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Vehicle Structural Analysis for Automotive Systems: An Engineering Course for Fundamental Automobile Body Design

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

College-Industry Partnerships Division Technical Session II: Curriculum

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College Industry Partnerships

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Paper Authors


David Schmueser Clemson University

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David Schmueser joined the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-CAR) in August 2013 as Adjunct Professor of Automotive Engineering. He received his BS and MS degrees in Engineering Mechanics, and a PhD degree in Mechanical Engineering, all from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Prior to joining the CU-ICAR staff, Dr. Schmueser worked as a research engineer at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio and as a senior staff engineer at General Motors Research Labs in Warren, Michigan. More recently, he was an Adjunct Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and University Business Development Manager-US for Altair Inc. in Troy, Michigan. Dr. Schmueser has over 30 years experience in light-weight materials design, vehicle optimal structural design, and computer-aided-engineering instruction. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the College-Industry Partnership Division of the American Society of Engineering Education.

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The structure of the vehicle that you drove to work today protected your life. This simple “skeleton” of the car or truck is actually a highly complex multi-material, multi-degree of freedom structure that can fail in millions of different ways. As the automotive industry drives designs for light-weighting, the vehicle body is becoming even more of a complex structure that must operate robustly for 20 or more years.

For the development of this new course, a major US university teamed together with a major US automotive Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to invent a new way to educate the vehicle body design and manufacturing engineers of tomorrow. As the job of the body designer is to both model and validate through experiment, there has been a critical shortage of engineers that can not only do both, but also understand the interaction and feedback of the two activities, and how their integration provides for robust, long-lasting, and safe vehicle designs. Our objective was to team Professional Engineers from academia and industry to educate this new wave of Integration Engineers necessary to support more complex and data-driven US manufacturing.

Course Development Team

The team is composed of Engineers from a major US OEM, and faculty and students from the research center of a major US university. The research center is home to a school of complex systems design, development, and manufacturing. Here, over 200 students are pursuing graduate degrees centered on design and realization of complex products. Our students learn in an innovative research-and-educational program that focuses on the vehicle and its infrastructure from a systems-integration perspective. The Research group of the OEM has a mission to take vehicle ideas “from the napkin, to the computer screen, to the customer focus group, to rolling off the assembly line.” The focus here is hands-on engineering, so new employees must be not only competent in analytical and numerical modeling, but also capable in the testing lab. This requires a different kind of education model.

Team Members

• Senior Engineer (P.E.), Vehicle Structure Research and Reliability - Helped to define the structural analysis problem. • Senior Engineer, Vehicle Structural Research and Reliability - Clarified OEM skills needs and current gaps. • Manager, Vehicle Structural Research and Reliability - Provided prototype structural assemblies and testing jigs. • Associate Professor (Ph.D., P.E.) - Expert in data collection systems. • Postdoctoral Researcher (Ph.D.) - Expert in structural test programs. • Adjunct Professor (Ph.D.) - Expert in structural modeling and optimization. • Graduate Student - Developed structural model of automotive suspension. • Undergraduate Student - Developed test system, designed and fabricated custom components. • 32 Course Graduate Students - Gave feedback on the course content and delivery over 2 semesters.

Course Objectives

We wanted to establish a course that starts by teaching the fundamentals of structural modeling, but leads the students quickly and directly to the laboratory. At the graduate level this validation step is often excluded, so students end up with the skills to build complex models, but never to set up realistic experimental conditions and accurate data acquisition systems to test these models. Our goal was to provide the educational structure to teach the integration of the two disciplines, but to also take it a step further and have the exemplar application be a real structure being developed at a major Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). Teaming of Professional Engineers from both the industrial and university partners helped to define and execute a large-scale, multi-material structural analysis of a rear end suspension under development by the OEM.

Course Outcomes

Vehicle bodies protect each of our lives every day. Through this course development in partnership with industry we have created a new breed of integration engineer, capable of understanding how deeply a model can be believed, but with the practical skill to set up and run a full-scale automotive test experiment that allows him or her to trust the model for design and manufacturing of safer vehicles. We believe that this approach can serve as a future educational model where industry is fully in partnership in the course development and brings to bear the key issues, allowing students to become competent technical leaders, driving safe vehicle designs for the future. These students can now understand:

• The importance of testing, simulation and validation in the industrial setting, and how it benefits public safety, • The impact of their engineering decisions on the public health, safety, and welfare, • The necessity of laboratory safety, and • The importance of cooperation within their groups as well as with the faculty members, the importance of responsibility to their team, and the importance of self-reliance because they had to make certain assumptions that they did not have guidance for.

These are key skills for those designing safe vehicles.

Schmueser, D. (2016, June), Vehicle Structural Analysis for Automotive Systems: An Engineering Course for Fundamental Automobile Body Design Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27178

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