This week, I had the good fortune to attend the Chainless Challenge, one of the most creative design competitions you’re likely to find. A decade ago, some Parker Hannifin engineers came up with the idea of challenging college engineering students to design a hydraulic bicycle. Basically, students have to strip the chain drive off a typical bicycle and design a hydraulic system that takes the torque generated from pedaling the bike and transmits it to the wheel(s).
The Challenge, which started in Parker’s hometown of Cleveland, eventually migrated to Southern California, where it’s held each Spring on the old runways of the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. This year’s Challenge included teams from eight universities: Cal Poly/San Luis Obispo, Cleveland State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Purdue University, University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, University of Illinois/Urbana, and Western Michigan University.
The Challenge is undergoing a big change, however—the National Fluid Power Association is taking over the reins of the event from Parker next year. Parker has been extremely generous with the Challenge, paying all of students’ travel costs, not to mention providing components for the actual bicycle builds. The NFPA staff is excited about the future prospects.
“I think this program has a lot of potential for growth and my being here to witness it firsthand has really demonstrated—as we talk to the different professors and students—this is a really viable way of getting fluid power instruction into mechanical engineering curriculums,” said Eric Lanke, NFPA’s CEO. “We think that’s where the scalability issue is going to be most focused. We’re going to be investing our resources to not just organize [the Challenge] but to help it grow, to get more and more schools involved in this activity.”
I hope Parker stays actively involved, but I’d also love to see other manufacturers step up and offer their support (including donating components) to these kids. Maybe a few fluid power distributors can get involved, too. Who’s up to the Challenge of helping this worthwhile program?
I hear a continual stream of comments in our industry that we need to increase the amount of engineers graduating from college who know fluid power. Here’s a real way that we can do just that. Getting these kinds of college students excited about fluid power means there will be that many more potential hires in the coming years. And that’s a challenge we all have to address.