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Altair and Shell Eco-marathon

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Shell Eco-marathon partner Altair creates software and cloud computing systems to develop products for some of the biggest companies in the world.

From refrigerators to airliners - Altair’s tools enable design and optimisation capabilities to help companies increase efficiency. 

The technology company partnered with Shell Eco-marathon four years ago, and are now a regular fixture at racetracks and universities helping students achieve the best results from their designed and built cars.

We spoke to Altair’s Darius Fadanelli and Nic Minaar to find out why they chose to work with Shell Eco-marathon...

Hi both, tell us why you partnered with Shell Eco-marathon. 

Darius: Altair’s key focus in business is to help people utilize our tools to their maximum. We use Shell Eco-marathon to try to make sure students hit the ground running, are able to use the correct tools, and get them ready to use them in industry in whatever careers they go into. We can’t wait any more until masters programmes or PHDs for students to learn these skills, it’s too late! We need to do it earlier. And Shell Eco-marathon allows us to work with students this way, so they can really jump ahead through their knowledge of industry tools.

Nic: They wouldn’t really be able to use this technology anywhere else. Altair’s optimization tools are just so much more accessible than others, and for students learning how to use these tools for the first time, that accessibility is important. 

What is the most satisfying thing about being involved with the programme? 

Darius: The energy at the events is contagious. It’s like any relationship, every year you understand more about the other person. I wish I knew four years ago, what I know now. You learn more and more about how you can help the students every year. The students are busy, it’s such a big event for them, and sometimes they have the blinkers on so we have to learn and adopt the best ways to talk to them.

For me the satisfaction is about reaching that critical mass of getting the students to a point where they can achieve more without you than with you, that’s when you know you’ve helped an individual, but also you’ve made the difference that means this smart person can go on and achieve more. 

Nic: The students also teach us so much about our own technology, it creates a great feedback channel. I’m always inspired by how much they want to learn and how eager they are to develop new technologies. 

What are your Shell Eco-marathon highlights?

Nic: I think there’s a lot of serious innovation that comes out of Shell Eco-marathon. Good design, innovative strategies for driving, new mechanical concepts. And the industry are looking at a lot of these, in many instances ideas that are starting with Shell Eco-marathon teams will be commonplace in a few years time. 

The best thing for me is it inspires university and high school kids to go follow programmes in the STEM fields. There’s a study that shows that after the Apollo programmes in the 50s and 60s lots more kids studied science. I see the Shell Eco-marathon programme having the same effect on kids wherever it is put on. 

Darius: Getting teams to that level where they can achieve more with us than without us.

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Will Smith - Team Leader, Duke University
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2 x 1st place 2017, 2018 in Shell Eco-marathon Americas Regional Competition, Battery Electric Prototype category 

1 x 1st place 2018 Shell Eco-marathon Americas Regional Competition, Hydrogen Prototype category

Altair offered up their services so that we could help the performance of our vehicle after our Guinness World Record win. We zeroed in on their CFD (computational flow dynamics) offerings.

They gave us access to software and access to engineers to help us learn how to use the software. It was a pretty big deal when they got in touch, it was sinking in that our world record was an important thing. 

We didn’t have access to any of these capabilities before - so it was a great thing for us to be able to start using these tools efficiently and appropriately. 

It was really educational and insightful working with the Altair team. We knew what CFD was and how it works, but we’d never been able to properly see how the process works, and then action the information.

Between the car that we used in 2018 and 2019 we saw over a 30% decrease in drag from aerodynamic effects which we attribute entirely to being able to work with the Altair tools. 

We knew there were some aerodynamic changes we needed to make, but we didn’t know what. We had done one wind tunnel test, but they are $800 an hour, so where not something we could regularly do. For this reason the Altair tools were hugely helpful to us.

I’d say the key benefit was gaining a lot of insight into your design that you wouldn’t normally be able to do without extremely expensive design tools.

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Byron Blakey-Milner, team lead: Nelson Mandela University Eco-Car team.
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Winners: Shell Eco-marathon South Africa Challenger Competition, Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Prototype category, 2016, 2017, 2018

In 2018 we ended up having a very interesting year. We were already heavily involved with Altair, and we had started developing parts and components to be built using 3D printing. And as far as we knew at the time we were the only people in the country doing this.

For most of 2018 we spent the time designing these titanium components to be 3D printed.

We got 5 or 6 new parts on the vehicle, and I think that had a major part to play in us winning the ICE category at Shell Eco-marathon South Africa in 2018. 

Through the Altair partnership we were able to pick up extremely good international level experience. It’s just not available locally.

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