College students design lightweight steel wheels

  • 24-Mar-2014 04:19 EDT
Steel Wheels 2014.jpg

Winners of the steel wheels design contest were chosen after students made presentations to a group of industry judges at the Lawrence Technological University campus in Southfield, MI. From left are Elizabeth Steenwyk (second place), Elizaveta Bondarenko (first place), and Peter Corey (third place). The winner won a $1500 scholarship, second place a $1000 scholarship, and third place a $500 scholarship. Each of the other participants received a $200 scholarship.


A college sophomore nabbed the top spot in a steel wheels competition focused on eye-appealing, lightweight-structure concept renderings from Lawrence Technological University (LTU) design students.

As a new twist on the annual contest, the 2014 competition required student designers to use the engineering results from the Steel Market Development Institute’s (SMDI) Lightweight Steel Wheel Project. That 2013 project had Altair ProductDesign working with SMDI to create a steel wheel with the equivalent mass and performance of a baseline production cast-aluminum wheel.

According to competition judge Tony Norton, Altair ProductDesign’s Executive Vice President, Americas, the LTU students participating in the contest used the topology results from the Altair/SMDI study and topology results created with solidThinking’s Inspire software program. The end results, noted Norton, were a “broad range of designs and spoke patterns.”

LTU transportation design sophomore Elizaveta Bondarenko was the winner of the 5th annual event. She created mesh steel wheel inserts and 3-D steel spokes for her target vehicle, the GMC Terrain Denali. “The wheel design is a lightweight structure, and it is structural and sculptural just like the GMC vehicle,” she said in an interview with SAE Magazines.

Bondarenko presented two design concept renderings, one with a mesh showing open holes and another in which the mesh has partially open holes. “Doing a mesh with fully open holes would be difficult to manufacture as it would be a long and expensive process. That’s a design that would be more appropriate for a concept vehicle,” she said.

For her envisioned production vehicle application, the inserts between each spoke look like an open-hole mesh even though the steel material isn’t fully removed. “It’s not cut-through, so there’s no need to worry about bending or breaking,” said Bondarenko. “Based on talks with engineers, this design would be easier to manufacture than a full open-hole mesh.”

Dylan Schmidt’s design rendering showed a wheel-tire graphic combination.

“The project is sponsored by not only SMDI, but also by Michelin. So you need to give Michelin some thought as well. I did that by making a tire that was aesthetically cohesive to the rim itself,” said Schmidt, a freshman transportation design student.

Schmidt’s flowing wheel-to-tire graphic design in a vibrant magenta-burgundy color was inspired by the Nissan IDX Nismo’s interior and exterior components.

Competition judge Nicho Vardis, Design Manager – SRT, Mopar and Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC, said Schmidt’s design concept made a bold visual statement. “The wheel almost looks bigger than it is because the graphic is wrapping around the wheel and the tire,” Vardis said.

Having a vehicle’s wheels and tires share a design is not unusual territory for a real-world concept application. “You will see these elements coexist,” Vardis noted to SAE Magazines, adding that it is “more widely used to express a long-term design vision for a brand because a concept vehicle is not subject to the abuse production cars see day-to-day.”

In contrast, a shared design for wheels and tires is quite unusual on a real-world production vehicle application. Explained Vardis, “Using colors on the side wall of the tires is a challenging task because of wheel scrub and wheel wear. Tire manufacturers are attempting to mold color into the tire, but one major roadblock to this process is tire de-lamination.”

Second-year steel wheel competition judge Michael Smith, Senior Designer, Creative Operations at Ford Motor Co., said the time spent with student designers provided paybacks.

“Working with students via critique sessions throughout the course of the project helps the students to hone their ability to analyze their work and eventually self-edit,” Smith explained to SAE Magazines. “I get to see how a student responds to criticism, and how they choose to react tells me a lot about their design mindset.”

Smith also noted that the steel wheels competition is one way to push students “beyond what they thought was their creative limit. The project and its constraints will always have the effect of bringing them back to reality. The most positive outcome is, of course, seeing a designer come up with an idea, work through the constraints, and ultimately provide an answer to the problem that no one had thought of before.”

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