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Student team to compete in international tractor competition

NDSU is one of 26 university teams from the U.S., Canada and Israel set to compete in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers’ 18th annual International 1/4-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition. 

The event is scheduled May 28-31 at the Expo Gardens Fairgrounds in Peoria, Illinois.

One of the primary industry concerns is that many engineering students are entering the workforce with little practical knowledge or design experience. Many NDSU students gain this experience through outreach projects such as the 1/4-scale tractor competition. They develop skills in communication, leadership and teamwork.

“The goal of the competition is for the team members to pull the knowledge gained in various classes to use in a real-world application,” said Tom Bon, associate professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering and the team's adviser. “In addition, students also learn invaluable teamwork and communication skills as well as developing industry contacts.”

Teammates Cody Wiese, Adam Walter, Nathan Palmer and Tim Novak worked on the tractor late into Tuesday night in an on-campus engineering building. They had a throttle cable to replace and a leaky brake line to fix. After that, all that was left was to pack up their tools and head to the competition the next day.

Late nights aren’t unusual. The Bison Pullers club regularly meets in the evening to design, tweak and build their vehicle, which resembles a smaller but beefy version of a lawn or garden tractor.

Each team received a 31-horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine and a set of Titan tires. The rest of the design is up to each team, although it must weigh no more than 800 pounds and fall within dimensions restrictions.

Novak, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and incoming team president, said the team is sending two tractors to this year’s competition. The A-team tractor weighs 690 pounds. It will weigh 1,500 pounds when loaded with ballast at the event.

The second tractor, which will compete in the X-team competition, is worked on primarily by underclassmen.

Novak went to the competition last year and helped the team decide on what to improve. The fall semester was spent working in small groups focused on the drive train, frame, steering and other components. They used computer modeling to test their ideas.

The biggest changes were redesigning the front axle to improve durability and tightening up the steering system. “I bet we took it apart and put it back together at least 50 times,” Novak said.

All freshmen, Wiese, Walter and Palmer will tow a trailer full of tools and tractors to Peoria. They’ll be met by Bon and Aryel Smith, team secretary and junior majoring in agriculture communication.

The tractor will undergo a series of performance tests and tractor pulls. New this year is a durability course where the tractor must tow a 1,500-pound four-wheel cart around an oval course full of deep sand, dirt and 2.5-inch bumps. It’s designed to give the students perspective on how off-road machinery manufacturers test their products.

The team also must “sell” their design in a formal presentation to industry experts. The panel of judges each grade entries on innovation, manufacturability, serviceability, safety, sound level and ergonomics. Teams also submit a written design report in advance of the competition.

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North Dakota State University
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