability waivers because it was, without a doubt, the most impactful engineering education I’ve had.

The level of sophistication varies from this very DIY crash test to this car with a custom AMG engine, but each team has one thing in common: there are real consequences.

For me it was an ideal education, instilling a healthy fear of mistakes while giving me the space to make them. Long live FSAE.

-Surjan Singh

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~15% of opens) was an explanation of the persistent and more or less meaningless Important Battery Message that appears after replacing an iPhone battery. In the Members' Slack, we've been chatting about the ROI of various college majors. Studying engineering is a safe bet for financial returns.

Planning & Strategy.

  • There were no liability waivers in Babylon. Under the Code of Hammurabi, punishment was straightforward:
If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.

Assigning responsibility is not so simple in modern times. In the aftermath of the Surfside condo collapse, with so many people involved over so many years, criminal charges are unlikely and the allocation of compensation is being bitterly contested.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • Thicker things are harder to bend. Think corrugated cardboard vs cardstock, penne vs bucatini, or a cookiewich vs a cookie. When designing a composite part, that can be an issue. Carbon fiber’s strength means that you don’t need to use much of it, but less material means thinner parts, and thinner parts means a floppier structure. Enter Nomex honeycomb, used to space out layers of carbon fiber - turning the carbon into the bread of a sandwich panel and adding a significant amount of stiffness.

    But if the idea is just to space out the carbon fiber, why use a honeycomb shape? Why not just a simple grid pattern? I haven’t found a definitive answer, but it might have to do with the honeycomb conjecture, which asserts that hexagons are the most efficient way to split a plane into equal areas. Or maybe it’s down to a circus owner. From JE Gordon’s Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down:
One day, towards the end of 1943, a circus proprietor called George May called to see me at Farnborough. After he had told me several Gerald Durrell-type stories about the difficulties of keeping monkeys in traveling circuses, he produced something which looked like a cross between a book and a concertina. When he pulled on the ends of this invention, the whole thing opened out like one of those coloured-paper festoons which people use for Christmas decorations. It was in fact a sort of paper honeycomb of very lightweight but of quite surprising strength and stiffness…This must have been one of the relatively few occasions in history when a group of aircraft engineers have been seriously tempted to throw their collective arms around the neck of a circus proprietor and kiss him...This material was very successful and was used in the cores of sandwiches for all kinds of military purposes.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.


An amusement park ride in the cooling tower of an unfinished nuclear reactor - from Luca Locatelli’s Future Studies project.

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