Farmer Iron

A Little Hurry Up and Wait

Engineering competition includes plenty of inspections...and lines.

Ag-focused students from 26 schools are getting an interesting real-world experience this week in Peoria, Ill. As I wrote last week, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers 1/4-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition is underway - it started officially Thursday.

The event, which goes through this weekend, is a "360-view" program that requires students to engage in design, then build, and also develop critical market/manufacturing documents to go along with the project. I'm involved as a judge for the event, but I also enjoy watching the next generation of engineers put forth their best efforts.

But the first real-world experience students got yesterday was the hurry-up-and-wait of tech inspections. The controlled chaos of more than 40 machines (A-Team and X-team tractors) going through technical inspections takes time, and invariably someone's waiting for the next "station" along the way.

A side-note - X-team tractors are machines from a previous competition that are returned to the event by an underclassman team. They can make changes to the tractor to improve it, and they get a chance to do the reports and make the presentations the A-Teams (with their new tractors) do. It's a great practice round for the schools and there's an associated pull too.

But back to the competition. Every machine has to make weight - for A-Team competitors this year the base weight of the tractor has been dropped to 800 pounds - down from 850 in the past few years (of course they also were cut to one 31-hp engine or two 16-hp engines too). One team, with an innovative design that includes a tailgate couldn't make base weight with the tailgate on (missing by just two pounds!). It can be a real challenge.

The University of Wisconsin tractor takes a brake test - with the machine weighted down to 1,500 pounds, the tractor must hold position when raised to a steep angle - no rolling allowed. It's part of the required safety equipment required for all tractors students build for the competition.

Other inspections include a brake test (with the tractor weighted down to at least 1500 pounds); engine testing to make sure all engines are operating within their design parameters. And other tech inspections that are all based on a very detailed design document schools got last September at the start of this year's competition.

Talking with tech judges it's apparent that not everyone reads the instructions, even in a competition like this. But teams work through the night to fix what doesn't pass and get ready to clear design inspections.

Farmers reading this should know that engineers and ag mech students taking part in this competition are learning plenty, and that's going to translate someday into knowledgeable engineers building even better equipment. At least that's the plan.

I'll share more about the event as we blog through the weekend. If you have a question, post a comment to this blog and we'll try to answer it. And I'll be tweeting the event at my Twitter ID, which you can check out at

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