Legality of selling parts as non COTS vendor (elevator bearing blocks)

I am curious about the legality of making and selling parts that I have the ability to manufacture. I made these elevator bearing blocks (as well as a few other parts) and it would be very easy for me to come in on a weekend and run a pretty good sized batch of them to sell to other teams. It wouldn’t be a very large profit for me, mostly just to help out other teams. But I am unsure of the FRC legality as I am not an official vendor, I am just some dude with a mill.


They’d be effectively custom parts, by FRC rules, and the only real restriction is that you’d have to manufacture them after kickoff.

I am not a lawyer, but your bigger concerns may be tax liability, and relationship with whoever owns the mill (if not you).


Just to review the FRC rules in question (all from the opening wall-o-text of 2022 Manual Section 9 unless otherwise noted).
–These would be Components.
–There might be some debate as to COTS or not–but the thing is that if you aren’t a Vendor, the parts aren’t COTS.
–Vendor has a federal tax ID number, can ship within 5 business days, can fill orders quickly, and isn’t a subsidiary of an FRC team (and sells to all FRC teams). You’re saying that (for now) you don’t meet one or more of those.
–Because you aren’t a Vendor, these are Fabricated Items. Value of material and labor for Fair Market Value, otherwise no real restrictions. I would take a look at R301, Blue Box Examples 3, 4, and 5, and decide which would most apply to your case.
–R302 notes that they’d need to be built after Kickoff. UNLESS it takes you less than 30 minutes with handheld tools to go from raw stock to fully-machined part… in which case they’d land under R302E

Let’s look real quickly at how to do this:
You own (or otherwise have access to) a mill. You offer to build a bunch of bearing blocks and other parts for teams, at a going rate of material cost + roundup to nearest nice number (or comestibles of some form, etc).

As long as you do it after Kickoff, and let the teams in question know your labor rate (for FMV calculations), you should be OK. You could also be a sponsor for several teams, or if you’re a current team member using team equipment the labor rate is effectively zero.

tl;dr: Legal, yes, as far as FRC is concerned, but make sure to account for your build time somehow.


What if the parts are functionally equivalent to existing COTS bearing blocks? I feel like this violates the spirit of the rules but there seems to be a small loophole (maybe).

Still a Fabricated Item.

I can buy round nylon spacers for my shafts from a Vendor (McMaster, AM, VEX, REV), I can 3D print them, I can buy nylon tube of the right size from a supplier and cut it to size on a lathe, or I can pay* a local fabrication shop to make them for me. The first one is COTS, and uses COTS parts rules. The rest are Fabricated Items, and use Fabricated Items rules even if they’re COTS equivalent. In this example I could also just cut a PVC pipe to length, still a Fabricated Item.

Fabricated Item definitions don’t distinguish between “COTS-equivalent” and “not COTS-equivalent”, except in R302-E where a Fabricated Item made from COTS parts might not count against building before Kickoff.

Oh, and because these are Fabricated Items, they come with a significant disadvantage over COTS items. R302, Blue Box, makes clear that they aren’t legal for following seasons unless R302-E-c is in play.

*Maybe not actually pay, depending on the relationship with the shop. If they’re a Sponsor, great. If not, [empty wallet].

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I guess I’d want further clarification on what “created” means in this context.

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Also doesn’t change anything besides “make it after Kickoff”–the costing, which is IMO the bigger bear in the room, still needs to be addressed.

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The key part here is “closely resemble in form and function”. To carry through the round spacer example from before, the spacers would closely resemble the COTS spacers in form and function (unless the dimensions were significantly different), and thus could be made pre-Kickoff, though I’d still need to properly account for the costs.

For the bearing blocks noted here, it’s similar. Let’s say that OP uses CAD from ThriftyBot, material from the local metal supply store that’s the same grade as Thrifty uses, and uses the same hole spacing for the critical holes, and generally it looks the same. Equivalent. But if the hole spacing is the same, the material is the same, but there’s some adjustments (just for grins, let’s say that OP machines the team logo into each piece) and it no longer looks the same, there’s a pretty decent argument to be made that it’s no longer equivalent. Ditto if the material is changed to, say steel instead of aluminum.

And, of course, take this with a few grains of salt, because we don’t know for sure what the wording will be for 2023 and beyond. I would trust that the functional equivalency remains, and the general definition of functional equivalency remains the same–it’s the detailed wording.

And it still only changes fabrication schedule and reusability–not cost accounting or operational concerns on running the machine, as noted above.

