Hyperloop and mechanical engineering: dream, test, build and win

23 February 2017 by Webredactie 3mE

It’s well known that the Delft Hyperloop Team won and that their feat was covered in detail across all media. But the 3mE Faculty wants to explore in more detail the role that mechanical engineering played in this special project. Because, as team captain Tim Houter says, ‘mechanical engineering was the connecting factor in the technology. Mechanical engineering looks at all aspects of a project, an object or a process and can create an overall picture and connect the different (technical) expertise at play.’

All facets of mechanical engineering came into play
Tim Houter has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. As team captain of Delft Hyperloop, he had to mainly attend to non-technical matters, such as the work space, funding and events. But as team captain he also witnessed the need for knowledge from all facets of mechanical engineering: ‘dynamics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, mechatronics, strength of materials, you name it. It all came into play because this is such a versatile project.’

Joost de Jong is doing his master’s in Systems & Control at 3mE. He was the team’s controls technician, and his task was to analyse the dynamics and stabilisation. His classes in control theory and modelling & nonlinear systems theory were a great help. ‘They are essential if you want to develop a good systems description and analyse what kind of stabilisation works best. The ability to use MATLAB is also indispensable in that respect,’ says Joost.

Cool feeling to stand behind the machines
Joost did a double bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics at Utrecht and discovered mechanical engineering while an exchange student in Berkeley, California. ‘I always spent a lot of time on engineering work, so it made sense for me to do something more practical. I had a little less practical experience than the others in the Hyperloop team, and it felt pretty cool to get a chance to stand behind the machines too. When we heard that we had made it to the final (to build an actual vehicle), I got started on the production – I learned about lathing, milling and making parts with a 3D printer. I also got a trailer driving licence to show our Hyperloop at events in Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris.’

The team did almost everything themselves
The 3mE Faculty helped the Hyperloop team along a little during the early stages. A test rig needed to be built in which a magnet floating at different heights could be controlled and regulated. The team went in search of funding for some electronics, sensors and other materials. Theun Baller, dean of 3mE, remembers well: ‘It was a real mechanical engineering topic. And it was a good team with good people that work enthusiastically towards their goal. So you want to give people like that an opportunity.’ Here is a video of the first test rig. ‘In an early design stage,’ says Joost, ‘we wanted to have our “pod” levitate with an EMS (electromagnetic suspension) that would require active control. In the end we opted for an EDS (electrodynamic suspension), which is passively stable! Much more robust, and safer, and the dynamics turned out to be less complicated.’

During the project the team was actually not much in touch with the 3mE Faculty. The team did everything themselves. They probably would have contacted experts if they had run into problems, but that was not necessary. Apart from supervision in the Dreamhall and training in media policy by TU Delft, Delft Hyperloop brought along or developed most of the knowledge themselves. ‘Reviewing the literature, running (aero)dynamic simulations, designing and building a carbon-fibre chassis and aluminium suspension were all things we did ourselves,’ says Joost. ‘We did make grateful use of the Measurement Shop though to borrow sensors that we equipped our test rig with.’

Mechanical engineering: drawing, testing and building dreams together
Mechanical engineering brings together theoretical discoveries and designs with practice. That is exactly what happens at TU Delft’s Dreamhall. Students dream about new solutions, draw them, and then actually test and build them. ‘I am certain,’ says Joost, ‘that every team has one or more mechanical engineers on board. And in addition to our most important “apparatus”, the vehicle itself, we also built two apparatuses that have received less attention: test rigs with a horizontal and a vertical aluminium disc that can be accelerated to as much as 360 km/h, which we tested our levitation system on. This enabled us to divide the major challenge of building a complete vehicle into smaller challenges that could be solved independently.’

Do Joost and Tim have any words of advice for researchers, students and future students? ’Invest in theory,’ says Joost, ‘but never lose sight of the practical side. That is where it will eventually happen, and that is where people use the knowledge that you have developed. And I would recommend that students and future students take a look at the Dreamhall, even if you are not a mechanical engineer. Every team can use a highly motivated student who knows, as the saying goes, how to roll up his or her sleeve. On 28 February Delft Hyperloop will have a get-together for anyone interested in the Aula!’ ‘Technically, it is a fantastic achievement,’ says Tim, ‘but to bring together teamwork, people and expertise and create added value from that and deliver a top performance together, that is fabulous.’

© 2017 TU Delft