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  #121   Spotlight this post!  
Unread 02-12-2015, 11:22 PM
philso philso is offline
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

Contrary to what some people think, having access to CNC capabilities is not all rainbows and unicorns. The teams that have such capabilities either earned the trust and respect of a sponsoring company or they earned the cash to go buy the equipment themselves.

Hearing that "the parts are coming in" is nice but there is always risk that the parts don't come in when expected or they are made wrong. One of our local powerhouse teams received their parts the day before bag & tag. I recall them installing wheels and motors on the Practice Day of their first regional. The same sort of thing happens to my co-workers quite regularly but our total development time is much greater than 6 weeks so a few days late is not usually a disaster.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 12:02 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by Anupam Goli View Post
I mean its spelled out pretty clearly in the manual. if they're not on the team (not in TIMS or STIMS) then they're not a team member.
This is wrong, as explicitly spelled out in the manual.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rule R11
EXAMPLE 5: A Team purchases steel bar stock for $10 USD and has it machined by a local machine shop that is a recognized Sponsor of the
Team. If the machinists are considered members of the Team, their labor costs do not apply. The total applicable cost for the part would be
$10 USD.
It is in the best interests of the Teams and FIRST to form relationships with as many organizations as possible. Teams are encouraged to
be expansive in recruiting and including organizations in their team, as that exposes more people and organizations to FIRST. Recognizing
supporting companies as Sponsors of, and members in, the Team is encouraged, even if the involvement of the Sponsor is solely through the
donation of fabrication labor.
Whether or not this is a good thing is left as an exercise to the reader.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 12:10 AM
Anupam Goli Anupam Goli is offline
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by bduddy View Post
This is wrong, as explicitly spelled out in the manual.

Whether or not this is a good thing is left as an exercise to the reader.
You're correct, I should've read further in the examples.

I guess the point that such a duality can exist still stands, and I suppose it's up to the team to consider whether their sponsors are members or not.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 03:32 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by mentorDon View Post
Getting back to the rules, for the Robot:

4.4 Budget Constraints
R9 The total cost of all items on the ROBOT shall not exceed $4000 USD. All costs are to be determined as explained in Section
4.4: Budget Constraints. Exceptions are as follows:
A. individual COTS items that are less than $1 USD each and
B. KOP items

R11 The BOM cost of each non-KOP item must be calculated based on the unit fair market value for the material and/or labor,
except for labor provided by Team members (including sponsor employees who are members of the team), members of other
Teams, event provided Machine Shops and shipping.

How many Squawkers here could build a robot for less than $4000 if they had to count CNC machining time at $100+ per hour and all materials? (Programming and run time for just 1 or 2 parts would be even more costly.) Very few in my estimation. I don't care if you continue to use your machine shop sponser, you just need to count it in your budget.
Nothing wrong with proposing that team/sponsor labour be accounted for in the robot cost—as long as you're also willing to consider what the appropriate rates would be for all reasonable circumstances, and also evaluate whether the robot cost limit needs to be changed. So how, specifically, would you construct a more equitable cost model?
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Unread 02-13-2015, 07:12 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

Every year, 1529 has had access to several machine shops. Plasma cutters, laser cutters, CNC lathes and mills, waterjet, you name it, they can fab it.

Current blue banner count: Zero.

It's not about the equipment, it's about the program.

edit: I'm not complaining. At all.
Nobody is claiming that UK is running roughshod over the NCAA MBB landscape because the rims on its practice court are shinier. They just have fantastic recruiting, a proven system, and effective mentoring strategies.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 07:46 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by Karthik View Post
Our group of "squawkers" won a [url="http://www.simbotics.org/first/2008"]... The performance of our robots hasn't changed, just the process that we go through to build them.
This x 1000.

So many teams blame their poor performance on not having money, equipment, time, you name the resource. Yet nobody looks at their process as the key to a successful output.

Change your process to change your product.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 07:48 AM
Andrew Schreiber Andrew Schreiber is offline
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by Anupam Goli View Post
I mean its spelled out pretty clearly in the manual. if they're not on the team (not in TIMS or STIMS) then they're not a team member.
I'm not in TIMS for my team. Guess I'm not really a member. Though I don't recall seeing a strict definition of Team Member in the rule book so I question the validity of your statement.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 07:58 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by mentorDon View Post
Do they have rules in other sports to even the playing field? Yes they do! Ever heard of "salary caps"? NASCAR has a host of rules to keep the cars alike. Do I need to go on?
Ever heard of Baseball? There is no salary cap....

