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  #121   Spotlight this post!  
Unread 12-03-2017, 12:51 AM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by Chief Hedgehog View Post
Competitive Robotics is a small world - think this is the first time that these two corporations stepped on each other's toes?...
Actually, I haven't seen anything from any company implying phalangeal contusion.

The thread was started by a former VEX employee who expressly stated that he does not represent the company.

I suspect the principals of both AndyMark and VEX hold each other in quite high regard, both for their technical abilities and their enthusiasm for the FRC community. I don't have any hard evidence of that, of course, but evidence doesn't actually seem to be a requirement for posting in this thread.

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Unread 12-03-2017, 01:09 AM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by dtengineering View Post
Actually, I haven't seen anything from any company implying phalangeal contusion.

The thread was started by a former VEX employee who expressly stated that he does not represent the company.

I suspect the principals of both AndyMark and VEX hold each other in quite high regard, both for their technical abilities and their enthusiasm for the FRC community. I don't have any hard evidence of that, of course, but evidence doesn't actually seem to be a requirement for posting in this thread.

Jason
Thanks for seeing through my sarcasm and then underlining my point - that they both serve a broader good while servicing a niche market. This is why I am not swayed either way on this issue as of yet (because only one party has responded to defend their decision).

~Alex
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Unread 12-03-2017, 11:33 AM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by piersklein View Post
Neither of these statements is correct. Microeconomic theory is based upon markets which have at least the appearance of competitiveness, and in general, do not apply to the specific market structure created by FIRST. There is no evidence that competitive forces present in this market directly lead to innovation. This is likely due to low available capital and a relatively static set of consumers.

Edit: Since the point seems to have been lost given the snarky replies: market competition != lower prices != innovation. To be very clear, when 2 sellers control a market, it creates a market failure by necessity. The changes in prices and new products are not a reflection of market competition.

Here is a really easy solution: Don't act like FIRST is a competitive market. It isn't.
Can you define what you mean by a competitive market? I would agree it isn't a "perfectly competitive" market, but I would certainly call it competitive! There are thousands of buyers and AndyMark, VEX, and other suppliers compete for their business. It is at least a duopoly. Is there some economics terminology where suppliers "compete" in the widely accepted sense of the word but not in a narrowly defined economic definition of the word?

If market forces over the past 13 years haven't caused the abundance of quality robot parts, what has? (not rhetorical, curious what other folks would attribute this to)
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Unread 12-03-2017, 01:47 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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(not rhetorical, curious what other folks would attribute this to)
I'd attribute it to market forces. I'd also give the same attribution for the advent of VexPro, WCP, Robot Shop, the wonderful new Ozzy shop, the elusive Dark Soul, and about a dozen other phenomena.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 02:00 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

A lot of people here have tried to disentangle legal issues and ethical issues. I've seen this pointed out throughout the thread, but I wanted to say it again in perhaps a clearer way.

I don't think there is much distinction between what is permissible legally and what's permissible ethically here. I also think people are inclined to conflate "in line with unspoken rules" and "morally correct." Those aren't necessarily the same--in fact, they're likely polar opposites. If VEX or AndyMark tried to follow these "unspoken rules" in lieu of vigorous competition, that might even be less ethical. If these motors, in an identical or similar configuration, are legally and easily available from a supplier, AndyMark should not back off simply because of some "unspoken rule(s)." Now, that being said, I wouldn't go as far as to claim that this would be "collusion," (which is a legal issue): it's solidly an ethical one. The point is that, if something is legally permissible, in this case, it's not only morally permissible, but practically the mandate of a business to do so, even (or especially) when at the expense of one of its direct competitors. This fundamentally is in the interest of the consumer, who gets more sources, more options (if someone wants to "vote with their wallet"), and (in some cases), better prices.


(Disclaimer: I don't really care either way. I just don't think we should be naive about the role of businesses just because they sell to FIRST teams. Actively sabotaging other companies, committing corporate espionage, eh, that's not moral. But just competing by stocking a component that a supplier freely sells you isn't at all in that realm. In a case where this violated a contract, it was CCL at fault, not Andymark.)
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Unread 12-03-2017, 02:07 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by Ian Curtis View Post
Can you define what you mean by a competitive market? I would agree it isn't a "perfectly competitive" market, but I would certainly call it competitive! There are thousands of buyers and AndyMark, VEX, and other suppliers compete for their business. It is at least a duopoly. Is there some economics terminology where suppliers "compete" in the widely accepted sense of the word but not in a narrowly defined economic definition of the word?

If market forces over the past 13 years haven't caused the abundance of quality robot parts, what has? (not rhetorical, curious what other folks would attribute this to)
I would define a competitive market as one that has no substantial barriers to entry or exit, and in which no one buyer or seller can significantly influence pricing.

