Engineering students rebound in virtual contest

Courtesy image: A computer model shows what the SDSU human-powered vehicle would have looked like if the team had been able to complete the shell. While the racing portion of the engineering competition was canceled, the squad’s design report placed second and third in two contests.

BROOKINGS – Disappointment was only a temporary setback for a group of South Dakota State University students hoping to place high in an engineering contest.

SDSU already had a team of 18 students signed up to compete in human-powered vehicle contests in East Lansing, Michigan, and Perry, Georgia, in April when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and put an end to public gatherings as well as in-person teaching. The contests, sponsored by the American Society of Medical Engineers, became a digital event.

Given that SDSU has fielded one of the nation’s top teams the last few years (undisputed national champ in 2018), news of a canceled event was crushing, 2020 team captain Evan Fick, of Garretson, said.

But with some encouragement from their adviser, Greg Michna, an associate professor in the mechanical engineering department, the team worked through that disappointment and presented one of the top design reports, according to Fick, a team member for all four of his years at State.

SDSU finished second in the E-Fest South contest against 20 schools and third in the E-Fest North contest against 40 schools. Both contests were rolled into E-Fest Digital, which was held April 25. In addition, Fick was one of two winners in a speaking contest.

Video supplements detailed design report 

The 28-page design report was submitted in February and would have accounted for 50% of the team’s score had the in-person contests transpired.

The report detailed “the entire design process, different things we did this year versus last year and the engineering reason for the changes. We also discussed testing of the bike with a computer program and how the bike would respond to small design changes,” said Fick, noting that initial testing required a tweaking to the frame design. “Then it was great.

“The judges were looking to see that we went into an actual engineering process and kept records of our work.”

The digital version of the contest also required a five-minute recorded presentation of the design process. That included a filmed demonstration of the vehicle’s safety. “A rollbar is required, so we did a rollover test in a teammate’s shop, took pictures and presented that to the judges in our video report,” Fick said.

Work continued after school buildings closed

The recorded presentation was due April 10, so the team did the best they could to work on the vehicle/bike as campus closed at the end of day March 13.

That was Friday of spring break, but team members stayed to work on the three-wheeled bike. The bike had not been assembled, but they were able to grab the frame and other parts from the university shop and take it to a teammate’s shop, where the students spent 50 hours the following week doing assembly and parts testing.

One test they couldn’t do was measure the bend in the frame when subjected to a load. Missing that safety measure in their report counted against them, Fick said.

Of course, being a digital contest, the students weren’t actually able to race their entry in endurance and sprint competitions.

“We were definitely disappointed. We used a different variety of steel. We were able to go with a lot lighter product. The bare frame weighed 11 pounds versus 20 last year,” said Fick, who also was one of seven team members who were also members of the SDSU track and field team. Had the opportunity developed, the team was prepared to race.

Fick credited Michna for encouraging the team after the live event was canceled to “keep our chins up and represent SDSU well” at the virtual event.

Michna said, “The team was really disappointed when the live competition was canceled, but I’m really impressed with the strong effort they put into shifting gears for the virtual competition. The fact that they placed so highly showcases their work ethic and validates that their engineering design work was excellent.”

Fick wins oral competition

Michna also persuaded Fick to enter the Old Guard Oral Presentation Competition, which also was sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The 15-minute presentations are designed to test engineering students’ ability to synthesize issues and effectively communicate on projects in which they have been involved.

Fick’s prerecorded message was on his senior design project, which he worked on with track and field teammates and fellow engineering students Anna Fasen and Caleb Bray. That team placed fifth in the statewide Governor’s Giant Vision contest in April.

Their product, the Talaria Running Form Trainer, is a force-sensitive running shoe insert designed to reduce the incidence of lower-body running injuries by helping runners of all experience levels improve their running form by reducing their tendency to heel strike.

With the first-place honor, Fick received $750 plus travel support to the International Mechanical Engineering Conference and Exposition in Portland, Oregon, in November.

Fick, who also has a minor in biomedical engineering, is currently looking for a position in that field.

Human-powered vehicle team members

Members of the SDSU team, which is an extracurricular activity within the college, are:

Alexander Auch, Harrisburg; Sara Broad, Lincoln, Nebraska; Cole Brown, Sioux Falls; Alyssa Eckstein, Big Lake, Minnesota; Anna Fasen, Big Lake, Minnesota; Evan Fick, Garretson; Seth Friesen, Olivet; Josh Goehring, Sioux Falls; Blake Iverson, Maple Grove, Minnesota; Ryan Kropuenske, Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin; Carter Lommel, Monticello, Minnesota; Mason McDonald, Omaha, Nebraska; Ray Munsterman, Brookings; Liam Murray, Omaha; Ben Olson, Blaine, Minnesota; Gabe Peters, Sioux Falls; Elisabeth Timmer, Savaneta, Aruba; and Max White, Kokomo, Indiana.

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