FRC Build Season Workshop Resources

I am curious what the “average” or “typical” workshop is for FRC teams. I know some teams build in school classrooms/workshops and others in someone’s home garage and yet others in multimillion dollar corporate machine shops. Our team has never had a permanent “home”. Every year we seem to work in a different place wherever we can beg, borrow, or steal during the build season. We haven’t had a heated workshop in years! Outside of the build season we store stuff wherever we can which for a long time was mostly my home garage but now includes a small area at one of our sponsors the size of an office or two. Every year about this time we get worried about where we can setup our build shop but somehow something always works out. We are starting to get one of our sponsors to warm up to the idea of providing us a permanent “home” to work in year after year. However, since space isn’t cheap they want to know what we really “need”.

So that brings me to my question: What does an FRC team “need” as far as workshop space and facilities and resources to maintain a competitive and sustainable team that accomplishes the goals of the FIRST FRC program?

Please post your opinions whether they are a hacksaw, hand drill, and someone’s one car garage or a full on zillion dollar CNC machine shop with enough open space to build a full practice field to competition specs. I imagine most responses will be somewhere in the middle. This thread is not meant to be a bashing of the “haves” or the “have nots”. It is meant to find out what teams do have and if they have what they “need” (not “want”) to be successful. For the purposes of this thread I am considering mentors as a separate resource. It would be impossible to place a value on the time, effort, knowledge, and experience of all the wonderful mentors in FIRST. I am more interested in physical workshop space and tooling resources, materials/supplies, computational resources, etc.

Our team gets competes fairly well with a small machine shop/classroom. In this room, we have a 2 drill presses, a chop saw, lathe, two band saws, and a grinder. we also have a bunch of computers that our school put in for the engineering classes in our district. we have space to build and machine but nothing too fancy. we also sometime out source parts we cant make in house.
overall we have very little compared to some of the big corporate teams but we fair pretty well.

What we have: an empty grocery store warehouse area with hand tools+ grinder and drill press. We also have access to a community college machine shop, and one of our sponsors is a machine shop. We used to work in an old machine shop with only the grinders and a bad drill press (and the sponsor’s shop).

I’m going to say hand tools and some basic machines, plus enough space to build the key field elements (probably about half the field; if less space is used, make it narrow instead of short). Oh yeah, and some space for computers and secure tool storage.

The lab we work in – MSR’s Hardware Devices Lab – is being moved to a new building that was just built on the MS campus. We’re getting a little bit more room, but more importantly than that, we’re getting a chance to organize things from the ground up and make the space as suitable to our needs as we can while still letting the folks that use it during the day get what they need from it.

Inside, we have:
Haas VF-1 CNC Mill – I’m not sure what’s standard on these machines. It has a 20 tool changer, coolant, and an optional A axis.
Engine Lift – For moving the optional A axis :slight_smile:
Lathe – I don’t know the model of the lathe since I, personally, don’t use it. It’s big enough to tip a forklift over, in any case.
Drill Press
Vertical Band Saw
Horizontal Band Saw
Bench Grinder
Belt Sander
Sheet Metal Break
Sheet Metal Shear
Compressed air drops all over the place
Chop Saw – New in '08! :slight_smile:
48" x 48" CNC Plasma Cutter
12" x 24" CO2 Laser Cutter
Rapid Prototyping Machine

We make great use of some of the tools and almost none of others. We rarely touch the sheet metal break or shear or the rapid prototyping machine and make sparing use of the plasma cutter since it’s hard to get clean edges and small, round holes from it. I’d cry if we had to go without the mill and lathe, though. They’re essential to our process and to our success so far.

I know our machine shop is larger than the average team workshop. At our school, we have:

3-axis mill refitted to a be a CNC.
3-axis mill
vertical bandsaw (a new $3500 one)
horizontal bandsaw
drill press
TIG welder
chop saw
a few compressed air drops
hand tools

Additionally, we have access to a pretty big woodshop, and to another workshop, with several welders, mills, lathes, drill presses, laser and plasma cutters, and a rapid prototyping machines. We also might have access to a big waterjet machine.

How often do we use this stuff? Depends. We use the lathe, mills, and bandsaw often. We will probably try and more use more this year, but those are by far the most valuable tools we have.

We build in an old warehouse owned by the county, which they’ve let us use under the umbrella group GEARS (Garrett Engineering and Robotics Society). We have over 5,000 sq ft total, with a large warehouse room big enough to house a full practice field and then some, with an alcove off in the corner holding our toolshelves and bench tools; a loft room holding computers, a white board, and chairs; and a front room that holds all our LEGOs, trophies, and our kitchen. Yep, kitchen. The only kitchen you’re more likely to find a robot than food. :slight_smile: We’re exceptionally lucky with our building space, not least because our next door neighbor is a machine shop and one of our partners.

