Best Machining Equiment to Buy for FRC

Hello CD! My team recently has aquired a new, much larger lab than we had prior. With this new space we would love to upgrade our machining capabilitys. I’ve been having a tough time finding recent information about machines which are benificial in FRC, so I thought I would ask the community for some advice. Any advice about machining or just general lab layout/organizational strategies would be very helpful. Thank you!

CNC Router is one of the best single purchases you can make. Omio X8 is very popular among teams and also carried by WCP and one other vendor that I’m forgetting the name of (I think Swyft Robotics).

If you go to Spectrums website, they have a purchasing guide for a teams that you should def take a look at.

7 Likes

Thank you i’ll be sure to take a look at that!

1 Like

Get the basics stuff down first, your drill press, band saw, chop saw, etc. then get the nice stuff like an omio, manual mill, 3D printer, etc.

Take the time now to standardize on a brand of hand tools that you like (Bosch, Milwaukee, Makita, Dewalt, Ryobi, etc.) to make your life easier (won’t have 10 different kinds of batteries) .

Also invest in organizing so you make the most out of your new space. Small parts organizers, either shelves or bins to store stock material, wire shelves, clear plastic bins, etc. Will be your friend.

2 Likes

This is the most criminally underrated part of any “oh hey, we have money to throw at the shop!” situation. Adam Savage would have it where you don’t have to move anything out of the way to get to the thing you need. If your budget doesn’t quite stretch that far, at worst make it where you only have to move one bin out of the way.

Also, I’m increasingly a fan of smaller organizers like the Plano tackle boxes in the Walmart fishing aisle. The bigger and deeper ones get incredibly heavy when loaded with fasteners, to the point that even I have to grunt. Our smaller freshmen have it even worse.

4 Likes

All good advice on this thread, but since you specifically asked about machines, I’ll give you what we’ve learned with recent purchases.

First, make sure you have good cutting capabilities, so get a good vertical/horizontal bandsaw. It does the job of a chop saw too (for metal) and can really make your basic machining tasks easier. This was the thing that really started out team on to a new level of ability.

The next thing is a CNC router. We bought an Omio X8 2200 this season and it’s totally transformed our production of parts. We’ve been able to produce parts in shapes and configurations we could only dream of before.

The final thing is something that teams often seem to neglect, but that can be a real asset if you have the skills to use it: a good MIG welder with a gun to weld aluminum. Unlike the other two tools, this one does require that you have someone (i.e., a mentor) who knows how to weld and can teach the skill, but if you do it opens up a whole other level of manufacturing. Our latest robot has a completely welded frame (1x1 and 1x2 box tube) and is a thing of beauty.

Of course, this is an expensive set of tools (the bandsaw was cheapest at about $300, the welder and it’s accessories was about $1500 plus the ongoing rental on an argon cylinder, and the Omio set us back almost $4000) but we funded all this through specific grants. Gene Haas Foundation is especially keen to fund the acquisition of machine tools and related capabilities by First teams. If you have the room to expand your shop, these are definitely ways I’d suggest you do it to increase you ability to cut, shape, and join metal parts.

2 Likes

A small lathe is nice too

3 Likes

^+1. This is a nice lathe. I got one for the team at my day job several years ago.

I wouldn’t call it small, though. It is the right size for making FRC parts.

3 Likes

I would agree with that. We started with ordering an 14x40 that could make literally anything we could ever need, and it is too much machine. If I could redo a choice from a couple years ago, I would start with a medium sized one like this recommendation, and then if you find yourself pushing its limits - only then move up to the bigger one.

2 Likes

Thanks for the detailed post. We started our team last year and are looking to buy a CNC router for our team. I was suggested by one of the mentors that we may need a 4’ x 4’ CNC router. Since Omio X8 is smaller, did you ever feel that you will need a bigger router? I was told that we may need a bigger router for driver train. Also, what make and model of VFD did you get with Omio X8 2200?

A CNC Router is the best, first piece of machining equipment, in my opinion. Routers are incredibly versatile and allow you to work with a plethora of materials. Lexan plates, aluminum tubing, gussets, sheets, billet, etc. It might not always be the best tool for the job (mill would be better for tubes, laser might be better for gussets, etc.), but it can do everything pretty well. Routers are also great for learning cam having so many options and being very forgiving. At 4414, we have access to two Haas Mills and a massive laser cutter, but I still often gravitate towards making parts on a router. I have used quite a few routers (I have a shopsabre 4x8 at home) and would agree with everyone else, the Omio is hard to beat for the price.

