Eight students from Mitchell Middle School’s Technology Education classes competed in the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) Challenge at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).
Each team, made up of two boys and two girls, was shown an engineering problem that had to be solved using fluid power applications during the first of two daylong workshops on the MSOE campus on November 9, 2012. They were led by their Technology Education teacher Keith Kohlmann, and School Counselor Kate Mascarette.
The students were given four weeks to develop and build a working prototype of a hydraulic powered machine that could lift a block of wood and precisely place it within the confines of an arc radiating away from the starting point. The farther each object was placed away from the origin, the more points the team scored. The machines needed grab, lift, and crowd functions.
Students returned to their home schools where they were given four weeks to build a working prototype fluid power machine. Each team was required to submit an Engineering Report to the judges panel made up of engineers from local fluid power industries and MSOE fluid power instructors.
The Engineering Reports contained isometric and orthographic drawings of the prototype machine, an explanation of the placement of fluidic components, a discussion of the principles of strength and stability of the design, a consideration of alternatives, and an evaluation of the prototype.
The Mitchell teams built their prototypes and wrote their reports during their Technology Education classes. They stayed late after school to work during the After Zone program. Several students also worked through the weekends at home to meet the demands of the Challenge.
On December 7, the Mitchell Middle School teams, along with a team from Starbuck Middle School, joined 20 teams representing some of the top STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) public and charter schools in the Milwaukee area at MSOE.
The teams were then given four hours to independently build a second version of their prototype machine in front of the judges, using only their engineering drawings for guidance. Judges circulated among the groups awarding points for teamwork, safety, technical skills and correct answers to quiz questions about fluid power.
The students worked without any help from their teachers. The teachers spent the morning on an industrial tour of the world headquarters of Oilgear Corporation ( www.oilgear.com) in Milwaukee.
The students worked non-stop, furiously measuring, cutting wood, gluing parts and checking their work against their plans. Most groups worked straight through lunch, with some groups placing components and trouble shooting problems in the last minutes of an epic four-hour marathon.
Fluid Power Competition
The teachers returned to join the students to watch teams from each school take turns operating their machines in the Fluid Power Challenge. Points were scored for each object successfully picked up and moved with fluid power during a 90 second round.
There were many tense moments in the competition. Sometimes machines broke down and strategies failed. A month’s worth of preparation led up to this final test.
Mitchell Team B designed a strong, well-balanced machine with an unusually fast cycle time. Their careful assembly and teamwork allowed them to shoot ahead to an early lead by moving 10 blocks in 90 seconds, propelling them to the top of the points total with 30 points.
Mitchell Team A did not finish assembling their machine in time for the competition, but they didn’t give up. The team pulled together to work for an additional hour to finish assembling and fine-tuning their machine to be in the Exhibition portion after the main the competition.
While the judges met to total each team’s points and determine the winners in the categories of: Design, Portfolio, Team Challenge and Overall Champion/ First Place, the students gathered to watch the Exhibition Round.
A student from Starbuck Middle School lent his wristwatch to the Mitchell team. Kids from West Bend volunteered as scorekeepers and judges while Mitchell Team A ran their machine. Students from the Milwaukee area schools judged each move and cheered on the Mitchell kids who scored 72 points in the Exhibition round.
Other teams were intrigued by the Mitchell machine. Jimmy Kohlmann’s engineering solution to the technical problem was unlike any other machine at the competition. Eric Lanke, CEO of the National Fluid Power Association commented, “I have seen 80 teams approach this problem, and this is the most unique design out of all of them. This is really creative, outside the box thinking. I don’t think anyone could have imagined that.”
The Exhibition Round wasn’t about gaining more points, it was about sharing your inspiration and the gritty determination of not giving up when a problem gets hard. The Mitchell Team A members were exhausted, but they were determined to show everyone what they could accomplish.
The teachers, parents, judges, and teams assembled for the presentation of the National Fluid Power 2012-2013 trophies.