As far as the ownership of the mill, we will treat it as if I own the mill. The parts are functionally the same as the elevator blocks currently on the market, just with some quality of life improvements. Here is the grabcad link to the blocks in question

-uses 1/4 ID x 3/4 OD bearings for outside edges

-uses doubled up 1/4 ID x 1/2 OD bearings on inside face

-No spacers required. Everything is machined as one piece

-has counterbore to support shoulder screw and take load off the thin section of the shoulder screw where the threads begin

-lines up with WCP tube plugs and existing pre-drilled tubing

-uses 8-32 screws to retain cross pin holding the 1/2” OD bearings

Can you post a screenshot/irl photo?

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This is where the loophole comes in. If OP make functionally the same blocks. They are COTS*. The rule doesn’t state the the person who made the item has to be the one to use the item. Nor does it state that you can’t sell them.

If there was a rule that came into play that I could think it would be you can’t transfer major mechanisms. I don’t think they meet that.

*** edit ***

As far as taxes and revenue. That’s between OP, the IRS, and god lol.

*** Re: edit ***

*meant to say functionally COTS. As in not technically COTS but used as such.



Idk…they do resemble thrifty’s but you are pushing it lol…

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@traxxasracr1 i like this idea

OP is NOT a VENDOR. VENDOR has a very specific definition in FRC, which OP has stated that they do not meet. (I would guess the Federal Tax ID # part is one of the invalidating factors.) COTS parts in FRC are sourced from VENDORs, and cannot be sourced from non-Vendors. I quote the 2022 Game Manual:

A COTS item must be a standard (i.e. not custom order) part commonly available from a VENDOR for all teams for purchase.

Not a Vendor, not a COTS part. As soon as OP meets the requirements to be a Vendor, I will retract my statement that these are NOT COTS. If you can show me in the Game Manual where COTS can be made by a team for other teams to purchase, I will retract my statement. *

Because they are not COTS, they are Fabricated Items. Therefore, all Fabricated Item rules are in play.

I never said that OP can’t sell them, or make them for others, or give them away for free. What I AM saying, and have been all along, is that there are rules for how to do the FRC-style cost accounting, and OP needs to figure out which one they’ll land under. R301 Blue Box, Example 3 or 4 (as 5 has been ruled out) or Example 1. One of those covers this situation. The question is, which one, and does that put the per-part cost over the R301 limit?**

And, I argue that these are not functionally equivalent at first glance. They have adjustments. The two biggest (for determining equivalence) are as quoted:

I’ll buy the shoulder screw counterbore being a 30-minute modification with a hand drill–that’s something I can do fairly easily, and more to the point I can train a student to do it that fast with a drill bit. (Or a commonly-available counterbore bit.) Until further notice, I’d have a much harder time with the “one piece” vs “spacers required” setups–depending on the way it’s eventually determined, I could argue that it’s dissimilar in both form and function. I could argue it’s similar. That one is the dicey one for “functionally equivalent”. I’m going to withhold judgement until I see the rules for 2023.

To a point. OP’s labor may need to be factored in when giving the team a cost accounting. (Another part of the R302 blue box basically says that if the per-part cost looks close to the limit, documentation may be asked for.) Honestly if I were OP and donating labor I’d do an invoice that said “materials $X, labor A hours at $B/hour = $C, labor discount -$C, team billed $X”. Covers team, covers you, and helps you deal with IRS if need be.

Basically: There’s no issue with selling the parts, provided that they’re treated as Fabricated Items and the proper FRC-style accounting is done–which may also include a timing component depending on how “functionally equivalent” they are to COTS.

*Part of the definition of VENDOR is that they cannot be a subsidiary of a team–that is, the team and vendor must be able to separate legally, even if there are people in common. If the team IS the vendor, that actually becomes a problem, at least from HQ’s point of view.
**Answer: PROBABLY not. Depends on OP’s per-hour rate as determined by relationship to the team and typical market value for a machinist in that area, and time taken. And I would posit that Example 3 is probably the closest here.

Never said OP was.

Should have worded it better. If OP makes a functionally equivalent part to a COTS item. That item becomes legal to use in perpetuity (as long as the new R301-E rule is there). This makes them functionally COTS. Yes, not technically but in use.

Agreed, they do not appear to look in the $600 price range. So all good. On a side note, FIRST has said that blue boxes are not binding and are just examples.

I’d agree with you. I made my statements before I saw the part.

BOM is no longer required. I see no reason to have a break down of cost accounting (we already settled the $600 thing above) for a team. The break down for the FMV and determining IRS taxes I don’t think OP should be listening to anything from CD lol.

And this was why I was saying there was a loophole. As long as you are copying COTS parts you can functionally become a vendor with the new rule. Do I think people should do that…probably not…is it allowed within the rules? yes*.

Now, can we go further? How does licensing agreements work with all the rules? What if OP licenses the design from thrifty? Feels like we could get into some trouble with that line of thinking.

