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Team Takes Second in National Tractor Design Contest
South Dakota Ag Connection - 07/12/2017

Take a team of inquisitive minds, provide them with an engineering challenge, give them a 31-hp engine and a set of tires and turn them loose to build a tractor, one-fourth the normal size.

That's a simplified version directing fifteen students from the South Dakota State University Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department in the recent International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition, held in Peoria, Ill. The successful team, made up of students majoring in agricultural and biosystems engineering and agricultural systems technology, earned second place overall in the contest.

"At the competition we go through technical inspection, design judging, oral presentation, maneuverability, durability, and tractor pulling events," explained Tia Muller, a senior ag engineering student.

This was the highest placing for SDSU in the 15-year history of attending. Muller explained in the past, the highest SDSU ranking was eighth overall. The competition is sponsored by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

This year the SDSU team's placings included: Overall Placing: 2nd; Overall Performance: 2nd; Overall Pulling: 1st; Written Report: 6th; Presentation: 5th; Design Judging: 7th; Durability: Tied for 5th; Maneuverability: 7th.

SDSU's group competed with two garden-sized tractors in the A and X class. The A-class tractor was named TB-242 (Traction-Boss 2 cylinder, 4-speed, 2 WD) and X-Class was JR-15. Students built the A-class from scratch this year. The tractor in the X-class features modifications made after judging the previous year.

The team involves 13 seniors, one sophomore and one junior. Team members include: Tia Muller- Pipestone, Minn.; Miranda LeBrun- Reading, Minn.; Spencer VanOverbeke- Marshall, Minn.; T.J. Harder- Butterfield, Minn.; Mitch Sandey- Jordan, Minn.; Caleb Dinse- New Ulm, Minn.; Tate Ketelhut- Miller, S.D.; Brady Buck- Bryant, S.D.; Nate Wright- Houghton, S.D.; Ryan VanTassel- Philip, S.D.; Seth Haigh- Philip, S.D.; Chandler Jansen- Emery, S.D.; Lucas Derdall- Volga, S.D.; Alex Koepke- Sioux Falls, S.D.. and Joe DeBoer- Ashton, Iowa.

As part of this competition, students from across the world are challenged to harness the power of a specified stock engine in order to maximize performance during the tractor pulls with a manufacturable and cost- effective design.

"Our team exhibits impressive strengths," Muller said. "Some of the team members redo old cars so they know what drivetrain systems will work. Some take part in tractor pulls so they understand ballasting and traction. Others work with farm equipment so they know about maneuverability and durability requirements. We generate a lot of ideas and talk about what works well from what we've learned in life and in classes."

Ryan VanTassel, the team captain for 2016-17, said the competition is design-based. He feels it's a great way for students to test ideas. The event forces students to learn time management and manufacturing processes, and many other practical skills folks in industry are looking for in the new job force.

"Our design was unique when compared to other tractors," VanTassel said. "A lot of teams use a similar drivetrain configuration, but we went a different route than all of the other teams. Even if two teams shared all of the same ideas, everyone has a different outlook on how to do things and you end up with some neat designs."

Muller said planning for the next year's tractor began as the group left the current year's competition. During the summer, team members communicate ideas through conference calls and the search begins for critical parts, such as a rear end or transmission.

Once students return to school, they will work in the ag engineering shop twice a week from 5 to 9 p.m.

Students use computer software to design the whole tractor model, incorporating the desired elements before cutting or shaping any material.

"This year we used a program call Inventor," Muller said. "Our goal is to have the model completed by mid-December. The parts are laser cut during Christmas break. Then we can do the full build, including the fine details we need to fabricate. Once we have it all built, we tear it down and send to Twin City Fan for the final painting. And then we reassemble and make adjustments."

Twin City Fan is one of the biggest sponsors and helps by fabricating parts, doing the laser cuts and powder coating. "It would be nearly impossible to fabricate those parts in-house," Muller said. "Sponsors and local businesses have stepped up to provide us with needed support and supplies."

Muller said the group functions much like a club. All of the work is extracurricular, unrelated from school except they are using the knowledge learned to create a model tractor, the shop and equipment.

"We are really tight knit and all of us know our role in preparing for the competition," Muller said. "I'm passionate about this project. This is our sport. We put our efforts into the designing and building of the tractor much like athletes train outside of class."

"Out of everything I've done, FFA, sports, 4-H, this is the activity that has prepared me for my career," Muller said. "We are all looking for jobs and that's the basis for why I joined the group. I'm not the most mechanically minded, but I wanted to be able to learn and to grow my engineering knowledge. In this competition, I learn from teammates. I learn by writing about the process and presenting our work. I learn from listening to industry representatives judge our model. It's not just building a tractor. A big part of what the industry wants is the ability to prove to your customers, using data and written design reports, that this works. It means convincing a company that this machine is one they want to develop and manufacture."

Joe Darrington, assistant professor and SDSU Extension Specialist, served as primary advisor for the Quarter-Scale Tractor Club. Aaron Franzen, assistant professor, and Douglas Prairie, instructor, served as technical advisors. "This competition brings with it the kind of adversity students will be exposed to once they graduate," Prairie explained. "They faced multiple unforeseen challenges during the event and spent some late nights making the necessary modifications required for their tractor to compete at its peak performance. This group of students made me proud to be both faculty and alumni of the SDSU Ag and Biosystems Enginering Department."

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