Earlier this month a team of students from Michigan Technological University was declared the Overall Champions of the 2021 National Fluid Fluid Power Association Vehicle Challenge, a national competition.
The contest, dubbed “Hydraulics Meets the Bicycle,” combines human-powered vehicles along with fluid power and consists of three races—sprint, endurance, and efficiency.
The Challenge is hosted each year by Norgren, a respected world leader in motion control and fluid technology based in Littleton, Colorado. This year the competition was expanded into two separate virtual competitions hosted by Norgren plus a second company, Danfoss Power Solutions, in order to reach a wide range of students and industry members all over the country.
John Kurburski, Andrew Ward, Alexander Provoast, and Jake Lehmann made up the winning team. All are students in Michigan Tech’s Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology. The fluid-powered bike project also served as their senior design project, required for graduation.
MMET Senior Lecturer David Wanless advised the team, and MMET Lecturer Kevin Johnson contributed to their understanding of pneumatic and hydraulic circuits in his fluid power class.
Competing with twenty-two schools from all over the country, the Michigan Tech team placed first in efficiency, second in endurance, and third in the sprint race. After race results, two design reviews, conference participation and a final presentation the Michigan Tech team was awarded Overall Champion of the Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge for 2021.
They powered their bike using a hydraulic circuit—transferring pedal power through a hydraulic pump and motor to drive the rear wheel. “The circuit can also be powered with stored energy in an accumulator, which can be recharged mid-race through regenerative braking,” Wanless explained.
“A pneumatic circuit is also used to actuate the controls of the hydraulic circuit through the use of two switches,” added Alexander Provoast, MMET team member.
The competition was helpful to the students in several different ways, said MMET senior John Kurbuski. “The best part of competing was being introduced to members of the industry and the learning that came with it. I definitely gained a lot of knowledge relevant to my career.”
Due to Covid, NFPA organizers decided it would be best if each university created their own bike course according to the guidelines and rules. The Michigan Tech team first built their bike in the MMET Machine Shop on campus while following MTU Covid guidelines. To compete, teams then recorded their results and submitted them to NFPA. Reviews and mentor interactions were done via Zoom.
According to Kurbuski, the greatest challenge was figuring out how to create a fluid powered bike in such a short amount of time.
“There was a huge learning curve for our team. We had little knowledge about fluid power prior to the competition.”
Most members of the team will be graduating soon, either this spring or summer. Kurbuski will graduate in April. His job hunt is now underway, with “NPFA Fluid Vehicle Challenge Grand Champion” as a great new addition to his resume.
“I look forward to finding a career in the manufacturing industry,” adds Kurbuski.
Be sure to check out the team’s final presentation here.