A Menno High School graduate single-handedly won a national Innovative Additive Manufacturing 3-D contest last month.

Seth Friesen, a junior mechanical engineering major at South Dakota State University, won the competition and a $250 cash prize at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' global Engineering Festival in Pomona, California, last month.

The competition was designed to test students in their ability to design and manufacture hovercraft capable of simulating humanitarian efforts by completing a 60-by-60-foot obstacle course by remote control, moving a two-inch, quarter-pound 3D-printed cube.

"We've had a lot of natural disasters occurring recently and in the past years," Freisen said. "Basically, they wanted us to design a hovercraft that was capable of overcoming various terrains that was also able to pick up a payload to drop off and pick up in certain areas."

His 18-inch long by 7.65-inch wide model with a 6-inch claw (extended) inset on the body, allowing it to fit inside the 2-foot cube requirement, resembled an airboat with its blue fabric air raft and two white propulsion tunnels each housing a propeller that equipped the hovercraft to change directions or fly in reverse.

Friesen did employ the help of a couple classmates during the design phase of his project, but the computer-aided drafting, supply purchasing, assembly and race were all on him.

A majority of the hovercraft was 3D-printed on what Friesen described as "a hot pen that draws a series of lines that eventually build up and make a product" out of plastic to match computer drawings.

"It's a lot of fun if you know what you're doing, and it's a great (method) of rapid prototyping," he said. "... I've used it in several of my classes to make projects or to print something to see if my design is going to work. It helps me a little bit to see a real thing."

Friesen said he put about a full week's worth of last-minute work into the project the week before competition, sleeping just two to three hours a night. He'd known about it prior to that time, but had been preoccupied by his regular coursework.

"It was kind of a time crunch to get that in, and that's part of the reason I needed a little help on" the design, he said. "In about four to five days, I had a brand new CAD design of the hovercraft and had it printed and assembled. And, at the end of those four or five days, I was in a van, headed for Pomona."

He worked out the programming on the 30-hour drive to Pomona and installed the raft and tested it at the hotel the night before.

"It was a quick design, and I didn't cut corners," he said.

Still, he was confident in his design after creating something similar for an in-class competition earlier in the year.

The two other teams at the competition - from Texas and Arizona - had had 10 to 15 members each.

"I wasn't overly nervous, but I wasn't feeling super calm," he said.

A knack for engineering

Friesen, the son of Lee and Michelle Friesen of Olivet, had a natural tendency for engineering and fixing things on the family farm.

"A tractor or an implement would break or not quite work how I'd want it to, so I'd always try to fix or improve anything that I could, to just make life a little easier for us," he said. "I've always been interested in mechanics and the gears and the overall working systems of the world. As I got older, my knowledge base kind of grew more toward automotive."

The 2016 Menno High School graduate is currently restoring a Jeep and, while his main interest is automotive, he's keeping his career options within mechanical engineering open for the time being.

He and his dad began tinkering with 3D printing several years ago in their agricultural model business, and Friesen took that to college with him, as well as his dad's encouragement to continue following his talents.

"My parents and my grandparents have always kind of pushed me ... to excel and to be a better mechanic or an engineer," he said. "They've always told me that math and science are where I excel and that they'd like to see me continue and fulfill my own dreams and aspirations in engineering."

Friesen said he wished more teams had competed in the Pomona competition. Next, he is headed to a similar conference in Michigan, where he hopes to see more hovercraft samples and grow his connections and knowledge base.

"There's nothing I'm unhappy with, but as an engineer, I'm always looking to make things better," he said.