Mitchell Team B: Emily Bollendorf, Hawk Cardin, Stephen Hull, Anneliese Tomlinson won the Team Challenge Champion trophy for achieving the highest score in the machine operation portion of the competition.
Mitchell Team A, Jimmy Kohlmann, Evelyn Martinez-Diaz, Alex McGinnis, Emmalee Wollin received the Portfolio Champion trophy by posting the highest point totals in the Engineering Portfolio competition.
Thomas Wanke, Director of the Fluid Power Institute commented, “When I saw that they actually did research before building, that moved their portfolio up to a higher level. That is what we want to see. That makes the difference, and that is engineering.”
The applause had no sooner died down when Mitchell Team B was called back up to receive the Overall Champion/ First Place trophy. The points they scored in the areas of Machine Operation, Teamwork, Portfolio and Engineering Design combined to give them the highest point total at the event. Their weeks of hard work paid off, and they were ecstatic.
A short video of the competition can be seen at: http://www.msoe.edu/admission/fpchallenge/results.shtml
Technical Education Programs
The Fluid Power Challenge is a skills competition for eighth grade students, intended to expose students to engineering problem solving using fluid power technology. All Mitchell Middle School students in the Gateway to Technology engineering classes designed and built fluid power machines as part of their Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum, a national standard for science, technology, engineering and math education.
All students in Racine Unified School District are encouraged to continue taking advanced PLTW courses in high school, where they can earn up to 12 college credits from MSOE while attending PLTW classes in their Racine high school.
Mitchell students also learned about the amazing variety of careers that use fluid power technology, ranging from traditional automotive and construction applications to robotic, medical and digitalization specialties.
The Fluid Power Challenge is only one part of a three year long program where middle school students learn about engineering careers by doing real engineering in their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) classes at Mitchell. They also participate in engineering workshops at UW-Madison, MSOE, the Mitchell PLTW Summer Engineering Academy, and in the After Zone after school program.
Technical Education classes in Racine Unified Schools are a well-defined set of integrated programs providing a rigorous curriculum that prepares students to be successful in engineering college or technical school. Mitchell teams have won First Place in the NFPA Challenge three of the last four years, and Racine schools have won first place in four of the last five years.
Many of this year’s champions participate in the award winningExploring Engineering program offered by Kate Masacrette, Guidance Counselor at Mitchell. Students with strong academics, who express an interest in engineering or technical careers, are taken on two field trips to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Engineering campus each year. They tour the engineering labs where they meet with professors, students and admissions counselors to learn more about career opportunities. Many of these students return to the UW-Madison campus in summer to study engineering for a week at Camp Badger.
Cooperation between fluid power industries and educators is an important part of the Fluid Power Challenge. Industries in the Racine area have a long history of invention and innovation in the fluid power industry. Local industry sponsors of the National Fluid Power Challenge include Air-Logic, Bosch Rexroth, and Racine Federated Inc.
While students were building their machines at MSOE, teachers met with engineers at Oilgear Corporation who began the tour with a PowerPoint presentation illustrating Oilgear’s custom applications of fluid power in massive machinery such as: lift bridges, offshore oil drilling platforms, forges, and the movable sunshade on the Milwaukee Art Museum. Then they were guided through a virtual tour of a heavy industrial hydraulic pump using SolidWorks computer animation, followed by a discussion of the use of mathematical modeling used in the development of complicated hydraulic systems.
The engineers announced, “It’s good to get out into the factory and see what really goes on there.”
The group headed out to the factory where heavy pumps are manufactured, rebuilt and tested. Above the hum of the factory floor, an Oilgear engineer said to the group, “You can see the practical applications for math all around you,” gesturing to a 40-ton block of forged steel being shaped on a 20-foot high milling machine. This led to further discussions about technical jobs and career training.
As the tour wound down, an engineer offered some final advice for teachers to take back to the students: “Find something you’re interested in, something you’re passionate about-- and follow it!”
As evidenced by the Fluid Power Challenge and the Exploring Engineering program, that’s exactly what these kids at Mitchell Middle School are doing.