Chainless Challenge: A Proven Way to Engage Young Engineers in Fluid Power

Recently, over 30 engineering undergraduates learned fluid power in the best possible way — by organized tinkering. If you haven’t heard, the Parker Chainless Challenge is a fluid power workforce development program designed to support teams of undergraduate students as they develop a fluid powered vehicle without the use of chains or belts.  The NFPA has announced plans to formally adopt the program, re-branding it as the NFPA Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge.

The NFPA Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge is a new program based on an initiative pioneered by the Parker Hannifin Corporation that challenges university-level engineering students to redesign a traditional bicycle using hydraulics and/or pneumatics as the mode of power transmission. Teams are typically required to include an accumulator for storing energy, some sort of electronic control system for the vehicle, and regeneration technology. It embeds well as a capstone project in the final year for most mechanical engineering students and includes exclusive opportunities to connect with fluid power industry professionals through the design and competition process.

The Challenge meets the following objectives:

Create a teaching and learning environment for practical hydraulics, pneumatics, and sustainable energy devices for motion control.
Provide experience in real world engineering including designing, simulating, procuring, building, testing, and demonstrating final concepts, all under a strict timeline.
Encourage innovative considerations for design, testing, and manufacturing of new technologies or concepts integrated into a vehicle platform.
Build networking and recruitment potential within the fluid power industry by providing an opportunity to interact with and observe experienced and educated engineering students.

The 2016 Parker Chainless Challenge concluded in April with a final competition in Orange County, California, where eight teams from across the country participated in several head-to-head challenges.  Meet all of the teams and review their innovative designs here.

During the final event, teams competed in a variety of ways — an efficiency challenge, a sprint race, and a time trial.  Teams are judged on their development, design, analysis, and final vehicle performance.  Final scores are determined by points earned during the creation phase (based on reports and presentations) and added to points earned during the final competition.  Monetary awards were given for innovation, reliability/safety, manufacturability/workmanship, best design, best cost analysis report, Meggitt Best Paper, and ASME Best Overall.  Financial winnings were awarded to the home institution to be used to fund and supplement future teams.

Big winners for the 2016 Parker Chainless Challenge included Illinois Institute of Technology, Purdue University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cleveland State University.  Certainly, all teams, including the University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Western Michigan University were recognized for their creativity, innovation, and teamwork!

The new NFPA Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge will emerge for the 2016-2017 academic year.  Watch for more information on ways to get involved!

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