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Portable, Working Mini-excavator Demonstrates Hydraulics for K-12 Students

NSF Award:

Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

Congressional Districts:
Research Areas:

Scientists and educators at Purdue University have developed an educational kit that provides curriculum, lessons and activities on hydraulics for students in grades 8-12. The highlight of the kit is a working mini-excavator model that students and their teachers can build and operate using water hydraulics or pneumatics.

Exposing K-12 students to hands-on science and engineering activities is key to creating a technically savvy future workforce. The mini-excavator kit engages students in fun, low-cost activities that help them learn about engineering principles while seeing first-hand how fluid power technology works.

Three years in development, the kit itself includes a case, water pump, necessary power supplies, hardware (nuts, bolts, etc.), cylinders, valves, tubing, fittings and an excavator arm--off-the-shelf components like those used in many industrial applications. Assembly is straightforward, since all that's needed are common shop tools--wrenches, screwdrivers, hacksaw and drill.

And because the mini-excavator operates either with tap water and outlet power or with an air compressor, the kit is portable and can be used in schools, at science fairs, in museums and at other outreach events. Topics, lesson plans, handouts and experiments in the accompanying curriculum are designed for middle- and high-school classes.

Purdue is a partner institution of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP).

Standards-based curriculum

The fluid power curriculum is flexible, allowing students to learn about simple concepts like velocity-flow and pressure-force relations, or more complex concepts such as robotics or the use of microcontrollers and programming. Engineering faculty, undergraduate and graduate students of the CCEFP as well as classroom teachers contributed to the design, construction, and delivery of the kit, and teachers have ensured that the curriculum matches Indiana's education standards and outcomes.

The project is replicable, too. Product lists, assembly directions and the curriculum are posted at


Images (1 of )

  • mini-excavator
  • student operating mini-excavator
The Portable Fluid Power Demonstrator, or mini-excavator, was developed for K-12 classrooms. The kits can enhance activities such as Project Lead The Way, robotics, science museums, and children’s museums. It promotes awareness of fluid power education in high schools, and with the addition of microcontrollers, can be used to teach robotics and mechatronics.
John Lumkes, Purdue University
The portable, working mini-excavator uses hydraulics and is assembled from the science kit developed by the CCEFP. It can be built and implemented in K-12 classrooms or hands-on displays.
Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power

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