I see three big ways FIRST fails to be competitive.

1. Since motors and control system components must be approved by FIRST for use before the season starts, there are huge barriers to entry.

2. There is essentially a duopoly created by Vex and AndyMark.

3. FIRST, when acting as a consumer (ie when securing the KOP), has near total control of the market.

Because of these 3 failures, we cannot use any of our theories for competitive markets to evaluate this market.

In regards to what has caused the abundance of robot parts, I would attribute it most to the actions of FIRST when it acts as a consumer. FIRST drives innovation in the control system through their policy and control system updates. I think in some cases there is a level of altruism/coopertition that leads to products. For example, when a team makes a product (Spartan board etc) which they can then use for Chairman's Award presentations.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 02:15 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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I would define a competitive market as one that has no substantial barriers to entry or exit, and in which no one buyer or seller can significantly influence pricing.
We're all forgetting that there are several other FRC suppliers that have started in the past couple of years, and are growing rapidly - namely, REV Robotics, Ozzy Boards, West Coast Products, mindsensors.com, and CTRE, as well as others that supply to FRC teams, however, are not solely FRC suppliers, like RobotShop, SparkFun, and Adafruit to name a few. While still not perfectly competitive, seeing as the products are differentiated, it is reasonable to believe that the barrier to entry is not as high as it is made out to be.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 03:09 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by piersklein View Post
I would define a competitive market as one that has no substantial barriers to entry or exit, and in which no one buyer or seller can significantly influence pricing.

I see three big ways FIRST fails to be competitive.

1. Since motors and control system components must be approved by FIRST for use before the season starts, there are huge barriers to entry.

2. There is essentially a duopoly created by Vex and AndyMark.

3. FIRST, when acting as a consumer (ie when securing the KOP), has near total control of the market.

Because of these 3 failures, we cannot use any of our theories for competitive markets to evaluate this market.

In regards to what has caused the abundance of robot parts, I would attribute it most to the actions of FIRST when it acts as a consumer. FIRST drives innovation in the control system through their policy and control system updates. I think in some cases there is a level of altruism/coopertition that leads to products. For example, when a team makes a product (Spartan board etc) which they can then use for Chairman's Award presentations.
1. It's not like AndyMark or Vex created the control system. Ni made the roboRio, most of the rest was made by CTRE and resold by other vendors as well. They had a hand in some speed controllers, but there are a plethora of controllers out there now that are FIRST legal, not all created or controlled by them. As for motors... Some of the FIRST legal motors come from AndyMark and Vex as original product offerings. But others do not.

2. With a few given exceptions mandated by FIRST, you can get competing products from many sources other than AndyMark or Vex. Need wheels? Chain and sprockets? Belts and pulleys? Gearboxes? Encoders? You can find those things at AndyMark or Vex, but you can also find them at McMaster or Digikey, or even on Amazon. This is not a duopoly. Ignoring most of the catalog undermines your entire point.

3. FIRST gets products donated for the KoP from a lot of companies besides AndyMark and Vex. Just check out their suppliers page. I count over 90 suppliers listed. So please, tell me again how the KoP leads to a non-competitive market.

What I think is really going on here is that there are a few specific suppliers and vendors (Vex, AndyMark, WCP, CTRE) that have a large focus on the FIRST market, and fill in specific needs that other companies aren't filling. Large companies like DigiKey or McMaster aren't going to cater to our needs, we're a tiny part of their revenue. But they are still players in the market.

There is competition in the market. It's led to some great improvements over the past 10 years or so. And given what we get in the KoP, teams can (and from my experience inspecting, have!) build robots without making a single purchase from AndyMark or Vex, beyond what they get from FIRST Choice or PDV's.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 03:47 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by Jon Stratis View Post
1. It's not like AndyMark or Vex created the control system. Ni made the roboRio, most of the rest was made by CTRE and resold by other vendors as well. They had a hand in some speed controllers, but there are a plethora of controllers out there now that are FIRST legal, not all created or controlled by them. As for motors... Some of the FIRST legal motors come from AndyMark and Vex as original product offerings. But others do not.

2. With a few given exceptions mandated by FIRST, you can get competing products from many sources other than AndyMark or Vex. Need wheels? Chain and sprockets? Belts and pulleys? Gearboxes? Encoders? You can find those things at AndyMark or Vex, but you can also find them at McMaster or Digikey, or even on Amazon. This is not a duopoly. Ignoring most of the catalog undermines your entire point.

3. FIRST gets products donated for the KoP from a lot of companies besides AndyMark and Vex. Just check out their suppliers page. I count over 90 suppliers listed. So please, tell me again how the KoP leads to a non-competitive market.

