From Race Cars to Rockets: UC Irvine Engineering Students Utilize Welding

From Race Cars to Rockets: UC Irvine Engineering Students Utilize Welding

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The engineering students at the University of California, Irvine have the opportunity to get creative with their education. The addition of a welding component into their engineering program provides the basics needed to build projects like race cars and rocket launch stands.
Finished car at UC Irvine
UC Irvine welding with Miller welder

Welding is an integral part of many things that make up our world — including many of the things that engineers design and build.

That’s why the University of California, Irvine, has incorporated an optional welding component into its engineering program. Engineering students at the school can learn the basics of welding in Engineering 100, or welding core, and then put that training to use in a wide variety of projects — from building Baja and Formula SAE race cars to fabricating rocket launch stands and Hyperloop pods.

The region has a strong manufacturing base, and having hands-on training in welding helps the students become more competitive in the job market.

“I’ve noticed the ones that do get employed the quickest here are the ones with hands-on skills,” says Steve Heck, welding lab manager for the college’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department. “We still have a manufacturing base in this region, so it’s important for engineering students to have some welding knowledge.”

UC Irvine engineering students who are interested in learning the basics of welding, including MIG welding technique, welding safety, setting machine parameters, and how to recognize a good bead, can take the welding core class — a requirement before students can use the school’s welding lab for any class projects. The five-week course takes eight students per session and often fills up months in advance.

Students who complete that course can then put their welding training to use in another popular class, Engineering 189, or performance engineering. In this course, students design and build race cars for regional and national competitions, including Baja and Formula SAE competitions. At the events, the cars undergo testing that can include cornering, braking, hill climbs and acceleration testing.

“The students do everything that’s involved in building a race car from scratch,” Heck says. “Not every student in that class can weld, but each team needs a few students who know how to weld.”

In addition to the performance engineering class, many UC Irvine students incorporate welding into their senior design projects. Students must complete a senior design project individually or with a team. Projects include building a rocket engine — where students use welding to build the stand to hold the rocket for testing — and fabrication of a Hyperloop pod for the school’s HyperXite team, which placed fifth in the 2016 SpaceX International Hyperloop Pod Design competition. The competition is sponsored by SpaceX, a company founded by Elon Musk that designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. In the event, teams of university students and independent engineers design and build prototype pods for a Hyperloop, which is a high-speed ground transport system.  

The engineering students mostly use MIG welding, with a Millermatic® 141 MIG welder in the welding lab, but they also do some TIG welding on aluminum and chromoly. The welding core class doesn’t cover as much TIG welding, but Heck works outside of class with students who are interested in it. Students also use a Miller® Spectrum® 625 X-TREME™ plasma cutter for many of their projects.

The college has discussed expanding its facilities and combining all of its shops into one lab, including welding, race cars, sheet metal and machining.

“They’re always asking for more classes, more training in advanced welding,” Heck says. “We hope the welding component will continue to grow and our facilities will continue to grow.” 

Updated: February 5, 2020
Published: August 3, 2016