Meet the Leads – Connor Varney

Hi, my name is Connor Varney and I'm the Mechanical Engineering Team Lead for the University of Kentucky Solar Car Team. The team is currently in the construction phase of our new car, Gato del Sol VI. The team started in the Fall semester by machining large sheets of foam into the top half of the car model that has been designed and updated for the past year and a half. These pieces of foam were then glued together in our garage and sanded smooth to be used as the positive for a mold that will be used to fabricate our carbon fiber body.

The team then loaded this foam plug into our trailer and took it down to Middletown Composites in Berea, KY, who graciously agreed to let us use their workspace and assisted us with manufacturing the composite shells needed for Gato VI. We would like to thank Middletown for all their support and assistance in making Gato del Sol VI. At Middletown, the team used a gel-coat paint to coat the entire surface to give the mold a smooth surface finish. Afterwards, an epoxy resin was used to wet layers of fiberglass that were then laid onto the foam to form the mold we will lay the shell up into. After the foam was removed, any imperfections were filled and then the surface was waxed to help the carbon fiber layup release better when we were ready to remove it. The canopy was laid up first as it is hinged from the top shell and needs to be a separate part. Laying up involves cutting the core foam material into the strips and pieces needed, getting the appropriate amounts of carbon fabric cut and making sure that the mold can hold a vacuum. The first layers of carbon are put into the mold and wetted with the epoxy resin and this continues for the foam and the inner layers of fabric and then a vacuum is pulled on the mold to pull out any excess resin and to make a stronger bond.

The week before the semester started back up the canopy was pulled out of the mold and trimmed; while that was happening, other team members were preparing for the layup of the back portion of the driver bubble and the rest of the top shell. This layup started with fiberglass being laid up as the rest of the driver bubble as the communication antennas are going behind the driver and carbon fiber can cause issues with radio signals. Next came all the pieces and layers of the top shell, which was a more complex layup because it has several reinforcing strips of core foam that crisscross the mold to stiffen it.

At this point in time, the top shell is resting in the mold on one side of our garage while the rest of the garage is being taken up by the bottom shell foam. Currently, the team is working on sanding and shaping the bottom shell foam and in the next week or so we will be starting the process over by making a mold and laying up the bottom shell of Gato VI. Testing on the structural composite panels that will make up the chassis of Gato VI is also coming up in the next week or so. After that, the car will really start taking shape, and before too long, be driving around.