Olympic skeleton racer’s comeback trail ran through SolidWorks

sleds aren’t the kind of item you pick up at the local Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Sleds have to respond precisely to subtle body shifts that racers use to steer
them around sharp curves as the racers shoot down icy tracks at up to 80 miles
per hour, face-first, with their arms clamped to their sides. Racers like 2005
World Cup champion and 

U.S.Olympic team members such as Noelle Pikus-Pace rely on customized skeleton sleds to
remain competitive. Pikus-Pace was left in the lurch when her sleds were damaged in late 2009, on the doorstep of the Vancouver
Olympics. Or rather, she would have been if her husband, Janson Pace,
wasn’t an industrial designer for a fabrication shop that produces a broad
array of customized industrial metal products. Using SolidWorks CAD software as
the palette for his ideas, Janson Pace and his co-workers designed a new skeleton from the
ground up in less time (and for tens of thousands of dollars less) than it
usually takes to create one of the highly specialized sleds. Great news for an athlete whose dreams for the Turin games four years ago were dashed when a runaway bobsled ran into her, snapping her leg in two.

“With SolidWorks, we were able to predict a lot of results that
otherwise would have taken years of trial and error,” said Janson Pace.
“SolidWorks Simulation let us test the sled’s strength, the loads it
would have to bear, and the right materials to use so it wouldn’t
buckle or deform. We modeled all the parts in SolidWorks, did the
simulations, then modified them. The first physical model we produced
fit together so well – because of SolidWorks’ ability to model parts
properly and produce accurate drawings for the machine shop – that it
was ready for Noelle to use. We didn’t have to prototype.”

The result of NuQuest’s innovation is a skeleton sled that meets
Olympic requirements but departs from many sled design orthodoxies,
Pace said. Skeleton racing is outwardly similar to the luge, except
racers go down the tracks face-first instead of feet first. Skeleton sleds
consist of a fiberglass “pod,” metal chassis and two “runners,” or
blades. Most sleds are welded together, but the NuQuest sled is bolted.
That makes it easier to switch out damaged or malfunctioning parts
without subjecting the sled’s frame to heating and deforming.
SolidWorks also enabled NuQuest to experiment with different materials
to make the sled faster, where international competitions’ rules

NuQuest produced the sled in four months, which is years less than
it usually takes to perfect a new design. NuQuest co-owner Troy
Beckstead estimated that SolidWorks Simulation saved the company “tens
of thousands of dollars” in development costs. Pikus-Pace will use the
skeleton sled at the Vancouver Olympics. She was the first American woman to win the skeleton racing World Cup, and also won world championships in 2007.

Noelle and her SolidWorks-designed sled took to the track two days ago and came in fourth, missing out on the bronze by a mere tenth of a second.

Mike McGrail is a writer at public
relations firm Beaupre, and spends a lot of time talking to SolidWorks
customers. He'll be contributing from time to time with interesting
stories and updates from SolidWorks customers around the world.