Exceptional engineering

Kevin Montoya 225x150
NAU students build a better bicycle.

Northern Arizona University’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) made a strong showing at the 2014 western Human Powered Vehicle Challenge (HPVC). Northern Arizona University placed second overall out of 26 universities, which included engineering school powerhouses like the University of California at Berkeley, Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the University of Arizona.

The goal of the competition is to design and build a practical vehicle that only runs on human power. Kevin Montoya, a senior mechanical engineering student and the design lead of the vehicle’s body, says the vehicles ideally offer, “the benefits of an automobile, but the practicality of a bicycle.”

In addition to coming in second overall, Northern Arizona University also placed in almost every other category in the competition, finishing third in Endurance, second in Design, second in Innovation, and first in Women’s Speed.

The competition

The HPVC currently takes place in four different locations. HPVC West, the competition Northern Arizona University competed in, takes place in the western United States. Universities from India, Mexico, and Canada also competed in HPVC West.

Teams of engineering students in these regions spend months designing and constructing their own human powered vehicles to compete in four separate competitions. Northern Arizona University’s vehicle was described as a “tadpole” design, with two wheels in the front and one wheel in the back.

Montoya credits NAU’s 2013 HPVC team with popularizing the design in the 2014 competition. “You saw other bikes that looked just like ours as well, and that’s the interesting part,” Montoya says. “Last year, we went to the competition with a bike like that and this year we saw a lot more bikes that were geared towards our style of bike.”

Leading the way

Montoya’s dedication and hard work was a key factor in leading the six-student team to victory. He estimated that he spent 200 hours on the outer enclosure alone. Perry Wood, the team’s faculty advisor, admired Montoya’s hard work on this project and the many other roles that Montoya has taken on.

“With Kevin, not only did he have his schoolwork, but he also he works for me in the machine shop,” Wood says. “He’s also an officer in ASME, which is a very important position. He’s our treasurer, so he has to manage the money, but he also helps other clubs, and he’s going to be a graduate student for me next semester. He’s amazing.”

Both Montoya and Wood are quick to point out that this project was a team effort. Montoya explained that engineering is all about teamwork and being able to effectively communicate with each other, and that the team’s ability to do that was important for its success.

Leaving a legacy

The success that NAU had at the HPVC has created hope that the university will be a strong contender in the competition for years to come. “I want our university to be seen as one of the top competing teams, where people come in and ask ‘let’s see what Northern Arizona University is bringing this year?’” Montoya says.

 That hope is firmly based in reality—Northern Arizona University’s engineering program was ranked as the 44th best in the country by U.S. News and World Report in 2013. The university’s success at the HPVC looks even more impressive considering the only school that beat them in the overall category—Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology—was ranked first in the same report.

Montoya believes that Northern Arizona University’s College of Engineering’s high ranking is attributable to, “I believe the College of Engineering’s high ranking is due to the availability to meet with teachers and get to know them on a personal level,” he says. ““That, and the hands-on experience that we get here. I’ve heard that a lot of industry people really like our program because of how much hands-on experience our students receive.”