State student wins 3D hovercraft contest

Courtesy photos: Above: An elementary school child plays with the remote control unit while Seth Friesen explains his hovercraft to the child’s classmates before a contest at the Fairplex near Los Angeles. Largely built by 3D printing, the hovercraft won a contest sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Below: Seth Friesen, a sophomore from Olivet, poses with the hovercraft he built for the IAM3D Challenge at E-Fest West in Pomona, California.

BROOKINGS – Apparently, Seth Friesen retained quite a bit of knowledge from this fall’s 3D printing class taught by Todd Letcher at South Dakota State University.

“We had several teams that built hovercrafts for class. My team had the best one, the one that was able to consistently pick up the payload,” said Friesen, a junior mechanical engineering major from Olivet. This spring he applied that knowledge to enter the IAM3D challenge at E-Fest, a large student engineering contest in the Los Angeles suburb of Pomona, California, March 16. 

Friesen, a 2016 graduate of Menno High School, outsmarted and outmaneuvered the other two teams to walk away with the $250 prize in the contest sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Friesen was a team of one. His classmates were unable to attend. The other two teams had 10 and 15 members.

With no concerns about delegating duties, Friesen maneuvered his hovercraft through a maze, picked up a payload, delivered it to a different location within the maze and then parked his hovercraft in a third location. The timed event was held inside on a concrete floor with the hovercraft creating its own airlift.

It was powered by five motors that activated propellers that spun at 28,000 revolutions per minute and created differential thrust that Friesen programmed with the remote and electronic speed controls. The hovercraft was 18 inches long by 7.65 inches wide with a 6-inch claw. The claw was used to grab the payload, a 2-inch cube.

He purchased the motors and remote control units. Friesen used a campus 3D printer and two of his own 3D printers to build the hull of the hovercraft, the turbine tunnels, the motor mounts and the gear/claw system. Contestants were also required to use a computer program to design the parts and submit a design report containing statistics and calculations.

Prior to taking Letcher’s class, Friesen had experience making 3D objects on his father’s 3D printer, but no experience with design, remote controls or programming.

“I knew how to take a tractor apart and put it back together, but this was all new to me,” the farm boy said.

The hovercraft he built for the Innovative Additive Manufacturing 3D Challenge was an entirely new creation from his classroom project, except for the motor and electronic speed controller. He took those off the classroom hovercraft because the parts he ordered didn’t arrive before leaving by vehicle with 10 other engineering students for the two-day drive to L.A.

Getting the craft built on time was his biggest challenge, he said.

“It was pretty much a scramble to finish it. But I was able to test it. I’m pretty happy with how the entire hovercraft turned out, especially since this was my first time going to E-Fest,” he said.


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