Every year, the NFPA holds a Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge for engineering students who attend universities around the U.S. The competition combines two technology platforms not normally associated with one another — human-powered vehicles and fluid power. Teams are tasked with designing and building their own fluid power vehicles over the course of a school year. The program culminates in final competitions at two separate locations.
In April, schools competed in four races during the final competitions and were judged by fluid power industry professionals. In addition to the races, students gave presentations on their vehicle construction, testing, and lessons learned. Each team also met individually with the industry judges to assess their vehicle design. Specific awards were given to highlight the use of pneumatics and electronics in the teams’ designs.
Texas A&M University (TAMU) was named Grand Champion at the 2023 Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge Final Competition hosted by Norgren in Littleton, Colorado, held April 12-14. Purdue University earned second place, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham took home third. The prize for Best Use of Pneumatics, sponsored by Norgren, was taken home by California Polytechnic State University. The prize for Innovative Use of Electronics, sponsored by IFP Motion Solutions, was awarded to Texas A&M.
“Designing a complete hydraulic system was a learning experience that required not only knowledge about hydraulics but also about associated mechanical and electrical systems,” said Mark Finley, TAMU Fluid Power Club president. “We applied what we learned in our fluid power classes directly to our project, including designing our circuit in Automation Studio and using the fluid power lab in Thompson Hall to build and test our circuit before ordering components. We also expanded our knowledge of fluid power by becoming familiar with industry-grade systems and components different from those found in our lab, and we found this breadth of experience and knowledge to be valuable.”
The team’s fluid-powered bicycle used a hydraulic circuit instead of a chain to transfer power from the rider to the wheels. They built the design with Fusion 360, a computer-aided design software, so they could see the finished bike before they had their parts.
“We were able to talk to and be mentored by a lot of great people involved in the competition through the NFPA,” said Finely. “One thing I really enjoyed was how open-ended the project was. We had a set end goal, but we had nearly complete freedom of design. After we came up with ideas and documented them, we could then take them to experienced people for advice on how to modify our systems, specifically to ensure safety. From there, we could make changes and move forward into the fabrication and assembly process, where we learned a lot of lessons that you wouldn’t necessarily learn in a classroom.”
Two weeks later, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was named Grand Champion at the 2023 Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge Final Competition hosted by Danfoss Power Solutions in Ames, Iowa, held April 26-28.
“Working with the National Fluid Power Association has been an incredibly enriching and transformative experience for me, both personally and professionally. The competition provided a platform to not only deepen my understanding of fluid power systems, but also to interact and engage with some of the brightest minds from industry,” said Michael Tonore, member of the Mechanical Engineering (MCHE) Fluid Power Vehicle Team for the University of Louisville at Lafayette. “The collaborative environment fostered a sense of camaraderie and allowed for the exchange of ideas, as well as constructive criticism. In addition to technical growth, the social interactions during the competition introduced me to potential mentors and future collaborators.”
South Dakota State University earned second place at the Iowa competition, and Cleveland State University came in third. The prize for Best Use of Pneumatics, sponsored by Norgren, was taken home by Murray State University. The prize for Best Use of Electronics, sponsored by IFP Motion Solutions, was awarded to Purdue University Northwest.
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