NASCAR? I seem to recall some dude named Hendrick and how he always seems to have faster equipment....Pretty sure they all use their own engine builders and the teams with the most money have access to the best engineers, drivers, and technicians, so I don't see your point.

Besides, to answer your question, our team doesn't have a CNC machine. A couple drill presses, a table-top mini-mill and a assortment of other things. It's called making due with what you have and if you don't have something that you want, start looking for help. ASK the teams in your area that YOU seem to think "have it all". I'm willing to bet, MORE than willing to bet, they would help by either getting you in contact with a sponsor or let you use their equipment. There's a host of great teams in your area you could reach out to. Of course, I'd be wary of how you do so now that you've come on a public forum and insulted many of them.

FIRST is about competition but it's also about helping the competition, that's what separates our program from the "Major Sports". You don't see the Red Sox and Yankees swapping coaching secrets.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 08:02 AM
Anupam Goli Anupam Goli is offline
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by Andrew Schreiber View Post
I'm not in TIMS for my team. Guess I'm not really a member. Though I don't recall seeing a strict definition of Team Member in the rule book so I question the validity of your statement.
I correct myself in a later post. FIRST doesn't have a set definition of "Team Member" in the manual, and instead uses the blue box under R11 to give a general sense of what is acceptable to put on the BoM vs what shouldn't need to be with regards to sponsors and external machining.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 08:31 AM
Andrew Schreiber Andrew Schreiber is offline
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by mentorDon View Post
How many Squawkers here could build a robot for less than $4000 if they had to count CNC machining time at $100+ per hour and all materials?


Ok, I'll bite. I'd be willing to bet you that I could build a robot that effectively plays this game for under $2000 (+KoP) with a chop saw, a drill press, and hand tools. And that robot should be within the capabilities of every single team in FRC.

But first I have to define what I mean by effectively. Would I be an Einstein contender? Nope. But I'd reliably move every match and I'd play in the afternoon at my events.

It's not about the tools, it's about the process. I have no doubt that 254 would build a 80th percentile robot using nothing but some 2x4's, a bandsaw, and a KoP chassis. But their machined stuff is more inspiring.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 08:34 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

Last night a tough mentor-driven decision made last Fall came full circle, and it's paid dividends for our season.

Determining when to sacrifice some space for additional equipment is a very tough call. We did it this year after some grumbling and anxiety, and it's turned out to be a blessing. We lost an entire assembly bench to an in-house CNC, but wow - turning around a precision part in an hour is insane. The CNC was a DIY mentor project (with a waterjet sponsor doing some really nice plates...), sponsored by funds raised by students & mentors alike. The mentor who built the CNC learned a ton about a subject he didn't know, and in the process he himself grew to a new understanding of design process as it relates to precision parts.

Let's pause for a second.
While it isn't in FIRST's mission statement, IMO any adult who grows in their careers as a result of FIRST is a success for a team as much as an inspired student is. The nation is going through an educational re-structuring in some regions, and there are plenty of adults who need inspiring too.

Continuing:
Another adult heard of the CNC through that esoteric old-school 'Grape Vine', and he just so happened to know some CAM and how to drive a CNC. Now we have students going through the CAD/CAM/CNC design process on a regular basis (so long as we can find a USB thumb drive...). Without the original mentor to drive it, we would still have the same thought processes as we did last season and we would also lack another mentor with a whole new set of knowledge to bestow upon unsuspecting teenagers. On top of that, I have new late-season CAD students this year! More CAD students than ever ! The kids understand they can't use the shiny new toy without some pre-requisites, and that by itself is inspiring (to me).

Other musings...
The premium of all FRC luxuries, I think, is a dedicated space for practice that includes enough room for a good portion of the field and high ceilings. Teams with this get to see kinetic objects interact as if it were a real game. Teams who don't have access to enough practice space only shoot themselves in the foot when they blindly go after the trickiest of objectives in a game (1885, 2013-auto, cough cough).

This year's game doesn't require so much space. Get a patch of carpet, build the cheapest field piece I've ever seen (the bump) and some totes - voila! (Build a chute door if you're into that kind of thing)

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Unread 02-13-2015, 09:19 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

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Originally Posted by philso View Post
Contrary to what some people think, having access to CNC capabilities is not all rainbows and unicorns. The teams that have such capabilities either earned the trust and respect of a sponsoring company or they earned the cash to go buy the equipment themselves.

