Title page for ETD etd-07152009-221149

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Borg, Lane
Author's Email Address lborg@vt.edu
URN etd-07152009-221149
Title An Approach to Using Finite Element Models to Predict Suspension Member Loads in a Formula SAE Vehicle
Degree Master of Science
Department Mechanical Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
West, Robert L. Jr. Committee Chair
Ferris, John B. Committee Member
Merkle, Matt Committee Member
  • Formula SAE
  • finite elements
  • vehicle dynamics
  • suspension design
Date of Defense 2009-05-28
Availability unrestricted
A racing vehicle suspension system is a kinematic linkage that supports the vehicle under complex loading scenarios. The suspension also defines the handling characteristics of the vehicle. Understanding the loads that the suspension carries in a variety of loading scenarios is necessary in order to properly design a safe and effective suspension system. In the past, the Formula SAE team at Virginia Tech has used simplified calculations to determine the loads expected in the suspension members. This approach involves several large assumptions. These assumptions have been used for years and the justification for them has been lost.

The goal of this research is to determine the validity of each of the assumptions made in the method used for calculating the vehicle suspension loads by hand. These assumptions include modeling the suspension as pinned-pinned truss members to prevent bending, neglecting any steering angle input to the suspension, and neglecting vertical articulation of the system. This thesis presents an approach to modeling the suspension member loads by creating a finite element (FE) model of the entire suspension system. The first stage of this research covers the validation of the current calculation methods. The FE model will replicate the suspension with all of the current assumptions and the member loads will be compared to the hand calculations. This truss-element-based FE model resulted in member loads identical to the hand calculations.

The next stage of the FE model development converts the truss model to beam elements. This step is performed to determine if the assumption that bending loads are insignificant is a valid approach to calculating member loads. In addition to changing the elements used from truss to beam element, the suspension linkage was adapted to more accurately model the methods by which each member is attached to the others. This involves welding the members of each control arm together at the outboard point as well as creating a simplified version of the pull rod mounting bracket on the upper control arm. The pull rod is the member that connects the ride spring, damper, and anti-roll bar to the wheel assembly and had previously been mounted on the upright. This model reveals reduced axial components of load but increases in bending moments sizable enough to reduce the resistance to buckling of any member in compression.

The third stage of model development incorporates the steer angle that must be present in loading scenarios that involve some level of cornering. An analysis of the vehicle trajectory that includes the effects of slip angle is presented and used to determine the most likely steer angle the vehicle will experience under cornering. The FE model was adapted to include the movement of the steering linkage caused by driver input. This movement changes the angle of the upright and steering linkage as well as the angle at which wheel loads are applied to the suspension. This model results in a dramatic change in member loads for loading cases that involve a component of steering input. Finally, the FE model was further enhanced to account for vertical movement of the suspension as allowed by the spring and damper assembly. The quasi-static loading scenarios are used to determine any member loading change due to vertical movement. The FE model is also used to predict the amount of vertical movement expected at the wheel center. This data can be used by the suspension designer to determine if changes to the spring rate or anti-roll bar stiffness will result in a more desirable amount of wheel movement for a given loading condition. This model shows that there is no change in the member loads due to the vertical movement of the wheel.

This thesis concludes by presenting the most important changes that must occur in member load calculations to determine the proper suspension loading under a variety of loading scenarios. Finally, a discussion of future research is offered including the importance of each area in determining suspension loads and recommendations on how to perform this research.

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