When the college's Society of Manufacturing Engineers student chapter needed to improve its mini Baja vehicle for the 2012 Baja SAE competition in Wisconsin, manufacturing engineering technology students John L. LaFever Jr. and Andrew J. Strickler designed and manufactured a set of new steering knuckles. As a result, the vehicle withstood four days of grueling off-road competition without a single breakdown, placing the team 15th overall among more than 100 college teams from seven countries and three continents.

The task starts with hours of design work in SolidWorks, a computer aided drafting program, to devise a solid aluminum part for the club’s custom vehicle. The part would be made from a single piece of aluminum to improve on the prior year’s four-piece welded steel steering knuckles. One of the knuckles fatigued during competition in 2011 and finally broke when a competitor’s vehicle landed on the Penn College car.

The task starts with hours of design work in SolidWorks, a computer aided drafting program, to devise a solid aluminum part for the club’s custom vehicle. The part would be made from a single piece of aluminum to improve on the prior year’s four-piece welded steel steering knuckles. One of the knuckles fatigued during competition in 2011 and finally broke when a competitor’s vehicle landed on the Penn College car.

John L. LaFever Jr. uses computer-aided machining software called GibbsCAM to program an automated milling machine to manufacture a steering knuckle.

John L. LaFever Jr. uses computer-aided machining software called GibbsCAM to program an automated milling machine to manufacture a steering knuckle.

The two knuckles are produced on a Haas VFS computer-numeric control milling machine with a fourth axis.

The two knuckles are produced on a Haas VFS computer-numeric control milling machine with a fourth axis.

The students first produce a fixture to hold the material in place during the manufacturing process.

The students first produce a fixture to hold the material in place during the manufacturing process.

They then run a less expensive piece of material to test LaFever’s CAM program.

They then run a less expensive piece of material to test LaFever’s CAM program.

The program to produce the complex shape of the steering knuckles requires more than 100,000 lines of code.

The program to produce the complex shape of the steering knuckles requires more than 100,000 lines of code.

Solid surfacing using ball-ended tooling removes material in increments of one-10,000th of an inch.

Solid surfacing using ball-ended tooling removes material in increments of one-10,000th of an inch.

All three axes are run on an oblong angle.

All three axes are run on an oblong angle.

Run-time for each knuckle is about five to six hours.

Run-time for each knuckle is about five to six hours.

A finished aluminum steering knuckle sits next to its prototype, created in the college’s lab facilities using fuse definition modeling with ABS extruded plastic.

A finished aluminum steering knuckle sits next to its prototype, created in the college’s lab facilities using fuse definition modeling with ABS extruded plastic.

Placed onto the team’s Baja vehicle, the steering knuckle holds the spindle and brake mounts.

Placed onto the team’s Baja vehicle, the steering knuckle holds the spindle and brake mounts.

A proud thumbs-up after an impressive 12th-place finish in the event’s final challenge, the endurance race, a four-hour, car-punishing test of driver and design.

A proud thumbs-up after an impressive 7th-place finish in the event’s final challenge, the endurance race, a four-hour, car-punishing test of driver and design.

Contact information

Pennsylvania College of Technology
DIF 119

One College Avenue
Williamsport, PA 17701