[cw: sexual harassment] An Open Letter to VEX

I am writing this post to our forum out of a sincere request to all FRC suppliers, namely VEX Robotics. There are many quality control failures from other product lines from VEX and other suppliers, however, I believe Falcon 500 to be the most egregious and widespread by far.

Falcon 500s were announced over three years ago – October 31st, 2019. Featured in that announcement was Field Oriented Control (FOC): a technology that was advertised as a game changer, and was unavailable on any motors in FRC. It supposedly wasn’t quite ready at release, but was promised to be added to Falcons in a later firmware update. However, three years later, there has been complete radio silence about whether this is ever coming. Despite this, it is still being advertised to this day. People who were freshmen when Falcons were announced are now going into their final season as a student. Almost an entire FIRST generation has passed, yet many of the issues at release still persist.

The initial Falcon release was difficult enough - there were no order limits, so high-budget teams that could swipe a card immediately could be first in line and buy dozens of falcons, while low-budget teams that had to go through their schools waited months into season to get theirs. VEX should have done a maximum order for the first round, with uncapped ordering coming only when they had the supply to support it (which they still do not, considering they have been out of stock for months).

A few months after the first Falcons were received, teams started having issues with Falcon shafts not having threadlocker properly applied. Already, this is a serious QC issue, and from the beginning, I do not feel like VEX did enough. VEX did not offer any threadlocker and teams with broken Falcons did not get them replaced, not to mention VEX put the onus on teams to repair their own Falcons and didn’t offer to swap known good falcons with the likely bad ones teams had received. In my opinion, these things would have been the bare minimum, followed by VEX fixing whatever led to this becoming an issue in the first place.

Two years later, the exact same issues were discovered - they had never been resolved. VEX again failed to do any of the things I listed above, except this time, they promised to personally inspect the Falcons, something they failed to do. Following this, Falcons were also received without their housing, without bearings, and screws unable to withstand normal use. VEX did sell a fix, however, it did not address all the issues, and, in my opinion, it is unacceptable that they would sell repairs to such egregious issues as this for a profit.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to Falcons either. Ever since I started FRC, VEX has consistently had poor quality control. I have personally heard of teams receiving VersaFrame with 7/8” hole spacing, which were advertised as 1”, VersaFrame stock entirely missing the hole pattern, oversized Thunderhex shaft, undersized Falcon 500 pinions, oversized Falcon 500 shafts, and mislabeled products. This resulted in teams receiving something completely different than what was ordered. Any of these in isolation are very forgivable, but together, they show a complete lack of quality control, going back years.

Regarding business practices, I have a personal story. This past season my team needed a large amount of 26 teeth gears, 20 to be exact. VEX made a mistake and sent us 40, while charging us for the 20 we initially ordered. However, a few weeks later the lead mentor received a $240 charge on his personal credit card, and an email stating that he had to return the gears and they would refund his card. This is illegal, according to the FTC. However, we didn’t fight it, because we were worried about upsetting a company that we still rely on.

Overall, I am disappointed by the poor quality control I have consistently seen from VEX. My hope is they make substantial changes to improve their system across all product lines, not just Falcon 500s. The intent of this post is not to drive VEX out of business, as I believe they have done a lot of good for the FIRST community, but I think things still have room to improve.

Best,
Ethan Ocker

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Going thought IFI’s Glassdoor again, there seems to be a certain attitude regarding product development* that would make sense to manifest as the issues you’ve pointed out. There’s pretty universal upper management problems that are well fleshed out by the reviewers.

Additionally, there seems to have been a mass exodus of 5+ year employees starting around August of 2021. It would seem that something went down after building up for a while, as the kids would say.

*and some other, very concerning issues

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honestly its wild this isint talked about more. Insane that you’re forced to spend more money to fix the broken product you spent $200 on.

