July 6, 2022

NDSU engineering team earns first place


Bison Pullers
The NDSU Bison Pullers team recently competed in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition.

The NDSU Bison Pullers team earned first place in the maneuverability category during the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition in Peoria, Illinois.

“We had a fantastic event this year, with 18 teams competing,” said Ashley Johnson, co-chair of the 2022 contest. “The quality of the tractors and their level of innovation was high, despite COVID-19 interruptions over the past two years.”

All 18 competitors successfully hooked and pulled in the final performance event – the tractor pull – a feat that demonstrated the extraordinary robustness in design.

“This is a testament to the work and resilience of each student involved,” Johnson said.

This year’s participants came from across the United States and Canada.

Sponsored by the ASABE, the quarter-scale tractor contest is unique among student engineering-design events, providing a realistic 360-degree workplace experience. It is a popular recruiting event for many sponsors, who find practiced, high-achieving prospects with strong technical, communication and leadership skills honed by competition experience.

The 2022 contest was held June 1-4 at the Peoria Expo Gardens. The contest is a longtime tradition, with NDSU competing for about the past 25 years.

The Bison Pullers, which is an ASABE-sanctioned Quarter-Scale Pulling Tractor Organization on the NDSU campus, competes each year in the event.

The organization’s goal is for juniors and seniors to develop a quarter-scale tractor for the A-team competition. An NDSU team of freshmen and sophomores can bring back the tractor from the year before with some slight modification.

Other typical activities include fundraising for support from outside sources, public service, promotion of ASABE, presentation of the quarter-scale tractor at campus functions and more.

But it’s the quarter-scale tractor build that draws the attention.

“Each year, the students are required to design a quarter-scale tractor from the ground up,” says Matt Olhoft, one of the advisors. They are required to use a 31-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine provided by Briggs & Stratton.

“They are not allowed to modify it in any way,” he says. “Briggs even paints over the bolts at the factory. The rear tires are provided by Titan. From there, the students can pretty much do as they wish.”

The students compete in a number of categories. They are scored on safety, marketability and maneuverability after taking the tractor through an obstacle course.

Another category is pulling and a durability test.

“To see if the tractor can hold together,” Olhoft says.

The team also completes a written report on the project and gives a presentation to the judges about the tractor and their experience building it.

The presentation, which is sponsored by Caterpillar, is hosted at the Caterpillar headquarters in Peoria.

A winner is declared in each category, along with an overall winner, and NDSU ranked among the top third of the schools overall.

Nine NDSU students compete on the Bison Pullers team, with about 15 members in total.

Any interested students in good standing with NDSU can join. All experience and skill levels are welcome, too.

The Bison Pullers meet at the ABEN shop most Thursdays during the fall and spring semesters at 5:30 p.m. They also have large group meetings at least once a month at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays in ABEN 201. Olhoft encourages incoming students to join.

“First, you get to know the older students on a personal basis, which is always beneficial,” he said. “And it’s a way for them to practice those skills that they’re learning in the classroom. When you do a whole project from start to finish, you learn a lot.”

“They get to practice some of those engineering skills, so they get on a CAD program and they have to design the whole tractor and they also do a lot of stress analysis of the different parts of the tractor to look for any kind of failure points before they actually make the tractor,” Olhoft said.

Fabrication skills also are also involved to shape the steel and weld it together.

Alumni working at agricultural manufacturing facilities who participated when they were students understand the devotion given and experience gained for the Bison Pullers.

“Those former alumni can really appreciate those current students that are doing this. It is a big deal when they apply for jobs and they have that on their resume and their future employer recognizes that. It does move them to the top of the list,” Olhoft said.

Other advisors are Sulaymon Eshkabilov, Yu (Heather) Zhang and Brian Gregor.

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