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UMD’s Technology Turns Heads at the Clean Snowmobile Challenge

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UMD’s Technology Turns Heads at the Clean Snowmobile Challenge

In a competition to create a cleaner-running, quieter snowmobile, the University of Minnesota Duluth was in full force at the 2014 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge held in early March. Not only did they reduce friction, they turned heads to dominate the competition when it came to style and functionality.

The club walked away with the BASF Corporation Award for Innovation for the first time, as it competed against 13-16 schools from around the United States and Canada.

“I knew our design was going to be unique, but I never thought we were going to get this much stir over it,” said junior Joe Lofgren, team captain.

The first day they passed inspections, barely. On the second day, they made it to the finish line in the 100-mile Endurance Run, but it was on the third day, that everything changed.

Each team gave a presentation about their snowmobile. The slides flashed across the screen, students talked, and judges took notes. But when UMD’s team showed the audience its roller bearing drive sprocket, the atmosphere in the room became charged with excitement.

Kyle Levanen, one of the UMD student team leaders, said it was dramatic. “We got to the slide on the drive sprocket and every head in the room turned, everybody was instantly alert. People stood up. Industry professionals asked one question after the next, and it didn’t stop until long after the presentation was over.”

Joe Lofgren, said, “No one had ever brought anything like it to the Challenge before.” And then another development took the group by surprise. “A couple of industry professionals told us to get a patent on it right away,” Lofgren said.

Joe Lofgren with the teams roller bearing drive sprocketBrandon Salaba and Joe Lofgren designed the drive sprocket. “The engine was a good motor so we looked in other areas for redesign,” Lofgren said. “Most solid enhancements come from drive line efficiencies.” Roller bearing drive sprockets are found in other tracked machinery.

“It is a great feeling to have received this award,” said senior Brandon Salaba. “We worked really hard to get this design and fabricate the drive sprocket.”

The drive sprocket design secured the BASF Corporation Award for Innovation for the UMD team, and captured the judges’ attention. The drive sprockets are the wheels that drive the track. Teh design of the snowmobile uses ball bearings that remove any friction in the engagement and disengagement process. The drive sprocket, exhaust system with integrated three-way catalyst and a more economically turned engine control unit for maximum fuel economy is what set the UMD club apart from the competition.

Local parts for the snowmobile came from local resources such as O’Reilly Auto Parts, EBay and donations. There was also a specialized part that came from a company based in Germany.

This year, engineering undergraduates worked on the sled and attended the competition, including Eric Skare, Brandon Salaba, Joe Lofgren, Kyle Levanen, Dylan Dahlheimer, Kyle Schrper, Heather Tinus, Nicole Sovde, and Charlie Gordon.

“The competition was fun and stressful,” said Levanen. “Our group was all new and we had to compete with other teams who had been doing it for years.”

Eric Skare said he was exhausted by the end of the each day. “I got nervous. We were concentrating and working hard. We knew that at any moment something could break, melt off, or snap, and we would have to take the sled apart and fix it.”

Charlie Gordon rode the sled in the Endurance eventLofgren, who drove the snowmobile in two of the events, said it took concentration. During the Objective Handling Event, a half-mile course, Lofgren had to stay between the flags without knocking them down. “I had to dodge flags and rough spots and make it around the course as fast as possible.” Lofgren finished the race with a sharp turn and as required, he brought the snowmobile to a stop inside a box.

Salaba said he is sure the experience will help him get a job.” At the competition, we got technical help from vendors and professionals,” he said. “I learned so much in those few days. I can build off the knowledge I gained and use it to help others later.”

The snowmobile took about a year to complete. The club started getting organized last school year and identified all of their team’s leaders to distribute the work.

“We spent a few months designing all of our components, disassembling the snowmobile, and ordering our parts,” said senior Kyle Schroer. “The final couple months consisted of implementing all of our ideas, reassembling the snowmobile and lots of time spent turning the engine.”