6 Likes

“need” is a strong word. We have had a 4’ for the last four years, adore it, and could have made ~95% of our parts with an Omio.
~98% with creative work holding on tubes.
100% with a slightly smaller belly pan, or sticking with kitbot drive base.

(It’s really nice to have a 4-ft tool for field building. Whether that’s a laser, router, printer… Something to get the part layout drawn out by machine instead of by hand.)

When we were still pushing to make two robots, we needed the efficiency/throughput of doing multiple parts on a single stock setup. With no bag (1 robot), I would definitely get a single OMIO first.

1 Like

On welders, unless your building a boat or a trailer, I’d recommend a TIG over a MIG with a spoolgun. It will likely be cheaper, and produce much better welds with practice. Also, less to go wrong. Tangling up a MIG is really no fun, and not something that most students will be great at fixing. Grinding a tungsten is easily teachable though. TIG welding is not as difficult and complicated as many make it out to be. You can get into it decently for under $2000. On an Argon tank, I’d recommend purchasing a 200 size rather than renting. It’s about $400 to purchase and $70 to fill. You’ll fill it a couple times a year for general FRC use, double that if you’re doing some other projects too.

Over any of this though, you need a Milwaukee M12 rivet puller. Completely game changing.

4 Likes

On the subject of bandsaws: get the biggest one you can. Used is fine. Smaller rolling bandsaws never seem to cut aluminum as well as the heavy floor models I’ve used.

1072 purchased a 1969 Grob 4V-18 bandsaw a couple years ago for $1500. Great purchase. Just needed a new blade and it was charging through aluminum several times faster than our old grizzly bandsaw. It’s just magic.

Agreed on most points.

I lease most of my welding bottles. It’s about $50/year, I just need to swap tanks at my local welding shop instead of waiting to have it filled, and I don’t need to pay for inspections or testing. I can also get the largest tanks, T, and make fewer trips for swaps, which is worth money to me.

Also, how are you going through several 200ft^3 tanks a season?! Maybe with a bunch of training? A T (350ft^3) lasts me through several large projects.

I imagine most teams are welding aluminum. If you are, get a gas mixer. If that’s too expensive, get a bottle of 50%ar/50%he. It is like cheat mode for welding aluminum. My setup is a T size argon and S size helium run through a gas mixer.

2 Likes
1 Like

We haven’t yet had a need for a bigger bed than comes on the X8. Since you can pass through things like tube, it’s actually fairly easy to reposition longer tubes (for instance) if you need something like that. The Omio comes with it’s own VFD, so no need to buy one elsewhere. We got the USB model so that we could run it directly from a computer (using the Mach3 software) which makes producing parts from CAD drawings pretty simple. The team had about a two day learning curve on getting the whole thing up and running and producing the parts we needed.

BTW, we bought ours from Swyft Robotics and were very happy with them.

I still like a MIG over a TIG, but that may just be personal preference. I will say that I’ve never had any real problems teaching students how to produce good welds, though, nor do they encounter problems with the spoolgun (that’s the reason you have one for aluminum, after all.) For the argon, we don’t have any real expense there, since we managed to get the local Airgas office to be a team sponsor, but that’s specific to us. We weld a lot of things and still don’t need to refill more than about twice a year.

What kind of tools do you have already?

All these suggestions to buy a router are valid, but if you don’t yet have a good bandsaw, drill press, bench top vice (or four), sander, or workbenches… start with those first.

You also may want to look at this as an opportunity for future shop logistics. Depending on how much input/control you have over this workspace, look at installing convenient power drops, 220AC circuits, a compressor/shop air, LAN drops, projector screen(s), etc.
This kind of stuff turns into a bigger pain once you’ve already fully “moved in” than knocking it out beforehand, and can be hugely beneficial to your day-to-day life in that shop.

2 Likes

We’re big fans of CNC routers (Omio is a good place to start…), horizontal/vertical bandsaws, drill press/mill, lathe, compressor, laser cutter, storage/organization, standardization, layout…

4201’s made a lot of mistakes and we love sharing hard lessons (we’ll be adding dust collection this year). We CAD our shop layout to figure out where to put things. @Aaron691 and I did this for Team 691 recently. If you’d like a phone consultation, please DM me and I can give you an ear-full. Here’s the state of our shop as we left it for the Summer: https://photos.app.goo.gl/uS5QHNZRQpHDGjoV7

2 Likes