FWIW I’m not in favor of abusing these loopholes and they should probably be closed. However, it’s still fun to think about.




*Terms and conditions apply.
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Correct. However… technically, still Fabricated Item. I would say Functionally Equivalent Fabricated Item (FEFI). Up until this next year, single-season part.

Two points here:

  1. Blue boxes are examples, yes. Which is why I was pointing straight at 3 possible examples that cover this exact situation.
  2. Appearances can deceive. I’ve dealt with parts of similar size that were pretty close to $600. Material looks to be in about the $50 range, so it’s a question of labor time x labor value.

Actually, check again. Inspectors CAN ask for documentation on anything they think is close. It’ll be a per-part check, not a BOM check. Because of that, having a breakdown for FMV (parts + labor) is going to be useful to have available. Partly because, we didn’t settle the $600 thing. See, that’s a function of hourly rate x charged time. If you got a particularly experienced machinist, with a super-tight tolerance that took a while to get right, you could probably blow right through the $600 limit. For most FRC-type machining tolerances (and people) you’re probably about $100 for materials and labor combined.

Tax is something separate, and on that I’d agree that CD is a lousy source of information.


What is the definition of VENDOR in the rules? I want you to spell out the 5 points of being a VENDOR.
What is the definition of COTS in the rules? Does it not include being sold by a VENDOR?
Right. Not all parts that look COTS are COTS. If they aren’t sold by a VENDOR, they are Fabricated Items.

If you are copying COTS parts, they are still Fabricated Items. FEFI, to be sure. But there’s nothing saying you can’t sell Fabricated Items, they just aren’t COTS if you aren’t a VENDOR. I could make and sell spacers to FRC teams. I’m not a VENDOR, therefore my “COTS” items are Fabricated Items. They might be FEFI. But until I become a VENDOR, COTS they aren’t.

As far as licensing/distribution: Bring a lawyer in on that one. That said, in most cases licensee/distributor is going to be a VENDOR anyways, or selling through one.

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The blue box at the end of the Vendor definition section of the 2022 Game Manual (and several previous game manuals) lends a lot of light on the logic behind the various qualifications used in the definitions of “COTS” and “Vendor.” I’ve copied the first two paragraphs of that blue box below.

The intent of this definition it to be as inclusive as possible to permit access to all legitimate sources, while preventing ad hoc organizations from providing special-purpose products to a limited subset of teams in an attempt to circumvent the cost accounting rules.

FIRST desires to permit teams to have the broadest choice of legitimate sources possible, and to obtain COTS items from the sources that provide them with the best prices and level of service available. Teams also need to protect against long delays in availability of parts that will impact their ability to complete their ROBOT. The build season is brief, so the VENDOR must be able to get their product, particularly FIRST unique items, to a team in a timely manner.

If the OP feels that they can meet the intent of why FIRST has a definition for vendors, then it may be worth pursuing all the intermediate steps to make it achievable (such as the Tax ID). However, if the end result would be a vendor that does not meet the intention of FIRST’s desire for vendors, it would be advisable to shy away from this venture.

Distinction without a difference.


That would mean OP added $500 in value? Doubt. Don’t sit there and leave the scope of FRC. A part that is a copy of thrifty’s which is about $25 per block suddenly jumping 24 times in price? Even 3 timesing that is a bit ridiculous. Which leads into…

First, I was only referencing the bearing block OP was going to make. No other manufactured parts that a team might have on their robot. If the team suspects a part might get close to that $600 then yes it would be prudent to have a break down.

Second, What happens if the inspector for some reason requests a FMV break down of thrifty’s bearing block? All you have is a receipt. At some point the inspector is just going to have to trust a team. Also there’s not reasonable rationale that a team would instead of buying a 25 dollar part buy something that’s a copy and 10 times the price. Remember, these would be sold and they are essentially a copy (to conform to the rules) of a COTS item. There no reason to think they would jump significantly in price.

Third, I reject the notion that the inspector would even bother questioning the legality of fabricated bearing blocks. Is it possibility? yes. Is a significant chance? Absolutely not. Unless you did something to anger the inspection overlords I don’t even see them noticing them in a significant capacity.

^-- No point in reiterating this when I already further clarified to which you agreed. I have no qualms about COTS nor have I disagreed with the definition of COTS.


Again, didn’t call OP a vendor. I said they practically function as one. As in they aren’t technically a vendor but they sell a part which a team can use and then use the following year because the item OP copied IS COTS. So as long as Thrifty’s block is COTS, the copied part is legal (again as long as the rule stays).

That’s a lot of words and technicalities to say that you agree with my original premise. OP can copy a COTS part and sell it.