Next-Gen Engineers: Agricultural Engineering to Scale

The American Association of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), based in St. Joseph, MI, is the host of an International ¼ Scale Tractor Design Competition.

The 1/4-scale tractors are put through performance tests as part of the design competition. Image courtesy of Katie McDonald Photography.


The American Association of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), based in St. Joseph, MI, is the host of an International ¼ Scale Tractor Design Competition to encourage agricultural engineering efforts.

The competition was developed to “gain practical experience in the design of drivetrain systems, tractor performance, manufacturing processes, analysis of tractive forces, weight transfer and strength of materials.” In addition to technical design skills, the competition invites students to develop and use their skills in communication, leadership, teamwork, fundraising, and test and development.

The 1/4-scale tractors are put through performance tests as part of the design competition. Image courtesy of Katie McDonald Photography. The 1/4-scale tractors are put through performance tests as part of the design competition.
Image courtesy of Katie McDonald Photography.

The machines are put to the test in three tractor pulls, a maneuverability course and a durability course.

Curt Thoreson works for John Deere in its Waterloo Works Tractor Cab and Assembly Operations, Chassis Engineering division. He’s the past competition organizing committee co-chair for the 2016 ASABE International ¼ Scale Tractor Competition. We spoke to Thoreson to explore what the Scale Tractor Design Competition is and how it works.

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the 1/4 Scale Tractor Design Competition event?

Curt Thoreson: The ¼ Scale Tractor Competition is intended to provide college-level students a hands-on product development experience similar to what they’ll contribute to within industry. The competition was first developed 20 years ago with that intent and has evolved over time to enhance that experience.

Typically 25 to 30 colleges and universities from across the United States, Canada and Israel compete in the event. Most competing students are studying engineering disciplines, although we see a variety of other fields of study, including business, accounting, ag systems and mechanics, represented as well.

DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs that are part of the event and how they came to be?

Thoreson: The tractor starts with a 31 HP Briggs and Stratton Engine and a set of Titan tires provided by competition sponsors. From there, students bring a variety of tractor designs each year. Some represent a demonstrated formula for strong performance like using a continuously variable transmission or a Super-Cub transaxle. Some teams have an interest in trying different technologies and concepts to challenge their design abilities and creativity. Examples this year included a fully electric transmission on Iowa State University’s tractor and an air-adjustable independent front suspension from Oklahoma State University. Students design their tractors in order to maximize points in the performance competition and meet their selected target market needs.

DE: Can you provide some examples of what the event has produced?

Thoreson: While the event produces a winner each year, the real target of the competition is to prepare students for the industrial world of product design when they graduate. Many of the skills and lessons learned by competing students are challenging to grasp in the classroom environment.

In the process of developing, building, testing and demonstrating their tractors, these students gain first-hand knowledge on new product development; get feedback from industry experts on their successes and failures, and exposure to potential future employers.

DE: Who sponsors the program?

Thoreson: It takes the efforts of many sponsors to make this event happen each year. The event is supported, organized and operated by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, and sponsored by AGCO, Briggs & Stratton, Case IH, Danfoss, John Deere, New Holland Agriculture, SolidWorks, Titan, RCI Engineering, Caterpillar and Campbell Scientific; also, Katie McDonald Photography, Claas and Thompson.

Other sponsors include Central City Scale, Igus, Miller, GSI and MacDon. Many sponsors support the event because they have several competition alums operating as successful employees within the company and want to support the event that has directly benefited them.

More Info

ASABE

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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