Sweet Phoenix: Cal Poly SLO’s Triumph at HPVC West

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At Coastal Enterprises, we like to look at the composites industry as a fully collaborative effort. Every fresh new development by an individual is really a contribution to a collective knowledge base. Like any scientific pursuit, the most potent advancements are made when information is shared freely between likeminded groups of people. For this reason, we feel obliged to do everything we can to enlighten and empower the future community of composites professionals. In our experience, this new generation can often be found in university engineering programs, like the Cal Poly SLO Human Powered Vehicle team. Coastal has supplied the team with Precision Board for many years now, and every year they’ve shown up to the ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge with a design that really showcases the capabilities of our material.


The driving force behind the team is George Leone, student shops manager and technician, a man with over four decades in the composites industry in one form or another. George has been building composite streamliner HPVs since the 80s and is one of the foremost authorities on the design and construction of human powered vehicles. His philosophy for guiding the student team members is to provide them with the necessary tools and instruction, then turn them loose to create an individual project that stems from their own ideas and hard work. By maintaining a positive, constructive environment where students can learn by doing, he ensures that senior students can eventually step into leadership roles and help guide their younger teammates.


For last year’s entry into the HPV competition, the team created a carbon-fiber/Kevlar composite streamliner they dubbed the “Sweet Phoenix”. Coincidentally, when George Leone built one of his first streamliners back in 1980, he named it “Phoenix”. Risen from the ashes indeed. The Cal Poly team started by enlisting the help of Zodiac Aerospace to create the molds, thanks to the inopportune breakdown of their aging Shopbot CNC router. The team used PBLT-8 and machined out two halves of a negative mold, meaning that the carbon composite material would be pulled down into the recess to create the sleek teardrop-shaped body.


Students prepped the molds by sanding thoroughly before applying Duratec sealer and primer. The quality of the PBLT-8 was paramount to the end result. As George put it: “The consistency of the foam and it’s impressive ability to hold a sharp edge, even with inexperienced handling, made us glad we chose Precision Board.” 

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At the 2015 ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge West, the Sweet Phoenix performed admirably, despite a puzzling last-second drive train glitch. Complications aside, the SLO team took home first prizes in both the Design and Men’s Speed categories, a crowning achievement for such a prestigious event. The 2016 team plans to use the same leftover molds, thanks to the durability of the Precision Board. Even after being stored outside for nine months, the molds only required some light sanding and priming to restore them to pristine condition.

Sweet Phoenix Team

George Leone and the Cal Poly HPV team are prime examples of the spirit of invention and collaboration that are deeply engrained in the composites community. All of us at Coastal wish them luck and speed in this year’s competition! Click here for a free sample of Precision Board and spearhead your next composites project!



Cal Poly Invention Helps Disabled Student Participate In Triathlon

Cal Poly students have invented a device that allows disabled 20-year old college student Joseph Cornelius to glide along the water, providing the sensation of swimming.

With no muscle control over his limbs due to cerebral palsy, Joseph still loves to exercise and has competed in 100 foot races with the help of his father, John Cornelius, under the team name “Team Joseph.”

Until now, he has been unable to swim because of the danger of water getting into his lungs. “Aquabullet,” the Cal Poly invention, is a hydrodynamic watercraft created by Cal Poly students Paul Sands, Lilly Hoff and Andrea Voigt for their senior project, and has been designed to reduce the risk of water entering Joseph’s lungs through use of a clear plastic splashguard.

Aside from the splashguard, Aquabullet is made up of a support system consisting of floats and mesh. The bow and headrest are both made out of Precision Board Plus donated by Coastal Enterprises.

The students designed and built Aquabullet after extensive research and testing in collaboration with Joseph and his father. Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation grant to Cal Poly, along with the support of donated materials from several vendors.

Aquabullet design mock-up:

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According to Cal Poly student Paul Sands, “Michael Lara, Manager at the Special Olympics of Southern California, pitched the idea [for a senior project] to the entire class of Mechanical Engineering seniors at Cal Poly, and both Lilly [Hoff] and myself picked it as our number one choice. For years, the Mechanical Engineering and Kinesiology departments have collaborated on different projects. For this reason, Andrea Voigt, a Kinesiology major, was brought onboard with her considerable experience in swimming and working with people with disabilities.”

Finding the most ergonomically-comfortable device was challenging. “After testing 6 or 7 different crude mockups, searching for a design with the most comfortable position for Joseph, we decided on one that would allow him to lay on his stomach,” says Sands.

