I always get energized when I see students and future engineers working on a hands-on project that uses fluid power. So I was even more energized this afternoon (and a little sunburned, too), as I watched nine teams compete in Parker Hannifin’s Chainless Challenge event at the Great Park (the old El Toro Marine base) in California. In this event, teams from universities across the nation are challenged to power a bicycle without the usual chain system, using some sort of fluid power technology.
This is the eighth Chainless Challenge event, which originally was held at Parker’s corporate headquarters in Cleveland in 2005. After a brief hiatus, the event was moved to Southern California, in search of reliable weather and a flat testing ground for the racetrack.
Teams this year came in from Cleveland State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Illinois Institute of Technology, Murray State University, Purdue University, University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, University of Illinois, and Western Michigan University.
The students, many of whom have no prior experience with fluid power, work on their bike designs throughout two semesters and work with Parker representatives to learn more about the technologies. However, Bogdan Kozul, Group Manager, Technical Training for Parker, said that while each team is assigned a representative to guide them through their design concepts, the “primary purpose is to let the students go through a learning curve on their own.”
Teams work together to design bicycles that use hydraulic pumps and motors, accumulators, hose, fittings and tube, to compete in a variety of races—a sprint race; an efficiency race, to see who can go the farthest on one charge; and a 6-mile distance race.
Kozul added that some of the designs that use regenerative braking and energy recovery were ideal designs that matched industry’s needs. And another bike, from Illinois Institute of Technology, was the only one to use hydraulic cylinders to rotate the wheels. Because cylinders are much more efficient than pumps and motors and the design of the bike was more lightweight and streamlined, Kozul added that if you wanted to commercialize a hydraulic bike (which you probably would never do, as the chain and sprocket idea is still the best), this design is one of the more innovative.
The purpose of the semesters-long design-and-build project is to “get students exposed to fluid power in a different way than they’re used to,” said Kozul. “It’s a creative way to get students exposed to a technology that’s in very high demand.”
Kozul is charged with training for Parker Hannifin, and this means its employees as well as students across the nation. This year, he is working on installing 15 fluid power training labs, mostly at two-year schools that offer industrial technology and maintenance training. In addition, Parker gives students its curriculum, which Kozul said is very dynamic, hands-on and has low instructor involvement.
“That’s where the learning takes place, when they’re working together to solve problems,” Kozul added.
Parker also uses the event as a recruiting tool, as it has hired a few of the students that have competed in past years. Interestingly, many of those students had never used hydraulics before but the event interested them enough to want to join the industry.
In addition to providing a Parker advisor and guidance, Parker gives each team $1,000 at the kickoff of the project; $2,000 if the advisors determine the teams can move forward at the mid-way point; payment for all parts; another $1,000 if they can travel with a functioning bike; and finally, all travel expenses.
Finally, $25,000 in prizes is awarded at the end of the competition, most to the universities but some to the students themselves. Awards range from $1,500 to $5,000, for anything from cost analysis, best paper presentation, best in sprint, innovation, overall winner and more.
With nine experienced teams, six of whom have won the overall competition at least once (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has won twice), many think it is time to expand the event.
Craig Maxwell VP, Technology and Innovation at Parker Hannifin, highlighted the NFPA’s interest in possibly expanding the event to any university that wants to participate and opening it up to more companies to get involved, mentor students and provide components. In addition, Maxwell said they would like to make the papers and designs more open-source in the future, so that other teams can learn from each other.
Kozul added that he may invite some of the two-year schools where he is working to install fluid power labs to compete next year, too.