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After trying to get falcons for atleast a year now, its easy to say that I would much rather use NEO’s right now instead of falcons, after running neos on swerve for the first time and having very minimal failures with them, falcons seem kinda overhyped for how tedious and the amount of problems people have been having with them. 3512 for the next season will most likely continue to use NEO’s primarily for the next season.

Everything that has been addressed so far just doesnt seem worth it right now to switch motors just for supposedly “Better” hardware.

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We’ve had lots of QC issues with our VEX products this year. Our Falcons all had locktite issues, we had to buy fix kits for them, shafts sheared, CAN bus was shorted to the case on two falcons, among other falcon issues. But outside of that we started seeing many more general QC issues than we’ve ever seen before. All of our 1/2" round bearings were 5thou undersized in inner diameter (measuring .495 instead of .500), so we had to turn down every round shaft on our robot. Additionally, we received pinions with a completely different spacing and number of teeth than purchased or labeled on the package, we had issues with belt pulleys falling apart in ways I’ve never seen before.

These QC issues made it impossible to trust that we will ever receive something within tolerance from VEXPro again. It’s so unfortunate to see the company act with the behavior of “well it doesn’t matter, you’ll buy it anyways and suck it up,” especially since this is a company who basically sells these products to a group of entirely non-profit organizations. It’s completely unacceptable that the answer to teams when falcons break is “please spend more money to fix them,” and their standard practice around QC issues is to just lie about how they’re improving without changing anything.

Edit to point out: On the unofficial FRC discord when this post was mentioned there was some legitimate concern from some that they would face backlash for agreeing with this post, or commenting in a way that doesn’t favor VEX. Which is crazy, but at the same time is truly telling of the experience that teams are having here.

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Other, very concerning issues is an understatement. Repeated mention of harassment, toxic workplaces, bullying from management are just the tip of the iceburg. “DANGEROUS culture for women. Not just talking about the constant blue humor which makes some people uncomfortable, but genuine harassment happens frequently.” “Unless you are homophobic, like to abuse people, and are a cisgendered white man, you won’t be welcomed here.” “Misogynistic executive level.” The reviews are beyond concerning, nearing disgraceful levels of alleged conduct.

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If it’s alright with y’all, I think I’m going to fork this into two threads, one for the workplace culture / bigotry allegations / etc. and another for the QC / product / order habits issues. Both seem like important discussions to have and I don’t want either topic to get lost in the other topic. One moment while I figure this out…

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My reply sort of feeds into both and kicks off that subtopic, idk if there’s an easy way to keep it in both threads. Feel free to do whatever makes sense and we’ll fill in context.

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That’s a good point. I can’t figure out how to cleanly fork that, and for now there’s one reply to the Glassdoor thing, so I’ll just leave this as one thread for now.

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This is unacceptable… hurts to read and believe that all of this is happening.

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We’ve also had some issues with Vex’s customer support and QC, which has financially hurt our team, though luckily we’re well off enough where it didn’t matter as much. Fedex had marked as delivered, but never delivered an 800 dollar vex order (4 falcons). We contacted fedex, who refused to help us, so we contacted Vex. When we contacted Vex, we were ghosted multiple times. We tried for a few months, but eventually gave up when we never got a response. For other teams, this 4 falcons worth of money hit could be a massive hit to their budget, which could determine a build season.

Frankly, I’m not spending 800 dollars to gamble if my package will even arrive, even if it’s technically fedex’s fault. (Which is known for losing packages)

During another season when we were younger, we were sent incorrect toothed gears. This hurt massively when we were a young team, as we didn’t have the funds to pay for overnight shipping, and local teams didn’t have the gear, leading to us not being able to climb at one of our events. Not really inspiring.

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For you kiddos out there, I don’t have much life advice to give, but if you fear retaliation from factually pointing out legitimate concerns and issues you’ve had you had with a person or group of people, maybe you shouldn’t be associating with them.

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To add on it seems like something every year and different for the prior year is off with the 2x1 versa tubing. I don’t recall which issues was associated with a given year other than this years but to list them.

