Gaining Real-Life Skills through HPVC

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Employers often express concern that engineering graduates lack practical skills. Competitions that challenge students to design and build solutions to real-world problems can help bridge the gap between classroom learning and important skills needed in the workplace.

The Human Powered Vehicle Challenge (HPVC) provided a get-your-hands-dirty kind of experience to nearly 40 student teams who participated at ASME’s E-Fest Asia Pacific, held March 16-18 at Delhi Technological University (DTU) in India. Young engineering students from across India put their vehicles to test during the men’s and women’s drag races, and the final endurance race.

“HPVC sharpens skills which students cannot learn from books or academic projects,” said Nishant Trivedi, a senior project engineer at ABB and ASME ECLIPSE Intern S&C, who was one of the judges at HPVC E-Fest Asia Pacific this year.

Human-powered transport is often the only type available in underdeveloped or inaccessible parts of the world, and if well designed, can be a viable form of sustainable transportation. Engineering students participating in HPVC work in teams to design and build efficient vehicles for everyday use.

“It took us six months from the research to build our vehicle. It was a great team effort,” said Harshdeep Singh, a second-year mechanical engineering student of team Cyborg from Punjabi University, Patiala.

Singh’s team used a streamline design, which is lighter and aerodynamically better. “It has compound transmission and better speed. We have used pipes that can withstand the forces generated in the ANSYS software. We used seatbelts for protection and a first-aid kit for safety measures,” he said.

Building a human-powered vehicle from scratch requires not just a thorough understanding of engineering design principles, but also crucial soft skills like project management, leadership, communication, and budgeting. “We worked as a team to solve the problems, so in the end ‘unity paid off’ and we made it work,” said Singh.

For Team Cyborg there were a lot of takeaways from HPVC. “We met other teams and got great exposure. We don’t learn these things in our classes. In India, they are very theoretical, so the only practical experience we get is in labs or during workshops. The main reason we participated in E-Fest was to get practical knowledge and hands-on experience,” said Singh.

Another student team from Bangalore University was looking forward to interacting and learning from other teams. “There are students here from all over India, a lot of diversity, and we have seen a variety of vehicles,” said the team captain. They also learned to not just build things in your own head. “Test and build is the lesson we learned,” he said.

Trivedi, who has been involved in the competition for three years now said, “HPVC is not only for winning or losing but to see whether an idea and plan worked effectively or not,” adding that every year he has seen the level of competition grow.

At the end of the competition, the team from Vellore Institute of Technology emerged as the overall HPVC winner. The team also bagged the first place in the design category and third in the men’s speed event. The team from B. H. Gardi College of Engineering and Technology placed second overall, as well as third in the women’s speed event and the endurance race. DTU finished third overall and also took first place in the women’s and men’s speed events and third in the design category.

The unique environment of HPVC fostered hands-on collaboration with like-minded peers. “I have seen many teams help each other, share their challenges, and learn from each other,” said Trivedi, recollecting a breakdown incident of one of the team’s vehicle. “Each member of the team found a different repair shop near the university and waited outside it through the night to see which opens first, so they could complete the repair before the races began. This is just one example of the students’ attitude toward work, their strong determination and sportsmanship.”  

Chitra Sethi is managing editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine.

Also read Organizing E-Fest: When Hard Work Paid Off