Earlier this year, both my middle school daughters had opportunities to see fluid power in action — and build their own devices powered by it. It was truly an eye-opening experience for them, and they were excited to be enmeshed in my world in a tiny way.
Upon returning from IFPE in March, my 7th grader reported excitedly that she had built a hydraulic arm as her courses in science, health, and math collaborated to teach about prosthetic devices. I have never seen her so thrilled by her science and health classes and she was eager to share how they used syringes and water to power the movement of the device. No matter how many times I have showed her a cylinder in action on a mobile machine or pneumatics powering amusement park rides, she didn’t seem interested. But giving her the power to make her own device brought home what I write about every day.
A few days later, I drove my 5th grader and her friend to the Science Olympiad at John Carroll University, near Cleveland. There, she and her friend built a rocket ship powered by water and compressed air (a 2-liter bottle and a bike pump). Although they didn’t win the competition, they quickly learned that the right amount of water and more pumps of air shot those rockets higher. Again, it was delightful to see how they worked out the necessity of the right force to create higher power.
Fast forward to this past month, as the NFPA Fluid Power Vehicle Challenges were held at Danfoss in Ames, Iowa, and Norgren in Littleton, Colo. These year-long competitions between college students give students a real-life opportunity to build fluid power machines, something that classroom learning cannot replicate. (Read more about the winners here.)
While most of the students participating were seniors, the Milwaukee School of Engineering put forward a team of underclassmen, whose experiences with fluid power were limited. I received comments from two of those students, Jeffrey Kaas, CFPHS, a freshman, and Daniel Cantu, a sophomore at the time of the competition, sharing some thoughts on what the challenge was like.
“NFPA’s Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge was pivotal in helping me to understand fluid power principles. While I had spent the last few months preparing for the Hydraulic Specialist Certification test, study guides and online courses don’t even compare to hands-on experience,” Kaas said. “I think that hands-on experiences like the vehicle challenge are crucial to anyone interested in learning fluid power at the university level, and I hope that over time, more and more universities begin to create FPVC teams, whether for seniors or for a fluid power club, like MSOE did this year. I feel the same could be said about my teammates, Daniel and Brandon, especially Daniel Cantu, who came into the vehicle challenge with zero fluid power experience. Now, he’s also grown an interest in fluid power and understands many of the basic principles.”
Cantu added that he joined the MSOE Fluid Power Club hoping to learn some basics and network with industry specialists. “When I was given the opportunity to work on the Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge, things really changed. I went from not having any background in fluid power to understanding how hydraulic circuits work, different types of pumps work, and the overall functionality and purpose fluid power holds,” he said. “I truly recommend participating in a Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge because you will gain knowledge that is not only found in a textbook, you’ll be able to apply yourself, and it is simply rewarding to start and finish something that you knew nothing about beforehand.”
One thing I tell anyone new to the industry is that they will fall in love with the technology and the people moving fluid power forward. But to get new folks into the industry, we first must let them experience it. It will be exciting to see more NFPA Fast Track to Fluid Power Hubs form and introduce whole new generations to this industry. I encourage you to get involved in new ways as well. Keep the conversations and hands-on experiences going from young elementary school students all the way up to universities.
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