Just Added: I talk about the Q-Scale Competition with Wisconsin Farm Broadcaster Pam Jahnke - use the player below to listen
Those who follow this blog know that I've been involved - off and on - with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers International 1/4-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition (yes it is a mouthful). It's a program that provides agricultural engineering students the change to have a near real-world experience in designing and building an actual product. And the 14th annual event is set to begin next week
Why should farmers care about this event? For one, it is a lot of fun for spectators (though I suspect the hard-working student teams have their fair share of fun too). The program also is a great way for students to fine-tune a skill that's sometimes hard to come by in the hallowed halls of academe - getting real-world feedback. This helps make better ag engineers, and many past competitors are now employed by major equipment makers across the country.
From its first year, the program offered student teams a worthwhile competition challenge (full disclosure, I am honored to be a judge in this program and I do "call" the tractor pull during the event). Teams get a set of rules in September, and from there they must design and build a machine to meet specific market needs they identify.
In the beginning the teams were limited to one 16-horsepower Briggs & Stratton twin-cylinder engine as the power plant for their tractor; and each team got a set of tires. Over the years, however, the competition and rules have evolved.
In fact, teams were empowered to use as many engines as they could - given they could meet the weight limits - in their designs. That led to the development of some interesting multi-engine configurations - up to 6 engines on machines where the teams engineered the weight-saving design of their frames to make weight.
For this year, after several years of multi engine designs, the rules were changed. Teams can compete either with a single 31-hp engine, or two of those 16-hp twin-cylinder engines. Weight limits were lowered too.
In a release issued this week by ASABE the organization calls the event a "360-degree" workplace experience unique in student competition design contests. A panel of industry experts judges each design for innovation, manufacturability, serviceability, maneuverability, safety, sound level and ergonomics. Those teams must also submit a written design report in advance of the competition, and on-site they must "sell" their design in a formal presentation to industry experts playing the role of a corporate management team.
And given all that, the teams do focus on one key area - the tractor pull. These machines are expected to perform. The pulls take place on Saturday afternoon June 4 and Sunday morning - and if you're near Expo Gardens in Peoria that weekend you might want to stop by for a bit and enjoy the competition - the public is welcome.
Last year, the University of Illinois took top honors for the second year in a row with the all-around trophy. Rounding out the top five in 2010 (in order) were The University of Kentucky, Nicholls State University, University of Saskatchewan and Purdue University.
As I noted early, farmers benefit because these student engineers really learn a lot about what works and what doesn't and the range of industry sponsors of the event actively recruit. This group of students is highly motivated and they have strong technical, communication and leadership skills - just what today's equipment makers want.
Top teams are honored at an awards banquet held at the Grand Hotel in Peoria, and other awards to be delivered this year include (from the ASABE press release):
CNH $2,000 Scholarship: A scholarship will be awarded to one outstanding member of the championship team who is a student pursuing an undergraduate degree in agricultural engineering with an emphasis in machinery design. The team and its advisors will choose the individual student.
Campbell Scientific Award: Representatives from Campbell Scientific select the Best Use of Test Methods or Data Acquisition in the Development of a Prototype.
Craftsmanship Award: Manufacturability judges recognize the highest craftsmanship in tractor fabrication.
Appearance Award: Judges and the field of competitors select the best overall tractor appearance.
Sportsmanship Award: Competitors vote for the team that exhibits the highest standards of sportsmanship in all events.
Teamwork Award: Competitors vote for the team that works best together under difficult circumstances during the events or for overall teamwork exhibited during the competition.
Innovation Award: Design judges choose the recipient based on the most innovative concepts incorporated into the team’s tractor design.
Cook-Off Award: An extracurricular contest that originated among the teams themselves, providing respite to the long days of competition.
Corporate sponsors for the ASABE event show that when it counts the whole industry puts its muscle behing an important cause. The list includes Agco, Briggs & Stratton, Case IH, Deere & Company, New Holland, SolidWorks and Titan International. Additional support is provided by Campbell Scientific, Inc., GSI Grain Systems, Caterpillar, Katie McDonald Photography, Claas, RCI Engineering, Central City Scale, igus Inc., Miller Electric Manufacturing, Star Equipment, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Holy Cow Motorsports, Walz Scale and Midwest Super Cub.
The list of competitors this year shows it will be another strong field, which means plenty of fun for judges and spectators alike. These are not "cobbled together" machines, they feature interesting electronic and mechanical designs, unique engineering features, and sometimes interesting approaches to meet the needs of the competition - as students try to figure out ways to get the most machine within the rules of the competition. Here's a list of schools slated to take part for 2011:
Cal Poly State University
Iowa State University
Kansas State University
Milwaukee School of Engineering
Mississippi State University
Modesto Junior College
North Carolina State Univerity
North Dakota State University
Oklahoma State University
Penn State University
South Dakota State University
Southern Illinois University
Texas A & M University
The Ohio State University
University of Illinois
University of Kentucky
University of Manitoba
University of Missouri
University of Nebraska
University of Saskatchewan
University of Tennessee - Martin
University of Wisconsin - River Falls
University of Wisconsin - Madison
University of Wyoming
It'll be interesting to see what these teams come up with in their designs (and I'll show you more in my blog postings the week of June 6).