Hearing that "the parts are coming in" is nice but there is always risk that the parts don't come in when expected or they are made wrong. One of our local powerhouse teams received their parts the day before bag & tag. I recall them installing wheels and motors on the Practice Day of their first regional. The same sort of thing happens to my co-workers quite regularly but our total development time is much greater than 6 weeks so a few days late is not usually a disaster.
There is a lot of truth to this statement. MentorDon, since it sounds like you are unfamiliar with the exact way that having access to this kind of equipment affects a build season, let me share some insight into my team, and how having access to some advanced fabrication equipment has impacted us.

Team 5400 is a rookie team. We are building our robot out of my garage. We are a community team, and have no direct affiliation with a school. We have about a dozen active students, and three technical mentors, only one of whom is able to be at our shop for about 80% of our meeting time. Our robot budget for the year is about $1000. A quick look at your team's website indicates that you have roughly twice as many sponsors as us.

By every metric, we should be a bottom-tier team, building a bottom-tier robot. You should be better at this than us.

But our team's culture refuses to accept mediocrity as a way of doing business, and we've done a number of things to change the quality of robot our team is capable of putting out.
  • We have three incredibly passionate students from a team which folded last year, who bring an incredible amount of knowledge and dedication to the team.
  • We meet for a ridiculous number of hours.
  • Our garage has a 6" lathe, a 12" lathe, and a full size bridgeport series 1 clone. All of these tools are on loan from two of our mentors running a start-up business, also out of the garage we build our robot in. Our students also worked incredibly hard to install a full shop air system with ceiling drops, made from pneumatic components from the KOP, FIRST Choice, and a compressor, again on loan from one of our mentors.
  • These tools go a long way towards making a quality robot. But we also have a precision sheet metal sponsor, with a 2500 watt laser cutter and 144 ton, 6 axis CNC press brake.

Why did we pursue this partnership with a sheet metal sponsor? We recognized that we would not be able to deliver the quality of experience to our students that we desired without one (more on this in a bit). How did we get them? We worked until we did.

Precision sheet metal companies are more common than you might think, and machine shops with CNC capabilities are even more common. How do I know this? Because I have on my hard drive a comprehensive spreadsheet of over 200 sheet metal companies and machine shops within a 40 mile radius of our shop, with contact information, capabilities, and various red/green flags we've observed as indicators for a likely company to sponsor a high school robotics team. We spent lots of time collecting this information, and lots of time approaching companies until we found one excited to work with us. It's really not that hard, no harder than any other type of sponsorship, and you certainly don't need to be a NASA house team to do it. A quick search shows that these guys may be a great partner for 1764. Or perhaps this company. This place looks promising as well. That's just a small sampling of what a couple minutes of googling got me.

Now, onto some of the things sheet metal does and does not do for us.
  • It does not auto-win events. Even though we're a rookie team, this is actually my 3rd year working with a team with a sheet metal sponsor, having previously worked with FRC 1687. Never heard of them? Neither has most anyone outside New England -- 1687 has never made it past the semifinals in an official event, never been to champs, and certainly never made a robot of particular note on the world level. Their 2012 robot, which was not sheet metal, could be argued as being a better machine then either of their sheet metal efforts.

  • It does not cost an inordinate amount of money. Even though we are not required to by FRC rules, we ask our sponsor to provide us with a quote each season, in order to determine sponsorship tiers. 1687's 2014 and 2013 robots were quoted at $1000 and $2000 respectively, with both robots having a majority of major structural components, and a few internal components, composed of sheet metal. The $1000 robot was dramatically more successful, in large part because we used our resources more efficiently. I expect 5400's 2015 robot to fall roughly in between these numbers. In all three cases, each of these robots would be legal under FRC budget rules even if we had to put all sheet metal labor costs on the BOM. It is not an option for us at the moment, but for a number of teams more fortunate in soliciting direct financial donations than ourselves, that's not an unreasonable amount to pay a company for work during the season, and certaintly not a "$1,000,000 robot."

  • It does not necessarily improve your robot's level of functionality. Of the 47 unique parts we sent to our sheet metal sponsor this year, I cannot think of a single one which couldn't conceivably be functionally reproduced if one of the following sets of circumstances were true for our team: 50 students, 10 mentors, and triple the amount of manual machine tools in our shop, or 50 students, a $4000 robot budget, and a sizable stockplie of VexPro/Andymark COTS components like versaframe. Sure, there’s plenty of things which were made easier/faster by it, but I’m certain that we’re going to loose plenty of matches this year to teams without the kinds of resources we have.

