The annual Chainless Challenge was held in Irvine, Calif. last month, inspiring eight teams of college engineering students to redesign a traditional bicycle using hydraulics as the mode of power transmission. The Challenge was started and supported by Parker Hannifin in 2006, and the NFPA is becoming involved—and will manage (and broaden) the program in future years.
Teams are required to include an accumulator for storing energy, some sort of electronic control system for the bicycle and regeneration technology. The variety of the bicycles built and submitted was fascinating. There were standard bikes, trikes and even recumbent four-wheelers. Accumulators and reservoirs came in all shapes and sizes—and were mounted in a variety of places on the bikes. Some bikes used stainless steel tubing while others went with hydraulic hose. On some, you first noticed a large gearing system while others featured an almost artistic collection of hydraulic fittings.
At the Challenge itself, teams competed in three areas: A 200-m sprint race; an efficiency challenge, where bikes were pre-charged and set free without the rider pedaling, to see how much distance they could cover; and a time trial, an endurance challenge that featured three long laps around the runways.
A total of $20,000 in prize money was awarded. The top four teams were:
- Cleveland State University
- Cal Poly SLO
- Purdue University
- Illinois Institute of Technology
Winners at individual events at this year’s Challenge were: Illinois Institute of Technology for Innovation/uniqueness of design/originality; Reliability and safety; Cost analysis/prototype and production; and Time trial. Purdue University won for Manufacturability/workmanship and the Meggitt Best paper and presentation. Cal Poly SLO won for the Sprint race and the Efficiency challenge. And Purdue University & Illinois Institute of Technology tied for Best design/team selection.
I spoke with two senior mechanical engineering students from the Cleveland State University team, to see what their takeaways were from the program.
“I would say there are two things [we learned],” said Steven Rohrar. “Definitely teamwork and project management. Just having a big task given to you and finding a way to overcome it—to really take what your objectives are and either realize them or make them better than what was expected. On top of all that, taking all the theory you learned within your classes from freshman year through your senior year and actually applying them and seeing how it works is kind of a big thing to go into a job and say, ‘I actually know how to do this,’ versus, ‘I know how to do math.’ It was a really great experience.”
“Also, when you have a project, things don’t always go how you plan them,” added Jodi Turk. “Different things break, they don’t perform how you expect, your calculations aren’t actually how it actually reacts. You have to figure out how to change things and make it work.”
When asked what they most liked about the program, neither hesitated.
“This was actually our senior capstone project,” said Rohrar. “It’s different compared to all the other projects that students from our school are doing. [Other students] are designing something for a specific company for a specific application, whereas here, there are so many different companies represented. It’s just a great networking opportunity.”
Rohrar noted that he had the opportunity to meet CEOs and heads of divisions at companies like Parker during his time in Irvine. And Turk said she enjoyed getting her hands dirty.
“I had so much fun; it was a hands-on project where you get to actually design something and build it and then see it work—and then you get to be the one testing it,” she said. “I think this was a great senior design project, I got a lot of experience out of one project: teamwork, complications in your circuits. None of us knew anything about hydraulics when we first started this, so that was cool to learn about all the different components.”