Annual competition inspires middle school students to careers in machine building, automation.
Toronto, ON – For the second year in a row, students from Islington Junior Middle School took the top prize at the Canadian Fluid Power Challenge, held at Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy on May 12 in Etobicoke, Ontario.
Celebrating its 11th year, the competition challenges student teams from west-end Toronto middle schools to design and build small-scale fluid power devices. This year, the 18 gender-balanced student teams were tasked with creating mechanisms that could quickly and efficiently pick up and place wooden blocks on one of two shelves, simulating a warehouse material handling problem. Islington’s team completed the largest number of cycles in the time limit.
“The only common denominator between last year and this year was the total commitment of the children,” said Islington teacher, Anne Potocnik, who filed in for the student’s regular Fluid Power Challenge coach, David Zayachkowski “They really threw themselves into the project; they went through four different prototype models before they hit on the final winning design.”
While the teams are limited to glue, wooden dowels, and water-filled syringes as construction materials, how they solve the Challenge’s scenario is left to the students’ imaginations and problem solving skills.
Challenge organizers were concerned that this year’s problem scenario might be too difficult. As it turned out, more teams succeeded in completing at least one cycle than in any of the previous ten challenges.
Many teams opted for complex, often delicate, scissor lifts for vertical actuation. Islington’s team, however, relied on a cantilever crane design coupled with a simple two-finger griper.
“The key was to keep things simple,” said Islington Junior Middle School team member, Kevin Sprunt. “A lot of teams went for very complicated designs, but ours just got the job done.”
The Challenge, a partnership of the Canadian Fluid Power Association and the Toronto District School Board, is intended to provide Grade 8 students with hands-on experience building a mechanism with real world applicability and hopefully inspire them to pursue technology careers.
At a minimum, the organizers hope that the Challenge will encourage students to select more mathematics and science courses in their high school curricula to keep their options open for technology-based post-secondary studies.
In addition to the Canadian Fluid Power Challenge, The CFPA’s Western Chapter also holds a Challenge in Edmonton that involves both high school and middle school students. Through a partnership between the CFPA and the U.S.-based National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), the Challenge concept has also spread south of the boarder and is hosted in a number of U.S. states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.