  • Not straight at all along length, bent up by about 1.25inches over 59inch length

  • Relatively Minor twist along length

  • Outside dimensions of tubing have been as much as 15-20thou undersized at times

  • Holes have been offset on parallel faces. This issue was this year and seen on all tubing, ranged between 10 and 30 though of misalignment

  • Wall thickness of a couple of tubes has been as little as 85 thou

  • Center of hole on edge is almost never close to 0.5in away. When cutting the tubing to length its only ever been a couple instances where we found we could trust this value. Typically we see about 15-20 thou away from nominal

If I’m honest some of these wouldn’t even be real issues if the drawings used notation the reflected such potential misalignments. When I see the drawings for versa tube say that the hole to edge dimension is 0.500 in and I see that the drawing does not specify a custom dimensional tolerancing chart I have to assume that the third decimal point means that the center of the hole will be 0.500± 0.005 in away from the edge and anything outside that range is a qc issue.

We have also experienced a lot of the above mentioned qc issues from people so I will refrain going into detail about what those issues are as they have already been well documented.

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EDIT: Shipping is wierd and prices get jacked up at 60" so that is why Vex cuts it off. (and why REV does 47" because of the price increase at 48")

This isn’t talked about at all (maybe because there is some other reason), but the maximum length of one VersaFrame tube stock is 59". I have no clue why, but as a team who had to drop way more money and create much more scrap than necessary in order to get 6 x 30" tube channels for last season robot it just seems bonkers to me that this 1inch less on the VersaFrame made us buy way more than necessary for the robot.

TLDR: VersaFrame is 59", we needed 6 x 30" pieces. If the length was 60" instead of 59" we could have saved around $100 because instead of buying 6 we could have bought 3. (which also leaves more for others but idk)

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99% sure it’s a shipping thing. USPS, for as much as I love them, sometimes has funky cutoffs for the price breaks when shipping dimensionally/by weight. I would surmise this is a way to get in a lower price break.

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This sort of thing is always hard to judge. In my experience*, people with bad experiences have a tendency to go online and complain, while those with good experiences just don’t think about talking about it. It’s hard to judge how many “good” posts we may be missing out on.

That said, the posts there are concerning. I would love to hear more directly about people’s experiences there. As a mentor for an all-girls team, some of the posts make me start to wonder if we want to be supporting that type of company culture, especially when I compare what I read in those posts to the great diversity support and leadership we’ve seen from leaders at other companies, like @Andy_Baker.

*I’ve had some poor experiences with companies and proceeded to talk about it online in the past. Good experiences don’t get as much talk online, as they just did what I paid them for. That’s speaking as a consumer and not an employee, I’ve never really had reason to complain about an employer.

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5147 has experienced the same issue with VersaTube/Stock. We’re a small school and team and we were severely set back by issues with stock. (Archaic purchasing through the school [1week from request to order in some cases], 1 week shipping). We had to completely redisgn our chassis for our current testing/off-season robot. We additionally experienced issues with Falcons and loctite.

I’m glad to see that others are also having this issue with stock.

This tends to be so that it can fit in standard size shipping boxes. 60" box with a 60" tube doesn’t tend to package well. REV does something similar with their maxtube, 47" to fit in a 48" box.

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Comparing their Glassdoor reviews to other companies, I think it’s clear that this is more than one or two people badmouthing them.

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Something related to QC that we’ve brought up with Vex before with no clear solution is their gears. Around 2020 (maybe 2019?) we started getting gears from them with a different coating on them, after talking to them it looks like they switched from one coating to another. Not only was there no indication of this on the product pages (at the time) from what we could tell, these new gears machine TERRIBLY, more then what we believe the coating would change, they machine more like 6063 then 7075, they also appear to wear much quicker (could be bldc motors). We’ve been trying to source a new gear supplier since.

Edit: Corrected my assumption on what the gear coatings were

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