If it were me, I would prioritize machines something like this for FRC uses:
- CNC Mill
- 3D Printer
- CNC Router
- Lathe (CNC optional, but at least DRO preferably)
- Basically anything else.
TBH, for FRC uses if you have a good CNC router, a plasma cutter becomes redundant. While, a plasma cutter is probably faster than a CNC router for most workloads, it’s basically inferior in every other way (No real depth-of-cut control, limits on what kind of materials you can use on it, lots of post-processing of parts, etc.).
I’d also personally avoid waterjets because of the mess and cost of operation. IMO, a better option would be to get a sponsor with a waterjet, and then see if you can “visit” them to show the kids how it works.
My team has access to a few different different CNCs, but we primarily use these:
Omio X8-2200 - Used mainly for cutting out sheets of material, and some minor mill work. Initially I was pushing to get a larger CNC Mill, but due to cost and space we settled for the X8. That said, It’s been quite versatile for our uses. In a perfect world, it would have been nice to be able to have a Router large enough to stick a full 4’x8’ sheet of material in it so as to avoid cutting the sheets down first, but it hasn’t been a show-stopper for anything so far. If I were looking for a larger machine, Velox CNC or one of the kits from AvidCNC (formerly CNCRouterParts) would probably be what I’d look at (and both are made in USA, as far as I’m aware).
Tormach Personal CNC 770 - Used for smaller parts that require clamping (primarily cutting lightening patterns in aluminum tube). It’s on the smaller side (only 14" of X travel), but it usually gets the job done (and since we usually use it for tubing, it’s pretty easy to just reposition longer tube and keep cutting). Much higher precision than the Omio too, not to mention the more powerful spindle.
Beyond traditional CNCs, we have a number of 3D printers that we’ve been using more extensively in recent years (to the point that basically our entire turret assembly was 3D printed this past year). In particular, we mostly use a Markforged Onyx One for strength-critical parts, and a number of Prusa i3 MK3’s for less strength-critical parts.
We also use a LittleMachineShop “HiTorque” Bench Mill and “HiTorque” Bench Lathe mostly for training and smaller, simple parts; as well as an old Bridgeport knee mill we use on occasion for larger parts. All three of these machines have DRO’s
In addition to equipment the team owns, we also have access to a HAAS TM-2P CNC Mill that the school’s machine shop just got this summer (don’t ask me how), as well as a CNC Plasma Cutter (not sure the make/model but it’s roughly the same size as our Omio X8, maybe a bit larger).
We also have sponsors with a variety of machining capabilities, from sheet metal fabrication (we use this for our robots chassis) to waterjet cutting.