Setsquare saves the day for 13-year-old Benjamin

5th December 2016

With only a few days to go before the public presentation, Benjamin’s massively important school project was in bits.  He’d chosen to study electric vehicles and to make an electric powered go-kart using some of the same principles.  He is thirteen years old.

After months of Fridays after school in the metal work room, and hours of research and trawling online for parts, plus his boundless enthusiasm and determination, he only had a welded steel chassis, with (misaligned) front stub axles and an insecure steering mount, to show for it. The wheels, rear drive axle, the motor and power units, which he had, were not connected. He was lacking a seat and a few other parts as well.

Benjamin and I were crestfallen. I am a technical dunce. I couldn’t do anything, and I didn’t even know if anything could be done at this late stage to salvage the project.

I called John O’Gorman.  He looked at the parts spread out on the floor. Chatted to Benjamin about his plans.

That’ll work’, said John. Can you bring it to the workshop on Monday?”

John met us in the yard with high-vis vests. Chris got a trolley and like a mechanical ER doctor took the go-kart to surgery i.e. the metal work dept., where the other John was waiting to go to work. We got kitted out with steel toe cap boots, had a Health and Safety assessment with Steve and then met Dan with the motor and the electrics for testing.

Why not have a simple DC set up?”, asked Dan.

Ben explained about his project – electric cars, and AC current.  The smoke from the inverter revealed it was bust.  The speed controller was skittish and complicated to operate.  Dan provide Ben with a simpler, more robust controller, wired it to a potentiometer and set about trying to fix the inverter.  John provided Ben with a more powerful and compact battery, from a rally car.

The metal workshop was a hive of activity, with three great guys, Mickie, John and Tom, helping Benjamin achieve his aims. John re-aligned the stub axles, Tom made plates for the wheels, which were welded to the stubs, Mick welded a frame to fix the seat to.

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Benjiamin and Setsquare’s Metal Workshop Team assembling the go-kart

Benjamin said:

It’s fascinating, so interesting, everything they do… watching them work so quickly and so well together as a team, you can tell they’ve had years of training under stress.  It’s obvious that pressure is not the enemy…”

All the while they were checking in with Ben, to see if it confirmed to his specifications, as if he was some important client or designer.

Benjiamin and his father Colin Brown assisting in the Metal Workshop

Ben sat in the kart, proud and pleased as punch as they adjusted the steering column to his size. They improvised a provisional steering mechanism on the spot.

The welders and metalworkers helped me a lot, Ben said.  There are lots of ways to solve problems but they were so creative. John is so creative.”

John even got the local engineering firm, who he is obviously on great terms with, to rebore the rear drive axle and make some aluminum hubs, with interior axle stubs.  And they pulled out the stops to complete it by the 3.30pm that day! Heroic effort by all!

John came back for the final push assembling the rear drive axle and the wheels. With time ticking on John devised a creative way to fix the drive wheels, involving Ben in loosening and tightening the wheel nuts so the metal plate could be fixed to the wheels.

Ben said:

He’s not like a normal boss in an office, but joins in with his sleeves rolled up, doing a lot of the work.  He looks like he really enjoys it.”

When the motor was found to be a shade too big for the mount, John went with Ben’s suggestion ‘to grind a bit of the motor’s flange away’.

With the motor and timing belt set up, it was time to test the power output. The repaired inverter blew again.  But they were able to mains test it and prove the principle.  Meanwhile, John asked Dan to order a new, more robust inverter and have it delivered directly to our house, which Ben could then assemble. It arrived the following morning.

Ben’s kart had enough power to turn the wheels and at some speed,  but not enough torque to propel the kart and him along.  It was late and this would have to be solved another day. That night John phoned us up with a solution to the torque issue.  Ironically, it was the same solution Ben had come up with in the car on the way home, just before falling asleep.

Ben said:

It was an amazing day, that has opened me up to another level of doing things.”

The skill and generosity of John and his team are truly astounding. Ben and I were blown away by it completely.

On the Friday, it looked like Ben might have to stand up in front of the whole school, his peers and their parents, with a welded steel chassis. This doesn’t reflect his knowledge, enthusiasm and determination I thought. By the end of the working day on Monday he had an electric powered go-kart, with an AC motor, with a few outstanding issues – but that’s engineering.

Ben came away from that determined to carry on, beyond the deadline, to bring it to as near perfection as possible, inspired by John and the team.

If I didn’t, he said, ‘I’d let John down, the team down and myself…”

I give myself a hard time for not finding Ben a proper mentor early on for such a complex project. But when push came to shove, I approached John and he stepped up and his ability and positive attitude has been the best possible mentor Ben could have had. Ben said that he learned more in that one day than in all of the months prior.

What I’ve learned from John is that nothing is impossible, with the right team around you, you just have to try”