  • It ABSOLUTELY does not improve the quality of engineering on your robot. So many times, I hear people say "Company X builds team Y's robots," with the implication being that the team sends the company the game on kickoff, and picks up a functional robot on bag day. Couldn't be further from the case. Advanced fabrication techniques require people who know how to take full advantage of them in order for a team to be successful, and frankly, I’m not sure if my team is there yet. Our sheet metal sponsor takes our prints as they are. If there are mistakes on them, we get those mistakes back, and it’s on us. If the parts break, it’s our fault because we didn’t design them well enough. Generally by that time in build, it’s too late to do another sheet metal run, and we have to scramble to put together a replacement inhouse. This, again, is where mentorship is crucial. More than is normal, we really have one shot to get the vast majority of our robot right, and we have to have the engineering chops to back that up. This isn’t something to be taken lightly, and it affects how we design our robots in a big way. This year, for example, for all components of our robot which directly interact with gamepieces, we made a conscious choice to go zero sheet metal, because we knew the probability of needing to iterate these components several times as part of our withholding allowance was very high, and we wanted to make these parts in a way that lends itself to fast turnarounds.

  • It does not necessarily result in you having a robot done in 4 weeks. Sheet metal makes CADding of every part of your robot a necessity, which takes a lot of time and effort. It builds a lead time period into your build season, something which is easy to waste sitting around twiddling your thumbs if you don’t plan it out (we make all our milled/turned parts during this period). This lead time can be unpredictable. This year, due to the snow that New England has received, our sheet metal was delayed. We were hoping to pick it up Friday of week 4. I am driving out to pick up the majority of it TODAY. Our robot right now is a series of shafts, spacers, and funky shaped plastic blocks sitting on a shelf, along with a couple of mostly-together mechanisms missing a few crucial structural members. We have complete confidence that it will go together real fast, since we have a dedicated core of students who basically plan to live at the shop until bag time, every single non sheet metal part machined, approved, sorted, and ready to go, have had the time to put together detailed assembly packets and instructions, and are confident in the absurd level of detail and engineering that was put into our robot CAD this year. That being said, it’s going to be a herculean effort to get it done, we’re going to have minimal practice time, and we’re all really, really hoping not a lot goes wrong. Trust me, although we’re still quietly confident over here, none of us are feeling like we have it easy right now.

So, why do we do it?
  • It revolutionizes what our team is capable of building. As I said above, a team with 50 students and more manual machines or budget than us could absolutely build the robot we’re making. But we don’t have those things. We have 12 students, and a garage shop. With 12 students, prototyping all our concepts is not a short process, because mechanisms have to be prototyped sequentially rather than in parallel. With one mill, there’s no way we could crank out a majority of our robot with the precision we demand of it in six weeks. Sheet metal speeds up our fabrication process immensely, and allows us to focus on the parts that really matter, brainstorming, prototyping, detail engineering, and iteration, rather than having the bulk of our build season become a glorified shop class. It even allows us to focus on non-technical aspects that we probably couldn’t do otherwise, because we don’t have all of our students locked down drilling hole patterns all day long.

  • It forces sound engineering. Again, with a manufacturing sponsor of any sort, what you send them is what you get. And I love it. Students come into our program with the mentality of building as you go along, and will leave understanding the value of sitting down and detailing a part out to the last corner fillet. If you’re making all your parts yourself, it’s easy to make changes as you realize that you “forgot” something. Designing the whole robot on CAD forces you to think everything through, and using sheet metal erases any thoughts of “do we have to do this?” from our student’s minds, a thought process which was pervasive in my former team prior to getting a sheet metal sponsor.

  • It exposes students to the way parts are made in the real world. Related, an engineer’s job is not fabrication. Typically, they’re pretty far removed from the people actually making the parts. Why? Because for most companies, the way we make our parts is EXACTLY the way they make their parts. The engineer prototypes and designs, and sends the parts out for manufacture by a company that specializes in it. Often, the engineer isn’t even involved in the assembly process. If this program is supposed to inspire students to understand and respect engineering and technology, shouldn’t we try our best to make the way we design and build our robots reflect the real world?

