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June 4, 2024

Racing to Agile Product Design

From students designing innovative electric vehicles, to worldwide automotive manufacturers, all teams benefit from an agile approach to product design.
Jonas Sandelmann is the head of the KIT University Student Formula 1 Electric racing team for 2024
Jonas Sandelmann, Team Lead, KIT University Formula Student Electric Team


Learn How Agile Product Design Works for The KIT University Racing Team

If you like going fast, then you are going to love today’s podcast. I’m talking to one of the top minds in KA-RaceIng, a worldwide contest where the most brilliant engineering students and the most innovative technology companies come together to produce amazing automobiles and learning opportunities all around. My guest today is Jonas Sandelmann, the team lead for the KIT University racing team.

This year, aPriori is a gold sponsor for the KIT University racing team, and their season is about to kick off.

Jonas Sandelmann has spent multiple years designing and racing cars that are pushing the limits of materials, weight and sustainability. We are very excited to have him on the podcast today. Jonas Sandelmann, welcome to the podcast.

Jonas Sandelmann: Hi Leah, thanks for the invitation.

About KA-RaceIng’s Formula Student Electric Program

Leah Archibald: Could you tell me a little bit about the Formula Student Electric program, what it’s like, and how many teams participate worldwide?

Jonas Sandelmann: The Formula Student, as it says in the name, is a student competition that has worldwide competitors all over the world. They come from Europe, from the USA, from Canada, and also from China and Australia — basically all countries. There are over 1000 teams participating in the global events.

Basically, it’s about engineering and building a race car in a student and university environment.

Leah Archibald: And how did you get started on the team?

Jonas Sandelmann: I got started in my fifth semester of my studies. I’m studying Mechatronics and Information Technology Technique at the KIT, and I just joined the team to gain some new experiences regarding the technologies I was hearing about in my lectures all day long. I wanted to do some practical work and really use what I was learning in the university on a real case — on a race car.

Engineering KIT’s Car Took Integrating Data with Human Intelligence

The 2024-2025 KIT University Student Electric Formula 1 Car

Leah Archibald: Let’s get into the engineering. Tell me a little bit about your car for this year.

Jonas Sandelmann: Our car for this year is a big step up from the 2023 season. For this season we have built our first integration. Integration means that the car does not only drive manually but also autonomously. For the first time this year, manual and autonomous drive are combined in one car, which is electrically powered. So there have been many challenges we have had to deal with.

Leah Archibald: It sounds like a big challenge — not only involving the technological integration of having these two capabilities in one car – but I imagine you have different students on the team responsible for different aspects of the navigation. Is that a challenge to work together?

Jonas Sandelmann: Sure. We are approximately 90 people on our team and we are working like a little company. We are split into sub-teams for every part of the car. So we have the monocoque guys, the aerodynamic guys, the powertrain guys, like in a little automotive company.

So yes, sometimes it’s very hard to communicate and it takes much effort from the sub-team leaders and also from the board to make sure that everybody can reach everybody else and have clear communications.

In the end, the worst thing for a fast-developing project like a racing team is bad communication because there’s so much time lost if there’s an information failure. So, we have a big focus on our information flow.

Leah Archibald: Tell me a little bit more about this information flow. Because it’s so critical both for your team and for engineering teams all over the world. Whoever is trying to design a product, the flow of information is critical.

Two Types of Information Flows in Agile Product Design

Jonas Sandelmann: We have to take a look at two kinds of information flows. On the one hand we have the information flow from season to season. As we are only students on the team, team members are not staying on the team for very long. So we always try to make sure that no information is getting lost if people just write them down on a paper and the paper is then thrown away. We make sure that we have the best information flow and documentation to ensure a good handover at the end of the season.

But besides this we have the other type of information flow: the information flow inside of our team. This is probably more critical in stressful situations. Because if there’s some communication error between the sub-teams, we could face big, big problems.

So to ensure good information flow inside of our team, we have a big assembly meeting with all of our sub-team leaders. There we talk about not only problems but about everything: what is going to happen and what should happen. Then the sub-team members go to the sub-team leaders and the sub-team leaders communicate with the other sub-team leaders and then we can come back to the team members. So we have this strict routine of communication.

Leah Archibald: Well, it sounds like in some ways you face the same challenges as many large design firms and engineering companies also face. When there’s turnover in the labor force, there’s a big risk of losing historical knowledge about a project. So, as you’ve said, it’s important to put that knowledge into data systems that are stored digitally.

The other thing I’m hearing from your response is that an agile approach to product development really helps you hit your time-to-market goals. I hear you talking about doing standups with the team leads and having the team leads track the progress of their teams. That’s what we call agile product development. And you’re really a model of using it in this very innovative product — this Formula 1 electric car that can be driven by a human being or a computer.

Jonas Sandelmann: We actually hear this often. We have talked to big institutes here at the university, and the heads of the institutes have told us: I like what you’re doing.

Winning Design Means Learning to Compete on Cost

Leah Archibald: Talk a little bit about going to the competition. Are you just competing on speed? Or are there other goals that you’re trying to achieve with the design of this car?

Jonas Sandelmann: KA-RaceIng is not like in a typical Formula 1 race. It’s an engineering competition. So it has the dynamic disciplines in which we have to drive a qualification lap, and then we have an endurance run where we have a race. But in addition to these dynamic disciplines, we also have static disciplines. We have a business plan competition where we have to think about the business case. Then we have the cost report where we have to state all the materials, all the parts, all the costs we have put into our car, and then defend it against the judges.

When our engineers start working in the industry, they can take that experience and have this way of thinking. How to build a car or a battery or whatever it is as light as possible with given design constraints.

Leah Archibald: The trade-off analysis is what’s really key here – how you make trade-offs between cost and carbon and time to market and availability. You’re doing all these trade-offs with this one car that automotive manufacturers are doing on a large scale with thousands of cars.

Jonas Sandelmann: Yes.

Leah Archibald: Is this your last year on the racing team?

Jonas Sandelmann: Probably, yes. I would love to do one more year, but my studies are calling, and I have to go for an internship. So probably I’m going to leave the team as an active team member after the season.

Leah Archibald: And will you get to go for a ride in the car? Do you get to take a victory lap driving it around before you’re done?

Jonas Sandelmann: Hopefully I’m going to get a ride. Hopefully the victory ride. We will see.

Leah Archibald: Good luck for your season. We’re all here at aPriori cheering you on from the sidelines.

Jonas Sandelmann: Thank you.

KIT university formula 1 cars

Feel the need for speed?

Learn how aPriori is driving automotive innovation as sponsor of the KIT University KA-RaceIing Team.

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