Speaking from a CAD perspective, as I believe CAD is the most powerful design tool that is widely accessible to FRC teams, you need to walk before you can run. Start sketching small things or components on the robot. You don’t need to CAD the entire robot, and maybe just modeling the manipulator will get you where you need.
From my experience, great 3D CAD comes from great 2D sketches. Learning how to use constraints, construction geometry, and using parametric sketching and modeling is very important to designing in CAD efficiently and effectively.
Knowing that, and considering that the robots built in FRC are relatively* simple, it’s entirely possible that an entire robot can be designed with 2D sketches (I’ve built a few robots from autocad drawings and can personally vouch for this process).
That being said, I don’t think the step from 2D to 3D is overly difficult, especially with the resources that teams have access to nowadays, specifically component libraries, free and powerful CAD software, and easily accessible reference material.
Some tips that will greatly improve efficiency within CAD:
- Becoming familiar with the software (arguably the most important and takes the most amount of time)
Great designers are incredible to watch when they are extremely familiar with their software (Adam Herd’s RAMP series is a great example of this)
- Setting variables for things that are likely to change, or things that will share a value throughout the design process
Bearing holes, game piece compression, wheel center drop, wheel diameter, robot width, length, etc
- Using constraints (especially equal and symmetric (mirror) constraints) to limit the number of dimensions needed
I highly recommend using dimensions only as a last resort. If you can use a constraint that makes sense in the context of the sketch, you should.
These tips, and a lot of other things that will be picked up on over time should allow for modifications and changes to be made very quickly so less time is spent designing.
This is a little demo document in Onshape I threw together to show some of these ideas. Feel free to poke around and figure out how I set the sketches up.
*Compared to, say, a jet engine or a medical device