Teams compete in Houghton to make snowmobiles cleaner

HOUGHTON–  Millions of snowmobilers take to the trails each year, making the sport a primary contributor to winter tourism here in the Upper Peninsula and across the country as well. At one time, the machines were nearly banned in our National Parks, but because of an initiative that became an annual event that is now hosted in the Keweenaw, riders today are able to experience places like Yellowstone in a way that only a snowmobile can offer.

These are the future designers of not just snowmobiles, but all things mechanical.

“Students like this that can come out of college with experience like this is invaluable to them. And when where looking for those new technologies that we can take and maybe implement into a car,” says Todd Fletemier, Vice President of Midwest Technology.

This group is from Fargo, North Dakota and isn’t competing in the endurance run, as their sled fits into a different category all together.

“Our sled is different because it has the OM 660 three cylinder turbo diesel, and we also have the feature of electronic power steering,” remarks Jeff Derosier, student of North Dakota State University.

“We have a class for gasoline. That’s a traditional snowmobile.  And we have a class foe diesels. That’s more of a utility sled, so they run little bit different series of test. They still have to be clean and quiet,” adds Jay Meldrum, Director of the Keweenaw Research Center.

Currently there is not a diesel snowmobile in production, so to make one these kids need to be creative.

To find a motor that would almost fit, the team located a Smart car that was no longer roadworthy, and they salvaged the engine. American Smart cars didn’t come with the diesel option so the students found their donor vehicle at a salvage yard in Canada.

A snowmobile’s engine compartment does not have a lot of room so modifications had to made. In this case the group redesigned the lubrication system which allowed for fitment of the motor.

This type of out of the box thinking is what technical employers across the board are looking for and these exercises allow the students to grow as engineers. Their efforts revolutionize manufacturing, and in the case of the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, snowmobilers nation wide are still permitted to ride on national lands because of achievements made.

“About 20 years ago there was controversy about snowmobiles in our National Parks. They were noisy they had a lot of oily smell to them. The industry responded with, ‘No, we can do this.  We can fix this.’ So they started working on laws to make them cleaner, laws to make them quieter, and at the same time, people from Yellowstone got together and started this completion with SAE International.” -Meldrum

The diesel team from North Dakota had to do some more engineering to their sled. Because of the extra weight, turning the unit proved to be difficult, so they designed a one of a kind power steering system.

“It’s very tough to turn now that we have this heavier motor. That engine adds about 100 pends from the stock engine.” -Derosier

As other groups make their way to Copper Harbor and back for an endurance test, a patrol crew will follow behind to offer assistance should there be a breakdown. Diesel sleds like this one would be useful for towing a disabled vehicle in that situation.

The challenge continues throughout the week which includes more testing, banquets, and a public display of the sleds At the Keweenaw Research Center on Wednesday at 6:00 pm. A full listing of events can be found at www.mtu.edu/snowmobile.