The group often brainstormed for ideas. Every week they met to discuss everyone’s designs and visions. Schroer said they would often feed off each other’s ideas to develop the most practical and innovative design.

“It definitely takes a lot of time and effort to complete a project like this,” said Schroer. “You have to have strong motivation and commitment to stick with it through the end. We spend many hours not only wrenching on the snowmobile, but also complete less appealing tasks like the required technical design paper and understanding all of the riles for the competition.”

Lofgren agreed that the project was very time-consuming.

The UMD snowmobile club is a student life organization with the mission to re-engineer an existing snowmobile to reduce emissions, noise, fuel economy and compete in the annual Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Members range from freshman to seniors and come from all backgrounds, although, most members are from the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (MIE). Four members worked on the snowmobile but were unable to attend the Challenge: Andrew Nelson, Spencer Johnson, Mark Boeckmann, and Brenden Bungert.

The advisors for the team are Emmanuel Enermouh, an associate professor, and Jose Carrillo, an instructor, both in MIE. “Carrillo was very knowledgeable about materials and setting up team,” said Skare. “He encouraged us and pushes up forward. He’s also enthusiastic about the patent process.” The team also spoke highly of Professor Enermouh. “He was invaluable,” said Lofgren. “He was able to get us permission to try the snowmobile out on the UMD campus, and he held with the financing and the big purchases.”

Members of the team
Members of UMD’s Clean Snowmobile Team: Brandon Salaba, Kyle Schroer, Eric Skare, Dylan Dahlheimer, Joe Lofgren, Kyle Levanen, Heather Tinus, Nicole Sovde, and Charlie Gordon.

“We want to thank Arctic Cat and Polaris Industries, who donated sleds,” said Enemouh. “We really appreciate the many other sponsors who donated parts or monetary funds to keep the project moving forward. These sponsors include Cliffs Natural Resources, Kilim, Heraeus, Lake Superior Consulting, New Page, US Steel, Camoplast, RJ Sport and Cycle, Performance Electronics, Woody’s, Micro Squirt, Northern Tool, GPM Ince, Kolar and Chesney Auto Parts.” The MIE department lends the usage of their shop. The UMD snowmobile team is an ongoing, year-long project. Lofgren had one more person to recognize “I would like tot thank Darrell Anderson for the dedication of this time and wisdom in helping us get this far.”

UMD earned the BASF Corporation Award for Innovation. Here the BASF representative presents a plaque to Joe Lofgren and Brandon Salaba from UMD.

UMD earned the BASF Corporation Award for Innovation. Here the BASF representative presents a plaque to Joe Lofgren and Brandon Salaba from UMD.

All of the students agree that designing and building a vehicle for an SAE competition requires ingenuity, rigorous engineering documentation, and commitment above and beyond the standard university curriculum. Succeeding at the SAE Challenge highlights the students’ mastery of a variety of technologies.

The team will be competing again next year with the same snowmobile. They have already started meeting to make improvements.

“We are already starting to figure out what other modifications and further refinements we will be doing to the sled for next year,” said Lofgren.

Michigan Technological University, which hosted the event, experienced the snowiest winter in years, with temperatures solidly sub-freezing, ideal conditions for this Society of Autmotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Here engineering students in the internal combustion category took a stock snowmobile and re-engineer it. Their aim was to reduce emissions and noise and increase fuel efficiency while preserving the riding excitement demanded by snowmobile enthusiasts.

UMD faced a fiercely competitive field. In a contest traditionally marked by breakdowns and uncertain beta-version technologies, the sleds this year were remarkably reliable. On the second day of the challenge, UMD made it to the finish line in the 100-mile Endurance Run. Nine sleds made it out of ten in competition. In previous years, this event was almost guaranteed to winnow out half the entrants.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge was sponsored by Michigan Tech by the Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. For more information on the Challenge, see


Story written by Cheryl Reitan (creitan@d.umn.du) with UMD’s Department of External Affairs