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VALLEY FOCUS | Northridge

Gift Puts Race Car Project on Fast Track

October 07, 1998|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

Don't ask these students to stick to a pokey 55 mph limit. Not only are they building zippy miniature race cars, but they are doing it faster and better with the recent gift of sophisticated manufacturing machines.

Seventeen engineering students at Cal State Northridge are building a miniature formula race car for their senior project, aided by two computerized machines--valued at nearly $200,000--donated by Haas Automation Inc. of Oxnard. With the new equipment they will be able to make the necessary auto parts, and the fully operational cars, more quickly.

"They're great," said student Fabian Morales, 28. "Not only are we going to do it faster, we will do it better." And with more precision, Morales said.

Students, faculty and Haas representatives officially unveiled the machines at the school of engineering Tuesday afternoon. They watched a demonstration of the computer numerically controlled machines' prowess. Through a small window in the machines, visitors saw how each one cut precise metal parts, plunking out shiny finished components.

"It's state of the art, as good as you can get for the money," said engineering professor Stewart Prince, 38, who serves as the students' advisor. "It's exactly what we need. It fits perfectly into our curriculum."

Student Juan De Paz, 24, agreed.

"These [machines] make our lives much easier," De Paz said, explaining that the equipment could make in 20 minutes parts that would take the students 30 hours to finish by hand.

Before they graduate, the students are given a choice of adapting a prototype passenger car from a Chevrolet Lumina or building a race car from scratch.

"I'm for, 'Let's race. Let's see how fast they can go.' I opted for speed," said De Paz.

Those who choose to create a race car must raise around $30,000 to build one and take it to the Formula Society of American Engineers competition, held each May in Detroit.

Last May, CSUN students raced a 520-pound race car that accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, De Paz said. They placed 22 out of 110 schools.

Gene Haas, president of Haas Automation and a CSUN alumnus, said the equipment would help the students gain more hands-on knowledge, making them more attractive to companies after they graduate.

"We're happy to do it," said Haas, 45. "It's nice to return something to the school I went to."

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