College is a great place to learn, but getting real-world experience is a challenge for today's university students. One successful solution is the creation of student competitions with an eye toward creating that real world experience and that's what the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers does with its International Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition.
This year's overall winner of the competition was the University of Kentucky with its "Blue Streak" tractor.
The education-focused event starts in the fall of the previous year when students get the handbook and rules for the following-year competition. From then on students go hard at work designing a tractor, but they must also prepare a written design document, which is reviewed by a team of engineers.
The event culminates in a single weekend - this weekend - where the competitive tractors are brought in for technical review and design evaluation. In addition, each team prepares an oral presentation that's given to a committee of judges that act as if they're with a company (full disclosure, the author is a judge in the event). The aim is to have the engineers justify the market they've identified and the tractor they want to build - just as they would to a corporate design committee.
The final event - and the one students work hard for - is an actual tractor pull with the machines. There are four pulls - two in the 1,000-pound class and two in the 1,500-pound class - where competition gets heated. Yet, all teams cheer each other on as those hand-built tractors make their way down the track.
The Kentucky machine was a two-wheel drive tractor with an extendable frame. By shortening the frame the tractor becomes more maneuverable. The longer frame comes in handy for pulling since it changes the tractor's geometry. Kentucky's tractor did well in the pull winning three of the four hooks at the event and it won the overall tractor pull award from that part of the competition. In addition, the team earned a Manufacturability Award being judged as a machine that's cost, easy and efficiency of manufacturing was evident.
The UK team also won first place for its written design report, and it was second place in the team presentation awards.
The base weight of the tractor cannot be heavier than 800 pounds. Teams have a choice between using two 16-hp engines, or a single 31-hp engine. This gives teams flexibility as the competition has evolved. In the early days teams could use only one 16-hp engine, but over time the rules changed and teams could use as many engines as they could make base weight with. Then four years ago, the rules changed again and limited the choice to the two-engine, or single-engine choice.
This year, all teams competed with a single 31 hp engine. There were 27 teams that made it to the competition, and all but one of those did make it into the final pull. Four of the teams are from Canada, and teams were geographically spread across the country from Penn State University to California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The top five overall winners included:
1 - University of Kentucky
2 - Kansas State University (they were the 2013 winner)
3 - Ohio State University
4 - Iowa State University - which also won the most-improved award moving up 18 positions from their 22nd place finish in 2013.
5 - Purdue University.