Undergraduate Students Learn, Apply Knowledge, and Compete in Fluid Power Challenge

Achievement date: 

Students affiliated with the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at the University of Minnesota, participated in a competition requiring teams of undergraduates to design and build  human-powered vehicles in which conventional chain drives are replaced by hydraulic transmissions. The overall goal of this Chainless Challenge is to provide students with opportunities to learn about fluid power, apply their knowledge to real-world designs, and compete nationally to demonstrate their work.


Preparation for this competition hones student skills in a variety of ways, leading to better understanding of not only the design, development, and application of fluid-power technologies but also how to innovate, manufacture, and market new products in a competitive environment. Additionally, the challenge increases the number of mechanical engineers graduating from CCEFP schools with fluid-power training and experience (20-25 per year).


The Parker Chainless Challenge is a national inter-university competition sponsored by Parker Hannifin, a CCEFP corporate member. Elements of the competition include design (creativity and novelty, functionality, presence of renewable energy systems), fabrication (quality, aesthetics), design process (design report, cost analysis), and a riding competition (e.g., efficiency, acceleration, and distance events).

The Challenge is a two-semester commitment. In Fall semester, students work on the project in their capstone design projects course, in which teams of 5-6 students learn about fluid power, develop design specifications for a chosen vehicle (typically a bike or recumbent or upright tricycle), complete the design, and fabricate and install the design on the vehicle; in Spring semester, teams test and optimize vehicle operation in preparation for the April competition (see figure).


There are typically about a dozen teams in the competition. In 2011-2012 CCEFP was represented by Illinois, Illinois Tech, Minnesota, and Purdue; Minnesota took second place overall. In 2012-2013 teams from Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue participated, and Illinois took first place overall. In 2013-2014 CCEFP was again represented by teams from Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue; this time Purdue and Minnesota took second and third place, respectively.