What I think is really going on here is that there are a few specific suppliers and vendors (Vex, AndyMark, WCP, CTRE) that have a large focus on the FIRST market, and fill in specific needs that other companies aren't filling. Large companies like DigiKey or McMaster aren't going to cater to our needs, we're a tiny part of their revenue. But they are still players in the market.

There is competition in the market. It's led to some great improvements over the past 10 years or so. And given what we get in the KoP, teams can (and from my experience inspecting, have!) build robots without making a single purchase from AndyMark or Vex, beyond what they get from FIRST Choice or PDV's.
John, with respect, I don't believe you actually argued against any of my points.

1. Just saying that multiple people supply the motors does not mitigate the barriers to entry in the market. If I somehow magically created a company tonight that had no lead time and had thousands of my new motor the "7775elite Blue" I could not sell it to FRC teams. It wouldn't be legal under the rules and teams wouldn't buy it. That is a barrier to entry and it's an extremely large one.

2. I mostly agree with this statement. But the number of vendors is not helpful information without context. I do not have the earnings reports for Vex and Andymark, however, if I had to guess at their market share, I would say it constitutes a duopoly. As a similar "real-world" example: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and Virgin Mobile all sell wireless coverage. But the market remains a duopoly since the vast majority of market share is split by Verizon and AT&T

3. This part ties in directly with my previous statement about market share. In addition, it is my distinct impression that FIRST pays Andymark a good deal of money to provide certain items in the KOP (chassis, battery, control system etc). That is not competitive. (Not anticompetitive, but not competitive). With regards to the 90 suppliers, that is a strawman argument. I don't think any of us believe that Walt Disney Imagineering and Andymark are providing the same products.

The last thing I will say is this: We cannot assume market theories about a competitive market apply to FIRST. Please do not use them to justify a prediction of the future.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 05:04 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by piersklein View Post

1. Just saying that multiple people supply the motors does not mitigate the barriers to entry in the market. If I somehow magically created a company tonight that had no lead time and had thousands of my new motor the "7775elite Blue" I could not sell it to FRC teams. It wouldn't be legal under the rules and teams wouldn't buy it. That is a barrier to entry and it's an extremely large one.
I would say the barrier of getting your elite blue motors approved by FIRST is one of the smaller ones that you would encounter.

For the longest time we were very limited in the legal motor controller department. However then CTRE was born and they managed to get their new Talon controller approved, since then a number of other new companies have been formed and compete in the market.

I can't imagine that the process to get motors approved would be substantially more difficult than getting motor controllers approved, in fact since the safety concerns should be much lower it should be easier.

It wouldn't surprise me if for example one of those companies that have created motor controllers decided that they wanted to be in the motor business as well, after all they do kind of go hand in hand.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 05:31 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by piersklein View Post
In regards to what has caused the abundance of robot parts, I would attribute it most to the actions of FIRST when it acts as a consumer.
I think you have a reasonable point here that at least in part the variety of robot parts in FIRST is related to FIRST's own investment in the market, but I don't see how this leads to your seeming hostility towards the suggestion that the FIRST market has in part improved due to competition between suppliers. In my mind, these aren't mutually exclusive, and it's extremely rare that there really is a single cause for anything.

Additionally, at least one of your core set of assumptions (that there is a relatively static set of consumers) is provably false-- FRC continues to grow year over year, as does FTC. Outside of the motor discussion, both of these groups are purchasing from AndyMark, VEX, and a variety of other sources. I am admittedly not well versed in microeconomic theory, but you seem to have extrapolated from faulty assumptions and taken a left turn from there.

As George Box said "All models are wrong, but some are useful." The particulars of the competitive robotics market are unique, but that doesn't mean concepts from a variety of models don't explain to greater or lesser degrees our current situation. So while market theory may have some flaws in predicting future outcomes for competitive robotics parts in general and FRC in particular, I think it's fairly ridiculous to dismiss them out of hand, even if one should take them with a grain of salt.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 05:44 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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Originally Posted by piersklein View Post
John, with respect, I don't believe you actually argued against any of my points.

1. Just saying that multiple people supply the motors does not mitigate the barriers to entry in the market. If I somehow magically created a company tonight that had no lead time and had thousands of my new motor the "7775elite Blue" I could not sell it to FRC teams. It wouldn't be legal under the rules and teams wouldn't buy it. That is a barrier to entry and it's an extremely large one.

