Scale Hyperloop Project Commentary

I had a blast working on the Scale Hyperloop project for my ME470 Mechanical Engineering senior design project at UIUC. After all, none of the other groups got to work on a project as relevant and ambitious as ours. Compared to many of the teams, our team did a great deal of work. We had ambitions to design the scale hyperloop’s three subsystems, obtain all of the materials, build the subsystems, and integrate the three into a testable working system, all in 16 weeks. When put this way, it is understandable that we did not finish what we set out to accomplish, but for me, understanding is short of achieving the satisfaction of a job completed.

On a positive note, a few weeks after the end of the semester, we did successfully pull a vacuum on the completed tube. Even though we quickly discovered that our pressure sensor was not intended for a vacuum, let’s assume the unchanging numbers during our leak test indicated the system did not leak significantly.

Motor work has been ongoing, delayed due to time constraints on the water jet machine in the MechSE machine shop, which we used to cut our six motor stators. The capsule was not completed due to time constraints on the students who were leading the capsule work. (Their time was being spent making a super cool radio vest for rescue dogs that would allow a handler to guide a whole pack of rescue dogs instead of just one.) 

In light of the successes, failures, and challenges encountered and now several weeks of perspective, here are my thoughts on the project:

  • Designing, building, and integrating three complex systems in one semester was more of a challenge than we recognized. Surprisingly none of the faculty called us out on this and told us to focus our efforts. 
  • The tight turning radius we used for the track due to space and monetary constraints drastically changed the dynamics of the system. It changed the project from evaluating the physics of a capsule traveling at near sonic speeds to one where we were trying to build a low-cost, low-speed representation.
  • Off-the-shelf components were a huge time and money saver. Good examples were the class 150 flanges from McMaster-Carr and 5 foot radius rigid conduit elbows from Picoma used for the tube. 
  • Machining, welding, and transformation, on the other hand, is very expensive.
  • We could have saved even more time with off-the-shelf components by calling or visiting the suppliers of such products instead of relying on web searches. It was easy to get bogged down in the excess information returned in these searches. 
  • Industrial materials are expensive, especially high-quality steel, wire, and plastics. 
  • Access to quality tools is everything. I didn’t realize how well Tesla provided tools during my internship there until I needed things constantly for this project. Where can I snag a decent set of drill bits again? Where did the calipers go?
  • After spending $5000+ on the project, I really hope MechSE at Illinois will continue this project in coming semesters. If a full team is assigned to each subsystem, I think they should be able to get a basic system running by the end of another semester of work.

Thanks to MechSE at the University of Illinois for letting us tackle the project, Shell Oil Company for giving us cash to pursue it, our Adviser Carlos Pantano-Rubino for putting up with my stubbornness, and my teammates Elliot Giraud, Louis Zhao, Logan Wan, and Tut Tangtragulcharoen. 

 

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