Originally Posted by DampRobot
Keep in mind that one of the reasons the "elite" teams don't worry about manufacturing is they don't have to. Most elite teams have access to sophisticated CNC machinery, which eliminates most difficulties associated with tolerances, weight and manufacturing weird shapes.
I must be on the wrong team then, because we have no automated fabrication capabilities. We do have a sponsor who cuts our 1/8" thick side plates to size for us (I lust after something that'll cut thick aluminum better than our band saw) but that's about it. Our machining capabilities consist of a wood band saw that we abuse by cutting metal with, 2 drill presses, a chop saw, and lots of hand tools. Oh, and a metal lathe, which we hardly use (because our designs generally don't need that). Not even a bending brake. But that's not why I posted this.
Don't underestimate the value of collaboration with other teams.
During the build season, we routinely visit other teams, sometimes in person and very frequently Virtually using Skype or Adobe Connect or something like that. Plus e-mail, lots of e-mail.
As an example, a bunch of us went to visit team 75 at the end of Week 1, where we saw a Bridge for the first time, as well as 75's awesome mechanism for getting over that bridge. We stole that idea lock, stock and barrel and used it to our advantage. We gave back some advice on making their wooden bridge act more like a metal bridge, which they implemented, allowing them to have realistic behavior to work with.
We also got an idea for bumper mounting from another team, and explained our reasoning for going with a narrow bot instead of wide.
Last year, we had a local business give a class in Leadership to 4 teams' student leadership. They learned what the job of a leader really is, and got some ideas on how to be better at it. I think all of us benefited from that.
This goes on year after year. It is a give and take, and everyone benefits. Plus, there's Pizza!