Zach Stephens is a recent graduate of Colorado State University (CSU) and EcoCAR2 teammate of Nick Skadberg. I interviewed Zach at the EcoCAR2 Year 2 Competition. See our video and blog interview below.
When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
“I’ve always been curious since I was young and I had a lot of hands-on hobbies when I was younger. I excelled at math and science in high school, so I decided to major in mechanical engineering at CSU and never looked back. Like many of my peers, I’m not just interested in what things do, but how and why things work. I suppose the idea of designing and creating something from the ground up really drew my attention to engineering.”
Tell us about the EcoCAR2 project this year and your role on the team.
“CSU’s EcoCAR2 Chevrolet Malibu has an extremely unique vehicle architecture. It it is a plug-in fuel cell hybrid electric vehicle. I was a member of the mechanical team, one of five teams on CSU’s EcoCAR2 project. The mechanical team was responsible for safely and effectively integrating the electric motor, transmission, battery box, hydrogen tanks, and fuel cells into the vehicle. I took an interest and responsibility for performing structural analysis on all significant modification to our vehicle chassis, as well as mounts for packaged components. All of these analyses were required by competition rules.”
How did you use Siemens software on the project?
“I used Siemens’ NX 8 and NX Nastran frequently throughout the project. NX allowed our team to successfully visualize and integrate all major and minor components underneath the hood and in the trunk. NX also allowed us to design mounts with significant space constraints. Finite element models were created and we utilized NX’s simulation capabilities to perform finite element analysis on all major component mounts to ensure crashworthiness of the vehicle. From these results, it was easy to iterate our initial designs from the information the simulations provided us. Also, a major portion of the mechanical team’s work was replacing the major four bar cross member with a structural carbon fiber battery box. Siemens’ NX and NX Nastran were utilized heavily in this detailed analysis process to prove that the integration and design of the composite box would retain the chassis stiffness.”
Any lessons learned from EcoCAR2?
“EcoCAR2 was a very time intensive project. I learned that time management and effective communication can greatly affect the outcome of goals on a project. I became great friends with the people I worked with, making the long hours and frustrating hurdles easier to tackle. A large and involved project, such as EcoCAR2, requires a true team effect. CSU’s team was really great about communication between teams, as well as shifting manpower to teams that needed more help at certain times. Having knowledge of multiple disciplines of engineering is also very beneficial when working on a large project. I also recognized that enthusiastic, dedicated, and resourceful project advisors and graduate research assistants (GRAs) can make a world of difference.”
Zach was also interviewed for this District Drive YouTube video:
What advice would you give students considering engineering as a career?
“The engineering path is tough, but rewarding. Engineers will always be in demand and are so integral in changing the world, solving problems, and pushing the forefront of technology to improve the quality of life for so many people. I’d advise to work hard and to keep in mind that one’s work as an engineer may directly affect the safety of people.”
What’s next for you? What’s your dream job now that you’ve graduated?
“I’m pursuing a master’s of science in mechanical engineering (MSME) in the fall. I can’t say I know what I want to do for sure, but I am interested in the defense or aerospace industry. However, I definitely would not be opposed to working with hybrid electric vehicles again. I think this field is very exciting and there is work to be done. I will just see what opportunities open up for me in the future.”
Thanks Zach for taking the time to talk with us. Good luck with your master’s and future endeavors. If you want to see more from the Year 2 Competition, check out our EcoCAR2 Flickr photo set from the event.