College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Cyclone Power Pullers create tractor that makes life easier for operators

Power Pullers 2015
Dan Killpack works on the quarter-scale tractor built and designed by the Cyclone Power Pullers in a workshop in Sukup Hall. The team will enter their tractor in a national competition later this month. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Don’t sweat the small stuff? Don’t tell that to the Cyclone Power Pullers.

The team of 10 ISU students designed and built a quarter-scale tractor over the course of the last academic year to enter in a national competition this month. And, as countless engineers have learned before them, sometimes seemingly small details can lead to the most sleepless nights.

“We always say that the little things that make life easier for the end user usually make life harder for the engineers who designed them,” said Dan Killpack, a graduating senior in agricultural and biosystems engineering, who led this year’s Power Pullers team.

Killpack, a native of Neola, joined the team in 2012 and “worked his way up the ranks” over the last few years. He’s got a good grasp of how the tractors are judged in competition.

This year, he said the team included some innovations that should make operating the tractor more convenient for the person in the driver’s seat. The operator’s station features a fully adjustable console with a joystick and cup holder. Killpack said the team took into account data on the average size of Americans so the operator’s station can comfortably accommodate virtually anyone, male or female.

The team designed a computerized system to monitor engine speed, which will guard against stalling, optimize power and make more efficient use of the engine – all with minimal effort on the part of the driver.

The Power Pullers installed a radar system that tracks the actual ground speed of the tractor. Previous tractors only kept track of wheel speed, which can prove inaccurate when the wheels slip.

All those innovations, designed to make things as effortless as possible for the operator, made life difficult for the Power Pullers. But Killpack said the experience sharpened the team’s problem-solving skills.

“We designed the controls to be miles ahead of where we think most other teams will be, but that came with a lot of challenges,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t get it right the first time, but that’s how you learn.”

The Power Pullers finished fourth overall last year and took home top honors in the oral presentation category.

The competition, organized by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, starts on May 28 in Peoria, Illinois. The entrants are judged on a range of criteria including performance, safety, ergonomics, manufacturability and maneuverability. In addition to showing off how the tractor performs, the team will also be judged on a written submission and oral presentation.

For Killpack, who graduated from Iowa State earlier this month, the experience with the Power Pullers has already proved valuable. Soon after the dust settles on the competition track, he’ll get ready for a move to Williamsburg, Iowa, where he’ll begin as a design engineer at Kinze Manufacturing, which produces crop planters and grain carts.

To read the original ISU News Service story by Fred Love, click here.