  • It gives our students pride in their work, that they made the robot happen. Wait, isn’t this usually an argument against external fabrication? Yes, but again, it stems from what I feel is a grave misunderstanding of engineering, which says that the part the “matters” is the actual fabrication. Of course, it’s good when your students are able to say things like “We made every part of this robot. We are experts in using files, hack saws, and cordless drills,” and even better when they are able to say things like “we learned how to read dimensioned drawings, and hold tolerances down to the thousandth of an inch on a mill and lathe,” or "I picked the perfect ratio for this versaplanetary" But, because so much of our fabrication was done externally, this freed up our students to work through several iterations of prototypes, and for the robot to be CADded for two weeks straight, to an absurd level of detail, with every single student on the team at least contributing to the process. And I’m downright thrilled that my students can say things like “I did the finite element analysis for this part. I can tell you what every single hole on this plate is for, and how it has changed over time. I took the time to read a junior level college textbook on cam design, and learned the math required to create a cycloidal profile for our cam driven elevator brake. I designed this gearbox from scratch, and optimized it to fit in the tight space we had for it, instead of just picking up the closest off the shelf part.” If not getting to drill a few holes is the sacrifice they have to make to get this experience, I'm okay with that.

  • It does make our robot look nicer. We like it because we put a lot of work into our robot, and we want it to look like something to be proud of. We also do it because we believe in FRC as a spectator sport, and believe that professional looking machines are inspiring to other teams, sponsors, and spectators, and by building one, we are doing our part to further FIRST's goals to become a mainstream sport. But it doesn’t affect our performance in a more than trivial way. By my estimation, across our entire robot, our use of triangular lightening patterns, like the ones that allegedly won 1114 their 2008 world championship, are saving us three tenths of a pound compared to a kid with a hole saw. We’re probably loosing that and more by choosing to paint parts of our robot – is that an unfair advantage as well?

And it sounds weird, but we’re not doing the fancy lightening patterns instead of swiss cheese for those three tenths of a pound. We’re doing it because, with a small team that keeps everyone busy, a 2500 watt laser cutter is a more readily available resource to us than a kid, a hole saw, and several hours. We build our robots to our resources, even when writing those resources down seems very, very weird.

Sheet metal allows us to give our students a better experience. Not because we will win, but because the process is more valuable for them. And isn’t that what this program is about?
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Last edited by Joe G. : 02-13-2015 at 10:03 AM.
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Unread 02-13-2015, 09:23 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

Quote:
Originally Posted by bduddy View Post
This is wrong, as explicitly spelled out in the manual.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rule R11
EXAMPLE 5: A Team purchases steel bar stock for $10 USD and has it machined by a local machine shop that is a recognized Sponsor of the
Team. If the machinists are considered members of the Team, their labor costs do not apply. The total applicable cost for the part would be
$10 USD.
It is in the best interests of the Teams and FIRST to form relationships with as many organizations as possible. Teams are encouraged to
be expansive in recruiting and including organizations in their team, as that exposes more people and organizations to FIRST. Recognizing
supporting companies as Sponsors of, and members in, the Team is encouraged, even if the involvement of the Sponsor is solely through the
donation of fabrication labor.
Wow, I had no idea this was the case, thanks for posting that rule. I'm kind of surprised by that. I was assuming that all sponsor time had to be accounted for in the BOM. We have accounted for all time spent machining parts by 'sponsors' in the past (only two parts, but still).

Can we stop including that cost if we refer to the machinists as "members of our team" to avoid this headache? That doesn't seem like the intent of the rule, but I get the impression that this is what larger/powerhouse teams do. Please correct me if I'm wrong
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

Our team uses close to zero sheet metal parts. We don't have anything water jetted or CNC'd. Almost all of our parts are made from box or flat stock aluminum. Everything we build is made on our machines in the school's engineering room by students including almost all of the welding on the robot. (With the exception of some very difficult welds)

We don't struggle with being competitive with the "elite" teams. You don't need all of the fancy equipment to do well. Yes, of course it helps but you can get by without it. All you need is a solid plan going into the build season and to build within your constraints. Using a little out of the box thinking doesn't hurt either.

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Unread 02-13-2015, 09:37 AM
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Re: Mentor/Student Involvement Philosophies

There are teams with more machining resources in their shops and out of their shops) who do better than us.

There are teams with more machining resources (in their shops and out of their shops) who do worse than us.

There are teams with less machining resources (in their shops and out of their shops) who do better than us.

There are teams with less machining resources (in their shops and out of their shops) who do worse than us.

You can easily exchange the word "machining" in any of the above statements for: students, mentors, engineers, money, time, etc. and it still remains true.

Its not about what you have its about what you do with it.

For every team that someone points a finger saying "They have more money" "They have a sheetmetal sponsor" "They have a company CNC everything for them" "They......" I can show you more who have those resources but don't know how to use them effectively.
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