Middle-Schoolers Learn Hydraulics, Build Machines at Harper Contest

About 200 Chicago-area eighth-graders convened at Harper College on Friday for the annual Fluid Power Challenge -- a competition requiring them to build machines that relied solely on hydraulics to move small objects and perform other tasks.

The student participants had received an overview of hydraulics at an earlier workshop, and got materials there to design and build prototype machines that could tackle an assigned challenge.

On Friday, working in teams of four, they used a new batch of materials to build updated versions of their contraptions, competing afterward in front of an audience of parents and teachers to see whose machine best handled the task at hand.

They also were judged on other criteria, including teamwork.

“It’s not easy, and it validates that what we’re doing in this field is not for the faint of heart,” says Bill Parks, President of Deltro Fluid Products and chairman of the National Fluid Power Association. “It really gives these students a sense of fulfillment. They know it’s hard, and at first they don’t even think they can do it.”

The project overall was intended to teach various aspects of hydraulics and the engineering process – from design and planning to documentation and execution – and encourage interest in the fluid power field.

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