The three teams I have worked/am working with have all had different shops set-ups and different available supplies.
116 works in a high school drama room (that used to be the auto shop). In the back corner there’s a door to a special section set aside for robotics (“the shop”), where all the tools are located. They also use a computer lab across the hall for animation, programming, and CAD.
Drama room and shop door
Computer Lab
Computer Lab
Drama Room
The Shop is fairly well equipped, with two Mills (one being refitted to CNC), a lathe, a horizontal bandsaw, a bench-top vertical bandsaw, a drill press, a grinder, a sander, multiple vices, and a table saw (as well as all sorts of hand-held tools). A majority of the fabrication takes place in the shop, while the drama room outside provides plenty of room for assembly, discussion, presentations, and eating (important!).

612 and 1712 both meet in technology-oriented classrooms. Both have computers within the classroom. Both also have attached shops. 612 has a majority of the standard types of bench-top tools, as well as a small CNC mill and manual lathe. 1712 has fewer bench-top tools and no CNC/large machining equipment, but they have the basic tools to get by.

We got the ancient wood shop at the High School. It’s not so bad. We’ve added some sheds, its in an isolated area. The occasional break-in and graffiti are worth it. We have no windows, broken to many times.

Inside we have, 2 Lathes, 2 Drill presses, mill, band saw, all donations from sponsors. We have an office area set up on the other side with computers and a white-board wall. We have no faculty interface anymore so we have no classroom.

Well 1745 is at the other end of the FRC sprctrum.

we have
a broken drill press(you can still use it just have to put 2x4s under the plate)
a hack saw
a band saw(its broken now but it will be fixed by jan)
a table saw
a chop saw
a ball ping hammer
a belt sander/grinding wheel
a 9.25"X9.25" 3 axis CNC mill(any shape possible . . . as long as its plywood and not over 3/4 inches thick)
2 corded drills
1 cordless drill( we found it on the side of the road while driving down t0 Houston)
a ratchet set
a hand screwdriver set

and the best tool of all hardworking dedicated young minds.

basically to have a functioning FRC team you only need the last item. cause with that you can get alot of hand tools from parents, and with some creative thinking thats all you NEED(maybe not all you want).

This idea intrigues me. I have wondered if there were any teams that make use of empty store buildings. I only know of one team that was able to make use of an empty grocery store last year and I wondered how they did it. There are several large empty store buildings in our town. A very large “warehouse type” grocery store, and old Kmart building, a large empty hardware store that went under when Home Depot came to town, and several others. There is also a mall here that is just about empty from end to end. Probably less than 15 stores in the whole thing including all of the DoD recruiters in separate storefronts. There must be dozens of empty storefronts in the mall. I have wondered if it would be possible to get access to one of these locations but wouldn’t know how to go about it. I wonder about things like liability and insurance and power.

Can anyone relay their experience with using an empty commercial store type building? Did you have to lease it or were you able to get it as a donation? If the owner does donate the use of the building for a few months can they take it as a tax write-off? Since the mall closes at 9:00 how would we work late into the night? How much does electricity run per month to heat a Kmart size building? All of these buildings around here have been for sale for years with no signs of them being sold anytime soon. What sort of insurance would a team have to have to cover liability on a Kmart size building? I guess I fear that even if we could somehow get to use a big store building for a couple of months rent free we couldn’t afford the other costs to use it. Where would we start? At the realtor that has the building listed for sale?

Use was donated…sort of. The church that runs our school owns a (now) empty grocery store building, which was empty. Robotics (FRC + 3 FLL teams) uses the warehouse area; nowadays, the church youth group uses what was the main store. The SCRRF Fall Classic was run at this site, after some rework to get it usable by the youth department (and robotics, for that matter).

I am not sure. We couldn’t figure out how to turn the heat on…bring on the space heaters! As for mall use…I think one of the NY teams worked in a mall for a while. They could probably tell you how to negotiate late-nighters. Not sure about tax write-off either.

That would be a good place. They can tell you who really owns the building and how desperate they are to have it occupied. The more desperate, the better (for your purposes). But you’re right; other costs should be considered, and the owner could probably tell you those.