“Construction of Aquabullet was started by sanding and shaping a piece of 6 lb. Precision Board we cut from a larger block, followed by painting it with red acrylic paint and applying fiberglass,” recalls Sands.

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After the fiberglass was cured and the rough edges filed down, a hard coat was painted over it consisting of a mixture of surfacing agent and laminating resin. Extensive sanding, followed by a 3-stage polishing process ensured that the headrest would be comfortable for Joseph to rest on.

The bow was made out of 8 lb Precision Board in the same process as the headrest, painting it with red acrylic paint prior to fiberglassing and sealing it.

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After both pieces were finished, students fabricated the splashguard with the assistance of local motorcycle windshield manufacturer Rifle through an extrusion blow molding process.

Each piece was assembled together, completing the Aquabullet:

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Aquabullets successful completion allowed Joseph Cornelius to successfully swim in the San Luis Obispo Triathlon, of which additional information can be seen at: Pictures of the event and additional information here.

At the completion of Aquabullet, the students had noted several proposed production and vehicle changes for the future, and Paul Sands plans to make improvements to Aquabullet, and also design another vehicle before he graduates this December. Long term goals include patenting the design and potentially producing it, as this form of an “Adaptive Sport Vehicle” has the potential to provide a therapeutic activity to many people with disabilities.

Paul can be reached at: psands22@gmail.com or (909) 583-5643.

Parties interested in additional information about Team Joseph can contact John Cornelius at: jcorn224@yahoo.com.

PowerPoint Presentation




Cal Poly Students Optimize Solar Cooking With Precision Board

A group of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Engineering and Physics students recently took part in an amazing project designed to help residents of some of the world’s poorest locations cook food with solar energy.

Using the Scheffler Reflector concept (a large solar reflector that tracks the sun on a single polar axis, reflects the sunlight and concentrates it), Cal Poly students set out to make a reflector of their own that was less expensive and easier to manufacture. The present model with a reflector dish supported by a complicated aluminum matrix costs more than $4,000 to buy and ship from Germany.

The goal was to develop a working model that could be produced for less than $100. They planned to accomplish this by building a reflector dish that could be quickly and easily made from fiberglass cured over a mold.

To make the mold for the reflective dish, Precision Board HDU donated by Coastal Enterprises was CNC machined into a mold and coated with Duratec, followed by coats of polyester primer and sanding. The next step was a fiberglass hand-layup using fiberglass cloth and applying resin by hand.

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After letting the fiberglass cure in sunlight, students pulled the fiberglass dish from the mold to find its shape flawless. The new dish is to be coated with aluminized mylar and fit into the simplified frame. By keeping design for manufacturability in mind, students were able to create a realistic solar cooking solution for fuel-challenged regions of the world – the first produced in North America.

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According to Mechanical Engineering student and team member Simo Alberti, “The project was a huge success. Precision Board allowed us to quickly and easily create a highly-accurate mold for our reflector. When we totaled up what it cost to actually make our working prototype, it was just under $100. Not only that, but we used it to cook food all summer long. Kebabs, hot dogs, pasta, vegetables – as many types of food as we could.”

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The solar reflector program is the brainchild of Dr. Peter Schwartz, Physics Professor at Cal Poly SLO, and evolved out of his larger Guateca program. Guateca is an ongoing project that involves annual summer trips with North American college students to the Guatemalan village of San Pablo, and serves as a cross-cultural educational platform for both Guatemalans and the US visitors.


According to Dr. Schwartz: “We plan to test the solar reflector in San Pablo this coming summer to see how it operates under real-world conditions. Additionally, our stateside goal is to produce 100 reflectors and see them operated locally so we can streamline our design based on feedback gleaned from the operators. Having the mold will greatly facilitate this task.”

Once the new inexpensive design is optimized, Dr. Schwartz plans to make the design public with the goal of encouraging eco-friendly, sustainable energy solutions worldwide. At the time of this publication, Cal Poly students had recently acquired an actual Scheffler Reflector for comparative research. They are also in communication with the people at Scheffler, who are very interested in this new design.

Additionally, through the SLO MakerSpace, http://www.sloidealab.com, one of the Cal Poly students plans to run a workshop where people can make their own concentrated solar cookers using the Precision board mold.

For more info about the fascinating Guateca project, please visit: http://www.guateca.com.

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This is a time-lapse video compiled by Simo during the construction of the Precision Board layup tool: