Zeeland manufacturer helps WMU team build Formula One-style race car

The success of Formula Racing Team at Western Michigan University is driven, in part, by cutting-edge products developed by Plascore. 

Members of the WMU Formula Racing Team recently visited the Zeeland manufacturer that supplies materials for their Formula One-style race car.

The WMU Formula Racing Team is made up of about 20 engineering students who design and manufacture a small race car each year, starting from scratch. The team competes among the top schools in the world in events sanctioned by the Society of Automotive Engineers International and the Sports Car Club of America, allowing engineering students to apply what they learn in the classroom to a hands-on project. 

For the last two decades, Plascore has provided the team with lightweight honeycomb core and energy absorption technology, providing top-of-the-line safety for the drivers while not impacting speed or performance.

“We love to see this type of collaboration between our region’s primary employers and educational institutions,” says Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. “This partnership showcases one of many best-in-class products manufactured right here in this region. It is also a win-win for employer and educator with brand awareness and talent attraction on the one hand, and a rich learning experience for the emerging workforce on the other.”

Lightweight safety technology

Plascore, a family-owned company that specializes in honeycomb composite materials, has been headquartered in Zeeland since it was founded in 1977. It manufactures a full range of crushable core barriers as well as custom honeycomb configurations for an array of energy-absorption applications. The company’s aluminum honeycomb core is an ideal energy absorber. 

The WMU team began working with Plascore in 2007. Multiple components of its SAE Formula car are made from Plascore’s energy-absorption materials. 

The WMU team has been working with Plascore since 2007. (Plascore)

The SAE engineering team meets in labs throughout the build season, and in May the finished car competes at the Berlin Raceway in Marne. 

“Western Michigan and Plascore did a collaboration to prove that Plascore’s aluminum core could be used successfully as an impact attenuator for SAE vehicles, and since then, that configuration has actually become one of the standard options for all SAE vehicles across the country,” Redder says.

The impact attenuator is a portion of the front bumper that helps minimize the impact to the driver in the event of a front-end collision. Aluminum honeycomb core is an ideal energy absorber and provides a distinct advantage over other energy-absorbing materials in the market. 

Test ride

Four members of the Bronco Racing team, including WMU Formula SAE chief engineer Andrew Redder, stopped in Zeeland Oct. 19 to visit one of their gold-level sponsors and show off this year’s car.

A portion of Plascore Drive was blocked off so driver Noah Gould could take the car for a spin. Plascore staff, engineers, and leadership, including Plascore President Olaf Huebner, braved the rain to see their honeycomb composite in action.

“This partnership with WMU’s Bronco Racing has been so successful for everyone involved,” Huebner says. “Plascore is able to provide top-of-the-line materials to ensure driver safety for the SAE Formula team, and in return some of our best engineers have come out of the Western Michigan’s College of Engineering.

“We look forward to partnering with Western Michigan University and other educational Institutions to bridge the gap between textbooks and real-world application.”
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.