One other thing–if you do get a building like a large store, learn where the circuit breakers are and what each controls. Some control lights; I know of one that controlled another breaker panel; and one that controlled an outlet needing work was in an unexpected location (e.g. upstairs with the A/C equipment). Label the breakers you need to use first thing.

Oh, and if you are successful, turn it into an area robotics clubhouse if you can. Full field area…lots of floor space for tools…multiple teams could build there. Actually, when we had our shop set up, we invited other teams over to use our resources, which made life more fun.

I commiserate with the no-heat problem. Our “shop” is located literally under the stands of our school stadium in the referee changing rooms. 100% concrete, cramped, and ugly to boot. And you guessed it…we have to move out every night there is a game! And we don’t have access to the curcuit breaker, so we can either have the tools or the heater on at one time…you can imagine what that looks like on overnight stays.

As far as tools go we have…

a band saw
drill press
belt sander
chop saw
and assorted hand tools.

Basically, we are constantly working aluminum with woodworking tools! However, as much as we may drool over CNC mills and lathes, we actually function very well with the tools we know how to use.

But if anyone has an extra mill laying around…

We’re a fortunate school that has it’s own metal shop and woodshop. On top of that, both rooms belong to the teacher who is the team’s adult leader. I don’t know what equipment we have exactly, I’m not really on the technical side. We did get by nicely with what we have. I might ask for a list and post it. But the only problem we really have is availability. Like during the 2007 season, we had too many snow days. More than Bedford ever gives. Their reputation for holding out on no-school days runs back to when my mom was attending. Anyway, we can only stay for a certain amount of time because of the janitors and administration control unless it’s Friday/Saturday, where we can stay til 9:00!!! WOW!!! Anyway, I don’t think we’d be moving out anytime soon, but I’m grateful that we have this space.

I would start with something smaller than Kmart, at least if you are just having one team meet there. If you’re planning a competition like our Pre-Ship Scrimmage, then that is something else entirely.

The tax situation probably depends on the jurisdiction. Here in California our moving into the old grocery store actually saved the church several thousand dollars in taxes. Since the building was commercial when last occupied the church had to pay property taxes on it, even though it wasn’t being used. When they converted it to a non-profit use, that changed. The savings were used to refurbish the building and make it more suitable for events. A win-win for the robot team and the church. The county (who collects the taxes) probably wasn’t as happy about it. But they don’t want too many vacant buildings around either. It drives down values on nearby properties and reduces tax rates for them.

Insurance and utilities would have to be negotiated with the owner. However “hobby insurance” is available for many activities and is not terribly expensive. If you live in a cold climate utilities would be more of an issue. Though in a mall with other stores they are already having to keep the building warm. The additional expense would be very small for just running tools and computers.

One advantage of working in a storefront is you get much more exposure to the public. Used properly this can be a huge advantage. Our team was careful to make sure the door was open during the times when people would be walking past on their way to church services. Many stopped in to see what was up. That gave us a chance to interact with the congregation and show them what we were doing. A few even became sponsors! Others wound up on one of our Lego League teams. All in all it was a great year and we are looking forward to being back there this year.

If you find a place the thing to do is contact the agent in charge of renting/leasing the space. They can put you in touch with the owners if needed. Or you can look up the property records and find out for yourself who owns it, but they are paying the agent for a reason so I would be hesitant to go straight to the owner if somebody on the team didn’t know them already.

Have a plan for how you want to use the space and what times you would be there. BTW it is possible to build robots without doing regular all-nighters. I don’t think the BeachBots have done one for three or four years now. You just have to be careful about how you manage your time. Investigate insurance and have an answer for the question as it is sure to come up. Emphasize that this is just for a short time and if you are dealing with a large property owner, be flexible about locations. BE SURE TO INCLUDE THE OWNER AS A SPONSOR, even if they don’t give you any money. They are saving you several hundreds or thousands in rent

We are actually working through this set of problems at the moment. Our new rookie team called several leasing agencies for empty store fronts near the school. One of the leasing companies has agreed to donate the use of two storefronts for our team for the next 4 months. Since they will be donating the space, they will receive a tax-deduction.

They have also agreed to donate utilities during our temporary use including water and electricity. The only thing we will need to get on our own will be phone and internet.

As far as liability, the school system has agreed that since the space will be primarily used for a school club activity, their liability coverage can be extended to the space. We are working through the paperwork associated with that as we speak.

Overall it is a win-win for all involved. The leasor/owner gets a tax-deduction on a space they have been unable to fill. We get the space we need during build season for little to no cost and we can interact with the community as they pass by.

Robot team in the drama room ! Love it… theres SO much DRAMA during build season! :smiley: