Hiya! Our team is currently going through the paperwork and overall bureaucracy to (possibly) obtain a building to use as a workshop. In the past, we’ve had the good luck to have a member whose father worked on cars, and therefore had a giant workshop we could use. However, that member is now off at college, and for the first time in our team history, we are without a clear space to use.
So we’re reaching out to see what other teams have done. Have any of you worked in someone’s garage (which we’re considering if we don’t get the building cleared in time)? If so, how did you stay organized and turn it into a usable space?
Alternatively, once you got into a dedicated workshop, how did you decide what needed to be there? What tools/machinery were absolutely necessary and what just took space? Again, how did you organize and prioritize?
Until last year, we worked out of a trade school. They had all of the machines we needed to make the robot, but not enough space to test it. Further, the school wouldn’t let us stay after hours due to school district policy, so we would move to a sponsor building for the late nights.
Last year, the team received a warehouse as a donation from one of our sponsors. We were able to raise enough money to renovate, convert, and use that warehouse as our permanent meeting space. We now have enough space to practice with the robot, a machine shop, and no school district to kick us out after hours. A lot of our equipment was donated (machines, computers, coffee makers…) and we prioritized what we needed. A lot of the effort to make the arrangements for the equipment and renovations were student led.
I wish you guys luck in acquiring a new build space!
Thank you! We’ve tried to get a school space, since that would be the best, but our school is already overcrowded. We’re lucky to get the storage closet we share with theater, sports, and the janitors I guess we complained loud enough and long enough though, because our school district is the one finding the building for us, and handling the legal jargon. It just takes a while for these things to be processed and verified and voted on and passed and such, so we don’t know when we’ll get more information. Until then, we’re working with what we have!
Does your school district have any buildings it isn’t using? In my area, team 2619 operates out of an old elementary school under the stipulation that they keep the place clean (the school district figures they still have to pay the insurance, maintenance, etc. anyways, so they might as well use it). The nice thing is they have the whole building to themselves so in recent years they’ve also invited in other local FRC teams to use the space along with FLL and FTC teams in the fall.
Since the school also has a gym, they were able to set up a full time practice field too.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear our district has any unused space. My understanding of the situation is that the district is going to purchase an old building, not much, something like a shop on a strip, and allow us to use it. So not as sweet as a school, but a start.
Are any of your long-term sponsors owners of machine shops or places where you might be able to work out of? Some of the rookie teams I’ve talked to have just ended up working out of a sponsor’s shop and doing work / internship with them to try and compensate them for use of the shop.
However, the use of an old building seems like a definite step in the right direction. If anything, keep exploring to try and lessen the load on your host school.
We are very fortunate. One of our sponsors is a company that refurbishes CNC mills. They also have a Maker’s Space as part of their operation. So we have access to…anything you could imagine. We operate on our own schedule. We even have enough empty space on their storage floor to set up a partial playing field although there are enough pillars in this old building to make driving a bit of an adventure. Heck, we have our own freight elevator and a 100 year old walk in safe to store things in.
We are reducing our space (which must serve all storage and build as well) this year. Our first four years, we were in a large science classroom with plenty of storage, though everything had to be locked up every session. Last year, we added a much smaller portable building, which was all ours, but did not have nearly as much electricity or a level floor. This year, we’ve lost the classroom, and are only in the portable. The biggest issues have been (in the order we recognized them, which is approximately inverse order of importance/problem):
Where do we store things?
Where do we set up the freestanding and larger benchtop tools?
Do we have enough power?
Where do we put people who are doing things?
We have already scaled back on the amount we stored and have set up. We pitched about half of the stuff we owned over the summer (by mass and volume, not value), including a couple of marginal tabletop tools. Also, unless we get use of another space and power outlet, we are going to have to keep the membership count lower, or find a way to coordinate people who rarely see each other because they are at different build sessions. Our trials with that a few years ago were not promising.
Glad someone else from Columbia is posting on Chief now!
2815 (from 2009-2013) and 4901 (from 2014 on) have been operating out of more or less a one-car garage space at USC. It’s very possible to make it work!
STEP 1: Realize you’ve already got a workspace ideal: 10’x10’, otherwise known as a pit space. Lay tape out on the floor and see how much you can accomplish in there.
STEP 2: Figure out how you build your robots and prioritize what items (any items–tools, fasteners, materials) you need. If you aren’t sure what’s superfluous, you may want to read up on 5S practices. For me, a bare-minimum shop would have a drill press, chop saw with metal cutting blade, power drills, hand tools, files and deburring equipment, and a pop riveter and rivets. I’ve had great results in the past with similar equipment, and it’s a nice foundation for growth as machining resources expand.
STEP 3: These containers with black plastic shelving (which is almost perpetually in stock at Ollie’s for cheap) are heavenly for small parts storage. Easy to transport, perfect size for many things we deal with in robots.
STEP 4: Aim for bare countertops at the end of each meeting, barring Very Good Reasons.
STEP 5: A good shopvac will save you a ton of time at cleanup.
STEP 6: Understand that even if they’re taxidermied and can’t run, storage space for keeping your old robots displayable is not a waste.
(Richland 2 certainly has a relationship with Columbia Mall, which has one whole anchor store empty… #squadgoals)
Ideally, I think a minimum build space is 1200 square feet (30 by 40). Ideally, something around 2500 feet is better (50 by 50). If you weld, you need a concrete floor and good ventilation. And you will need to be able to move stuff around easily to go from fabricating to clearing out and practicing. 10 foot ceilings are really important. 8 foot ceilings work for building but not much for practicing.
Look for empty retail space. I recall one team (forgot the number) in the upper Midwest was able to get an agreement on empty space in a mall. The mall management company allowed them there for the cost of utilities. I guess the mall was able to take some deduction for allowing a non-profit in there. I think it was an empty Chuck E. Cheese or something. The space was big enough for them to set up a full field… I was so jealous.
Although renting a space is a costly burden on team finances, I know of one other team that rents a space in an industrial park. It’s austere but it has a concrete floor, good lighting, white boards mounted to the walls for brainstorming, benches for working, a roll up door for loading out and in, right next door to a car customization shop so no neighbors to annoy with late night building or loud music. I guess it’s about 30 by 60 feet. It costs about $1K a month. It’s open when a key holder shows up so they could work whenever they wanted as late as they wanted. There’s lots of parking. Maybe the school can help you negotiate something like that.
Can anyone with a school team share if donations to school teams are treated by the IRS the same as donations to 501.c.3 entities? Someone told me last year that the IRS made a rule change making it so school teams could be viewed the same as a 501.c.3 but not being a school team, I can’t attest to this.
We have a total of about 3,000 square feet, and it’s not nearly enough. With the machines and equipment, we’re constantly bumping into each other, shuffling things around, etc. You’d want at least 5k sq. ft to really feel comfortable in an ideal situation.
My team has had several build spaces over the past 10 years. The first was a parent’s garage. It wasn’t too hard to keep organized, as all we really had when the season started was the KoP! After that, we moved into a closet in a building downtown that hosted an engineering coop we got to sponsor the team. We could haul stuff out of the closet into the coop after hours to do our work. That expanded during the season into paying very, very little for a couple of months to “rent” some empty office space on the second floor. Then the third floor the next year, and then back to the second floor… finally the school came in and signed an actual lease on a space, did a little renovation to bring it up to spec for us, and we moved in there semi-permanently. After 3 years in the renovated space, the school finally built a STEM center on campus that we moved into, and we’ll probably be there forever
Assuming you already have the basics(hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, etc.), this is what I’d say is necessary…
If you use rivets, you probably already have a rivet gun
Metal files and deburring tools
Handheld Power Tools
Cordless Drills - Easily one of the most used tools in FRC, if not the most used.
Rotary Tool(Dremel) - Can do a lot. Can save space by reducing number of separate tools you need, and great if you have to work in tight spaces. If you use rivets, they’re good for cutting off the mandrels that don’t break free.
Reciprocating Saw(Sawzall) - With the right blade, will slice through anything, and I mean anything, from PVC pipe to thick reinforced steel. Vibrations can make them a bit inaccurate though. Also be sure whatever you’re cutting is clamped securely.
Handheld/Portable Bandsaw - Surprisingly useful, especially for small metal parts. There are even table attachments for them.
Circular Saw - Especially if you don’t have the space for a table saw or miter/chop saw. More accurate for cutting wood than a recip saw, and there are metal cutting circular saws.
Jigsaw - If you do a lot of intricate patterns on wood and/or metal, a jigsaw is probably beneficial.
Angle Grinder - If you use a lot of steel or wood screws, an angle grinder is a must. Also one of the most satisfying tools I’ve used.
Stationary/Benchtop Power Tools
Drill Press - Use this if you need to drill something long, very accurate, and/or through thick material. IMO, it’s one of those things that seems like a pointless waste of space until you use it, then you wonder how you went without it.
Belt Sander - Good for heavy deburring of smaller parts where a file would take too long and/or aluminum.
(Horizontal) Bandsaw - Depends on what materials you use, but horizontal bandsaws are great for long pieces of metal. Verticals are good for smaller parts, but that could be accomplished with a portable.
Miter/Chop Saw - If you use a lot of wood or don’t have space for a table saw, this will work. I think they also give cleaner cuts than table saws, and can cut at an angle. Has no problem cutting PVC, HDPE, and aluminum with the right blade.
Table Saw - Only if you use a lot of wood or sheet metal and have space for it. The angles on the bumper backing boards can probably be achieved with a chop saw. There are bench top versions that would help with space.
Bench Grinder - Good for making punches and grinding down smaller stuff. You can get by without one.
Vises are essential, and make sure they’re securely bolted down.
As for deciding what to keep, I would follow the rule of if you haven’t used it in two or more years, you probably don’t need it, so it can go. If something is broken, or no longer serves a useful purpose, there’s probably not much point in keeping it around.
Team 2877 the Ligerbots uses the Woodshop at our local high school, Newton South High. This has a wide array of woodworking tools that are quite helpful for prototyping. In addition, we have a jewelers CNC with a small cutting area. As well, we have an old metal mill and metal lathe. The lathe is a little wobbly but it is nice to use once in a while. We also have a metal bandsaw, chop saw, belt sander, spindle sander, and bench grinder. It is actually a pretty good sized space with a good amount of work space. There is a room full of computers next to it with creo installed on them. A downside though is we have to put everything away after meetings because the school uses the rooms as a classroom.