Students give manufacturing skills a jolt

Woodland Regional High School students Tim Deschenes, left, and Derek Jonikas work on an electric car Tuesday during manufacturing class at the school in Beacon Falls. Students from the class built the car and another similar electric car to race at the Connecticut Electrathon on Friday. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — With only three days to go before the Connecticut Electrathon, the Hawks Fabrication and Design team was hard at work Tuesday morning getting its cars ready to race.

The team — students in Bill Carangelo’s manufacturing class at Woodland Regional High School — hustled around the shop in room 218 welding, sawing and doing whatever else was needed to put the finishing touches on two electric cars.

The culmination of the students’ work will come Friday when they travel to Lime Rock Park in Lakeville to compete against teams from other high schools in the Connecticut Electrathon.

The Connecticut Electrathon is an electric car race where teams of students build three-wheeled vehicles that are powered solely by batteries and fit one driver. The point of the Electrathon is not to cross the finish line first, but to do the most laps in one hour solely on battery power.

Friday’s race will mark the fourth time overall a team from Woodland has competed in the Electrathon, and the third time the students built their own cars from scratch to race.

The students start with a pile of metal, do a mockup of the car using PVC piping and then start building. A computer is wired into the cars to monitor the status of the motor and batteries.

“The kids do it all,” Carangelo said. “I push them along if I have to or I jump in if I have to.”

Last May, the team finished first in the novice division. Last November, the team was on pace to take first again when disaster struck. Carangelo said the team had completed 37 laps with 10 minutes to go when a spoke broke on a wheel causing the wheel to blow out.

The team learned from its mistake. For this week’s race, the students built the wheels from scratch using 11 gauge spokes, Carangelo said.

“We see how we can improve each car,” said senior Tom Lawlor, the shop “foreman” and one of the race drivers. “Last year, we got first place. In the fall, we had some problems where the car broke, but we saw how we can improve it and keep going.”

This year, the team is stepping up to the classic division and will race two cars — the one used last year and a new one built this school year — at the Electrathon.

Working off past experience, the students made some changes to the design for the new car. The new design includes a tombstone-shape top rather than a flat one to make it smaller, a simpler design for the shocks, and the batteries are on the outside instead of down the middle for a different weight distribution, explained sophomore Derek Jonikas, the lead fabricator for the new car.

Lawlor added the car is narrower and lighter and should be able to go farther come race day.

“Hopefully, we’ll come back with another trophy. That’s why we go to these things,” Carangelo said.