Powering Future Engineering Talent

All set for the race are Singapore Polytechnic’s SunSPEC team (from left), Ng Qianhui, Roy Leung, Effy Chang and Lau Lok Yee.

SP Group has been SunSPEC’s presenter and main sponsor since 2015, helping more than 70 students hone their engineering skills on their self-made solar car.

A gruelling 3,000 km solar car race in blistering hot yet sometimes freezing conditions across the Australian desert will challenge a Singapore Polytechnic student team called SunSPEC. The team is out to prove that solar energy can effectively and efficiently power a car across this distance.

The World Solar Challenge is arduous and the unexpected can happen – such as unpredictable climate conditions, strong winds, technical and mechanical faults and other incidents. Since February, the team has been working tirelessly to understand the workings of the solar car, SunSPEC 6, which has been entered for this year’s edition of the biennial race. They have picked up the baton from previous cohorts of the polytechnic’s final-year students.

SunSPEC team members gaining hands-on experience under the tutelage of Singapore Polytechnic staff.

Students are trained in mechanical systems, battery monitoring systems, solar panels, and electrical and electronic components. They also learn about the telemetry system which harnesses data analytics that serve as a health check for the solar car during the race. Eventually, their technical skills will be tested to the extreme as they have to fix all problems on the spot.

Nothing will be left to chance, says Ng Qianhui, one of the 17 students in this year’s team. “Anything can go wrong. I’ve learnt to love this process of finding and fixing problems. It’s the way to be prepared,” she says.

SP Group engineer, Lim Liang Yuan (in blue), a SunSPEC alumnus, returned to provide support to the team (in black) in the lead-up to the race.

A comprehensive knowledge of the car is also necessary. “Even if something works, I want to know why it works,” says Roy Leung who is the telemetry expert. He will pull out connection points even if they are working because under them, there could be faults waiting to happen.

“Battery queen” Effy Chang so known for being the most well-versed on battery monitoring systems, sees the car as a system, with the battery working in harmony with other components to perform optimally.

Training future engineers can be expensive. The cost of materials can be substantial. Singapore Polytechnic lecturer and team manager Foo Fang Siong is very encouraged that SP Group is supporting the team with a $1 million sponsorship over five years, with the aim of grooming future engineers in creating sustainable solutions.

“With this sponsorship, we are able to train and prepare the students as well as the staff for new industry trends and skills. This is since the SunSPEC 6 solar car is actually an Electric Vehicle and leverages similar technologies,” he says.

Team participants, all final-year diploma students from various disciplines, can also apply for scholarships from SP Group. Alumni from previous SunSPEC teams who have joined SP are also returning to encourage and support the current group of participants.

SP Group engineer, Lim Liang Yuan (in blue), a SunSPEC alumnus, returned to provide support to the team (in black) in the lead-up to the race.

Meanwhile, the students are fast learners, absorbing as much as they can about solar technology and the workings of the car. They will solve problems quickly and leverage technology to give their solar car a strategic advantage in the race.

Being on the team has made the students more aware that engineering and sustainability require more than just technical expertise. Endurance, persistence and problem solving are important skills to have. Says Qianhui, who is driving the solar car with Lau Lok Yee this year, “Don’t fear to fail. I might plan that one way might work. But there are faults, so amend and reiterate until you get it right.”

To be a good engineer takes more than just problem-solving skills. It also means commitment, teamwork, the agility to adapt quickly. It sometimes even means taking a worldview to evolve with energy trends.  

Effy, however, continues to toil hard for the solar car to perform optimally. After all, engineering is about reliability and creating real-world solutions to improve quality of life, she says. 

This year’s SunSPEC team (in black tops) with staff from SP Group. More than 70 SunSPEC team members have been trained in engineering since 2015.

— 6 July 2019