Clemson University’s Deep Orange initiative offers radical approach to automotive-engineering education

Students, faculty, partners to build prototype vehicles at CU-ICAR

GREENVILLE, S.C. — A new long-term initiative at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) will advance the university’s automotive-engineering graduate research and education program and position its graduates ahead of the competition for jobs and automotive industry leadership.

Called Deep Orange for its commitment to Clemson-style competitiveness, the framework will transform the Carroll A. Campbell Jr. Graduate Engineering Center, which houses the automotive engineering master’s and doctoral degree programs, into an innovative model original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and supplier. Students, faculty and participating partners will engineer and manufacture a new vehicle prototype each year, giving the students experience in vehicle design, development, prototyping and production planning from their entry into the program until graduation. The first Deep Orange vehicle is expected to be completed next spring.

Each project will focus on leapfrogging the latest vehicle technologies by eliminating the constraints and “we’ve-always-done-it-that-way” legacies that pervade the automotive industry. Without these constraints and by applying a systems engineering approach, researchers, students and partners from industry can freely and quickly explore the optimal integration of new technologies.

“This concept sets us apart,” said Imtiaz Haque, executive director of the Carroll A. Campbell Jr. Graduate Engineering Center. “Deep Orange embodies the term ‘systems integration.’ It provides entrepreneurs and industry partners with an open innovation platform to showcase future technologies through intensive proof-of-concept collaboration involving all our graduate students. Through this initiative, they will understand clearly how to innovate and develop projects, and the experience will make them the leadership work force of the future.

“This is the essence of what we committed to provide for the automotive and motorsports industry with this program based on what industry leaders told us of their needs.”

Systems integration involves making sure the multiple systems that make up the 21st century automobile work together; that modifications or improvements in one aspect of design do not negatively affect other aspects. The automotive engineering graduate program comprises four major research thrusts: manufacturing, design and development, vehicle electronic systems and systems integration.

Paul Venhovens, the BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration, will lead the Deep Orange initiative.

“When our students graduate, they will have been directly, intimately involved in the development of various aspects of a vehicle in a research and education environment that encourages creativity and entrepreneurship, responsiveness to market demands, consumer preferences and issues of sustainability,” Venhovens said. “It will also expose students to the capabilities and limitations of certain technologies, including functional interdependencies and conflicts. These aspects are often ignored in single-focus traditional engineering programs.”

Venhovens said the beauty of the Deep Orange project is its flexibility. “This is a fluid curriculum that allows us to think outside of conventional course work and focus on the product and the consumer’s needs. Each year’s project will be unique, with different problems and different parameters for success. The scope of the experience that this initiative will provide for our students will be very attractive to the industry.”

Collaboration with private-sector and government partners is a cornerstone of the CU-ICAR program, and Deep Orange leaders plan to collaborate with a wide spectrum of the automotive and motorsports industry. For example, the 7,500 member Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) formed a collaborative partnership with Clemson University in August, focusing on the Deep Orange initiative as the centerpiece of the overall relationship. The Deep Orange vision will be formally presented to an international industry and media audience during a high-profile technology briefing session at the 2009 SEMA Show in Las Vegas in November.

“For SEMA, Deep Orange can demonstrate the integration of specialty equipment and performance-aftermarket components, total-vehicle systems and modules, offering new opportunities for interested SEMA member companies to participate directly,” Haque said. “We will also work with academic institutions with complementary expertise. Deep Orange will enable us to collaborate with anyone.”

For students, the Deep Orange concept offers the opportunity of a lifetime, according to Ph.D. candidate Marshall Saunders.

“Deep Orange gives us the opportunity to design a vehicle using innovative methods that will apply to the OEM of the future. The opportunity for us to work with suppliers and manufacturers in the design and implementation of new products into this vehicle is a great experience that will prepare us for the demands of working for an OEM or other automotive or motorsports company.”

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