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SolidWorks user wins Popular Science Invention Award

30 June 2010

Toronto snowmobile racer Shawn Watling was using cardboard, string, and stacks of paper to prototype his invention when a professional engineer friend suggested SolidWorks software might provide a better route. Since then, Watling has tripled his work speed and won the Popular Science Invention Award for a device that could turn his sport on its head.

Watling has designed a breakthrough snowmobile (pictured) track powered by a rearward axle instead of the traditional one in the front of the sled. Third-party tests show that when compared with traditional designs, Watling’s Rear Axle Drive (RAD) technology delivers 30 percent more power to the ground than a traditional design, meaning faster acceleration; a 10 percent increase in top speed; a 33 percent reduction in stopping distance; superior cruising and cornering; and up to 72 percent increase in fuel economy.

The former provincial hockey star and millwright is now in talks with several household-name snowmobile makers considering acquiring the patent-pending technology.

Watling modelled his current prototype machine in SolidWorks. He uses SolidWorks Simulation software for stress and motion analysis, and to cut excess weight from the design, exchanging DXF files with machinists for water and laser cutting.

I went through all the things a snow machine does and charted all the physics, says Watling. SolidWorks lets me try multiple scenarios using all types of geometry without having to make a physical prototype every time. For example, I rattled off eight quick swingarm designs in a couple of days and used SolidWorks Simulation to measure the ground forces, which is a critical factor in this design. I designed my latest sled prototype in four months with SolidWorks, avoiding three or four physical prototypes and probably a year and a half of labour.

By moving a snowmobile’s propulsion axle from the front to the back of the sled, RAD drives power directly to the ground. The design conserves energy by adding an extra 14 inches to the front track position and spending less effort pulling the track around the idler wheel.

Videos on Watling’s website show how RAD puts pressure on the skis when you want it (e.g., during acceleration) and lightens the pressure when you’re cruising to avoid the dangerous process of darting in and out of other riders’ grooves. Better weight distribution also minimizes sliding during braking and is crucial in fuel economy. To further demonstrate superior performance, Watling is installing RAD on racing sleds that will generate 500 hp and attempt the Guinness world record for the snow machine asphalt quarter-mile later this year. He’s also shooting for the vaunted Ice Oval record at Eagle River, Wisc. It has stood for 20 years.

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