2. I mostly agree with this statement. But the number of vendors is not helpful information without context. I do not have the earnings reports for Vex and Andymark, however, if I had to guess at their market share, I would say it constitutes a duopoly. As a similar "real-world" example: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and Virgin Mobile all sell wireless coverage. But the market remains a duopoly since the vast majority of market share is split by Verizon and AT&T

3. This part ties in directly with my previous statement about market share. In addition, it is my distinct impression that FIRST pays Andymark a good deal of money to provide certain items in the KOP (chassis, battery, control system etc). That is not competitive. (Not anticompetitive, but not competitive). With regards to the 90 suppliers, that is a strawman argument. I don't think any of us believe that Walt Disney Imagineering and Andymark are providing the same products.

The last thing I will say is this: We cannot assume market theories about a competitive market apply to FIRST. Please do not use them to justify a prediction of the future.
You keep focusing on a very small number of products. But here goes...

Motors - Go out there, design and produce a motor. Label it as an "automotive seat motor" and it's 100% legal. No additional approval needed.

Control System - The RoboRio is produce by NI, AndyMark only sells their product. The PDB, VRM, PCM, and Talon speed controllers are produced by CTRE, AndyMark only sells them. The Victor speed controller line is produced by Vex, AndyMark only sells it. All of that was included in an RFP FIRST did a few years back. An RFP is a competitive system, and anyone could have submitted a proposal at the time. Given the compatibility needs of FIRST, doing it this way makes sense. And additional motor controllers have been made available (and made legal) from other companies since the control system was adopted.

Literally anyone else can approach these manufacturers and ask for a contract to sell their products. The only barrier to doing so is one every single company faces in every market in the world.

As for your impression on the KoP... Get some facts. I've seen that bandied about the past few days, but NO ONE has actually provided any proof beyond supposition. Seriously, think about it for a second... if FIRST paid for the KoP chassis, then why do we get a PDV from AndyMark for opting out? Is it some sort of conspiracy between FIRST and AndyMark? Why not just give the teams a credit towards their regional registration? I'll tell you why... AndyMark is DONATING parts and supplies that we're opting out of, and giving us the option to get that PDV for different parts instead.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 08:06 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

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...The PDB, VRM, PCM, and Talon speed controllers are produced by CTRE, AndyMark only sells them. The Victor speed controller line is produced by Vex, AndyMark only sells it...
Some corrections...

Control System
We (CTRE) produce the PDP, VRM, PCM.

We (CTRE) sell them http://www.ctr-electronics.com/control-system.html
Vex sells them https://www.vexrobotics.com/217-4244.html
AM sells them http://www.andymark.com/cross-the-ro...-p/am-2856.htm

Motor Controllers
The Talon SRX, Victor SP, and Victor SPX are the result of a collaboration between VEX and us(CTRE).
https://content.vexrobotics.com/vexp...t-20171129.pdf

We (CTRE) sell them.
Vex sells them.
AM sells them.
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Unread 12-03-2017, 08:09 PM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

Quote:
Originally Posted by ozrien View Post
Some corrections...

Control System
We (CTRE) produce the PDP, VRM, PCM.

We (CTRE) sell them http://www.ctr-electronics.com/control-system.html
Vex sells them https://www.vexrobotics.com/217-4244.html
AM sells them http://www.andymark.com/cross-the-ro...-p/am-2856.htm

Motor Controllers
The Talon SRX, Victor SP, and Victor SPX are the result of a collaboration between VEX and us(CTRE).
https://content.vexrobotics.com/vexp...t-20171129.pdf

We (CTRE) sell them.
Vex sells them.
AM sells them.
I don't think he meant "only AndyMark sells them" so much as "AndyMark just happens to sell them."
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Unread 12-04-2017, 09:29 AM
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Re: An ethical supplier question

*Disclosure: Our team purchases products from AndyMark, VexPro, and WCP every year. As a customer, we evaluate pros and cons of specific products supplied by all three vendors before making decisions on what to purchase and from who. I also happen to have good friends/mentors/people I very much respect and look up to affiliated with these vendors.*

Someone once told me, “engineering is an iteration process.” To this day, I hold that statement to heart. As engineers, we are to innovate and iterate. I am sure other engineers share my same frustration when one your “own” designs end up with another company. I would be very surprised if any engineer can vouch that no one has ever “copied,” … errr “iterated” your idea or design. Unfortunately, this is just the reality in the industry.

I can’t question the ethics of a vendor based on speculations. Let the vendors worry about what they are selling and where they are getting products from. If one vendor has a problem with another selling same or similar products; let them figure it out instead of making a fuss on a public forum where we are all keyboard warriors.

... half the people posting has no idea how FRC used to be in the "old" days and you have no idea how spoiled the FRC community is now with all these different vendors.

As a customer, we will keep buying from all the vendors based on what their supplied products can offer to our team.
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