COD Engineering Club Awarded ‘Best Design’ in Prestigious UIUC Robotics Competition

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By Mike McKissack

The College of DuPage Engineering Club was awarded “Best Design” for its entry in the 28th Annual Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. Competing for the third year in a row as the only two-year school that has been granted permission to participate, the Robotics Team were up against students from prestigious universities, including UIUC, University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois University and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

“The students did a tremendous job,” said Engineering Club advisor and COD Engineering Instructor Scott Banjavcic. “For students from a two-year institution to be recognized among students from prestigious four-year schools and even graduate students demonstrates the talent and dedication of our students and the rigor of our Engineering, Manufacturing and Technology programs.”

This year’s team included Team Leaders Tom Beardsley, Wheaton, and Scott Walters, Naperville; Maxwel Cichon, Bloomingdale; Nathan Hines, Westmont; Edith Kocher-Cowan, Lisle; Laura Kristie, Westchester; Alec Steinkraus, Plainfield; and Devon Weaver, Naperville.

The AMD Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition is an annual robotics competition held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where student teams from across the Midwest design and build competitive robots. Each year, a new game objective is created that tests the teams in terms of creative design and robot functionality and promotes new designs and innovation. The goal of the competition is to promote engineering disciplines and provide students a chance to demonstrate their technical abilities and creativity while applying knowledge learned in engineering courses.

According to Banjavcic, while only the eight-member robotics team attended the competition at UIUC, approximately 30 members of the Engineering Club were involved with the redesign and manufacturing of the robot, contributing as many as 20 to 30 hours per week over the last few months. He said the competition provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain crucial hands-on experience that prepares them to excel in their education and career.

“The preparation for this competition mimics the types of design-build projects that students will encounter in the real world,” Banjavcic said. “Not only do they apply the skills and knowledge they’re learning in the classroom, they have to manage a budget and their time, as well as work as part of a team.”

Weighing in at 138 lbs., the team’s robot includes a square base platform measuring 20 by 21 inches and features a drive train and steering capabilities that enable it to spin 360 degrees in place as well as reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. Reflecting this year’s competition requirements, the robot underwent some important changes from the previous version. Last year’s forklift component, designed to pick up, carry and place cones, was replaced with a new crane and a pitching machine that were designed to pick up and shoot balls within a very specific distance and trajectory. The team also made modifications that lowered the robot’s chassis weight, as well as changes that made the robot easier to repair.

This year’s robot was sponsored in part by Shamrock International Fasteners. The sponsorship was obtained by the students who successfully pitched the project to the Itasca-based international component retailer.

HVACR Instructor Bob Clark said preparation for the competition bridges the gap between engineering and manufacturing, providing a comprehensive multidisciplinary experience that is just like what students will see as professionals in the real world. He said that he was impressed with the students’ performance at the competition.

“When the students had a vital motor break down at the competition, they came together just like a pit crew in NASCAR,” Clark said. “It was a sight to see and a commendable teamwork moment.”

Before the event, Robotics Team Co-Leader Scott Walters said the goals for the competition were to perform better than last year and, most importantly, to function well as a team, solving efficiently and professionally any challenges or problems the team encountered. Upon returning from the competition having earned the “Best Design” Award, Walters said that the team learned a lot and that it was validating to see their hard work pay off.

“It feels terrific and we are honored to have won this award,” he said. “The Engineering Club team performed far beyond what I thought possible and I am proud of each and every person on our team and the work we did.”

Walters said that while the competition was challenging, the team’s success reflects not only the skill of the students in the Engineering Club, but also on the quality of the Engineering and Manufacturing programs and COD as a whole.

“We have incredible people in our club, the best teachers I have ever met, terrific sponsors and above all, an incredibly supportive school and administration. HVACR Instructor Bob Clark and Scott Banjavcic were incredibly helpful and supportive throughout all of our work,” Walters said.

According to Team Co-Leader Tom Beardsley, who drove the robot at the event, the best part of the experience was standing on the side of the arena as each round started and letting in the thrill of the competition. He said that that one highlight during the competition was the opportunity to see competing schools’ designs and talk with students on the other teams about their robots.

“Everyone is there to learn from each other and have fun together, as well as compete,” he said.

He said that while the team is honored to have won the award, they plan to continue to improve and excel.

“Winning the Best Design Award at the competition is a great accomplishment for the Robotics team and the Engineering Club, but this is just the beginning,” Beardsley said. “We hope to build on our success and bring home even more awards in future competitions.”

In May, the team will have another chance to compete, develop their teamwork skills and apply their creativity and the knowledge they are gaining in the classroom when they compete as one out of fifty colleges and universities from across the nation in the sixth annual NASA Robotic Mining Competition, held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The students, Banjavcic and Clark all agree that their success at the competition would not have been possible without the collaboration of the Engineering and Manufacturing departments and the support of the College’s administration.

“The students did a great job, but they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show their skill, dedication and knowledge without the incredible support and assistance provided by COD’s administrators, faculty and staff,” said Clark. “The cooperation of Physics Lab Manager Bob Carrington, Welding Instructor Dave Ellis, Manufacturing Coordinator Jim Filipek and Manufacturing Instructor Jim Tumavich, as well as the support of Executive Vice President Joe Collins, Associate Dean of Technology John Kronenberger and Associate Dean of Health and Sciences Tom Schrader were essential in enabling us to participate in this competition and win this award.”

Please click here to view photos of the robot before the competition.

Please click here to view photos provided by COD Engineering Instructor Scott Banjavcic.

Click here for information about the College’s Engineering program.