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Student teams take on engineering challenges

Student teams take on engineering challenges

Thousands of students from across the country and the globe recently participated in two events aimed at attracting them to science and technology fields. The first ever AEM Construction Challenge, held at ConExpo/IFPE in Las Vegas from March 11 to 13, encouraged students to use their skills to coordinate a construction project from design and development to finish, while the FIRST(For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship continued to grow with more than 1,500 teams from the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Chile, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, and the U.K., participating in this well-established event.

In March, students were able to take part in what is perhaps the largest construction trade show in the world, ConExpo/IFPE. There, a new competition sponsored by AEM attracted 50 student teams who had to build pieces of construction equipment, debate other teams on infrastructure issues, and create educational products. The first place prize, a $2,000 scholarship, went to a team from Perry High School in Perry, Okla. Second place went to Miami Valley Career Technical Center in Englewood, Ohio, and third place went to West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio.

The Road Warrior competition pitted students against each other in pushing the most amount of gravel across a student-built infrastructure consisting of a road, bridge, and pipeline. The teams used engineering and science principles, and key mechanical transmission components to accomplish this task.

The Perry students built two machines based on a DitchWitch design, the team’s sponsor. They built cranes with mechanical gripper arms to lift the pipe off the ground, said team manager Jeff Zagar. The gripper arms were operated with spring-loaded bike cable. In addition, a remote control car that hauled the aggregate featured gears designed for speed and reducing torque and pulley power.

Ron Kaufmann, team manager at Miami Valley, said the two critical components in his team’s success were a drill-driven auger to move the gravel and a cable and pulley system that moved buckets containing the aggregate above the course.

The Winning Alliance at the FIRST Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta April 17-19 was: Team 148 “Robowranglers” of Greenville High School from Greenville, Tex.; Team 217 “ThunderChickens” of Utica Community Schools from Sterling Heights, Mich.; and Team 1114 “Simbotics” of Governor Simcoe Secondary School from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Countless others were recognized for the Tech Challenge, Lego League, scholarships, and other awards.

Student teams built their robots from a kit of hundreds of parts. This year’s game, called “FIRST Overdrive,” tested students and their robots’ ability to race around a track knocking down 40-in. inflated trackballs and moving them around the track, passing them either over or under a 6-ft, 6-in. overpass.

FIRST sponsor Autodesk has been integrally involved in the event since its inception, says Paul Mailhot, senior director of worldwide education programs for the 2D and 3D software maker. The company donates $17 million in software for the students to use, mentoring resources, and funds.

Mailhot says the company provides each team with five licenses for their 3D Studio Max, and also created a special website,, where students can go for more information and software to use. “We made available all the training material, courseware, and software, and produce a virtual catalog of parts,” Mailhot said. “All the components in the FIRST Technical Challenge and the Robotics competition are available in Inventor file format so they didn’t have to reproduce everything. They were able to create a digital prototype of their robots.”

Brenda Discher, senior director of marketing for the manufacturing division of Autodesk, said the company’s mission is closely aligned with that of the competition. “We want to get more kids thinking about becoming engineers, and prepare the next generation of engineers and architects,” Discher said. Before the competition, most young students were not as aware of the possibilities for careers in science and technology-related fields. Now, they not only know what’s out there, but through the competition, are placed closely into those fields. “The software we provide students is the same in terms of functionality as we make available to our commercial customers,” Mailhot said. Discher adds, “Our strategy is to enable our customers to experience their products before they are built.”

Besides Autodesk, many industry leaders are sponsors at some level in the event, often supplying the components that students use to build their robots. These include companies such as Rockwell Automation, Gates Corp., Microchip Technology Inc., National Instruments, SMC Corp. of America, Parker Hannifin Corp., Bimba Mfg., igus Inc., Clippard Instrument Laboratory, Norgren,, BishopWisecarver Corp., Eastern Bearings, Festo Corp., Kerk Motion Products, Lord Corp., WIKA Instrument Corp., and many more.

Visit FIRST or Autodesk for more information on the FIRST Robotics competition or visit AEM for information on the Construction Challenge.

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