As manufacturers work to create electric alternatives of all kinds of modern vehicles, there are many novel challenges to solve and technologies to improve. 

Thoughts usually start with batteries, where many companies and researchers focus on electric vehicle limiting factors such as the speed of charging, capacity which determines vehicle range, or overheating. But as anyone who has gone to use their smartphone outdoors on a very cold day already knows, frigid weather can also have a significant impact on a battery’s ability to function – and, therefore, on the device it is powering. 

The issue of ensuring batteries remain within an optimal temperature range is especially critical for heavy machinery that might need to work in remote locations with large seasonal temperature variations. It’s why Collingwood-based MEDATech Engineering, a company which designs and builds custom mobile heavy equipment for sectors like mining, construction, and transportation, approached the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science last year.

MEDATech proposed a student capstone research project that would help the company engineer and optimize a “thermal management system” (TMS) for a 100% battery-electric on-road tractor trailer used to haul ore.”  

“This TMS scenario involved everything from fluid dynamics to heat transfer to computer modeling and analysis,” says David Strong, a Professor of Mechanical & Materials Engineering. “It really covered a lot of bases, which is ideal for a program that brings in students from multiple engineering disciplines.”

MEDATech approached Queen’s through an alumni connection. Andrew Severs, Sc’09, is MEDATech’s Director of Engineering Services, and was a student of Professor Strong’s. Severs and his colleague AJ Teeter were the students’ key contacts at MEDATech for project direction.

Eight TMS design concepts were conceived by the student team during the initial phase of the project, and after a great deal of research, analysis, and design process, the final deliverable provided both a multifunctional, scalable validation software for MEDATech to apply going forward, as well as some avenues for further exploration as the company works to improve on future thermal management systems.

Capstone projects like this one are a part of APSC 480: Multidisciplinary Design Project, a year-long fourth-year undergraduate course that provides engineering students with the challenge of an immersive real-world engineering project in partnership with an industry client that helps them develop design, professional, technical, project management, and critical thinking skills.

This particular project brought together a multidisciplinary team of students which included Zach Millard, Miranda Bundgård, and Patrick Singal, all Sc’22 (Mechanical Engineering), as well as Charles Armstrong, Sc’21 (Mathematics and Engineering).



 Photo, clockwise from top left: Miranda Bundgård, Zach Millard, Patrick Singal, Charles Armstrong


Each APSC student was given the opportunity to register their interests in the different project options that were available. For Singal, the MEDATech project was his top choice due to his interest in electric cars, energy, and thermodynamics, though the specifics of what the project entailed and how to get there started out as a bit of a mystery.

“The description said this would involve a thermal management system, and that it would involve a simulation tool called Simulink, but at the time we didn't really know what that would mean,” he said. “I think MEDATech had in their head what they wanted to see, but they also wanted to give us the freedom to choose our own path. So, there was a period where we slowly started with research and a huge body of notes so we could say we actually knew exactly what a thermal management system must do to be optimized.”

“MEDATech provided just enough timely information to keep the students working effectively in a manner that minimized design bias,” added Strong.

Upon defining the project’s objectives as well as the design variables and constraints, the team developed a simulation model which allowed the user to manipulate the speed, vehicle slope, and other factors to extrapolate how the system’s heat generating components and vehicle performance would be affected. From there, further testing, learning, and refinement continued for several months until a final scalable simulation model, alongside a 136-page report, could be presented to MEDATech in April of 2022. Along the way, the group met two to three times a week, had weekly reviews with Professor Strong, and received frequent reporting feedback from their teaching assistant.

For Bundgård, the project hit on multiple career priorities, offering her additional hands-on experience during her studies while also leveraging experience with heat transfer applications she had gained through a previous internship working for a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning engineering company, where she now works post-graduation.

“The weekly reviews were quite insightful to dispel the tunnel vision our team occasionally acquired when our research would converge in the direction of a particular solution, when Professor Strong would propose new technological avenues of thought, or introduce new or bust existing assumptions we had made” she said. “He would point out when our biases might be narrowing our scope prematurely and would suggest methods to rethink the issue at hand, of which the results would often lead us heading in an opposite direction – those were the infamous ‘aha’ moments for us.”

Bundgård credited the APSC course for providing a great hands-on learning, design, and networking opportunity that was especially beneficial to other students who hadn’t previously completed an internship in industry during their studies. Singal, who is now working on his PhD, concurred, noting the project was an excellent way to combine in-class knowledge, experiential learning, and an opportunity for creativity.

“We were really given a blank slate,” he said. “We didn't know, for instance, what this system should even look like. Knowing how to take it from the general step to the final stage required a great deal of creativity and I think that is the most useful thing that this class taught.”

The team’s chosen design concept—delivered as part of a 136-page report—was notable for its decrease in piping layout complexity. But the TMS design itself wasn’t the most useful result of the project.

“The best result for us was the validation software that the students came up with,” says Teeter. "As we move forward on new TMS projects, we can use this software to analyze and validate systems to provide our clients with a more refined and optimized solution.”

This article is relevant to the following Strategic Actions as defined in the Strategic Plan:

sa-2-4   sa-4-2