Practice designing bots over off-season?

Hey guys! I have some questions about starting designing in CAD for our team. I’ve done a bit in the past and I have a decent bit of experience with Fusion 360, but nothing extensive. Just some hobby level stuff. However, I’m very interested in being able to design mechanisms for our team. I am looking for opportunities to test my skill and to learn more. So the questions are: Should I switch to Onshape/Solidworks or stick with Fusion, and how do I go about gaining experience either with the new software, or with fusion?

Currently, we do not have a CAD lead, or team. We are seriously lacking in that aspect because we have a small team. So I wouldn’t be building full bots. It would mainly be individual mechanisms.


Fusion really can’t handle models at the scale of an FRC robot. I would strongly suggest switching to another CAD program.

3005 used Onshape for the first time this year and I have to say: I’m completely hooked. The workflow and feature scripts take hours out of the design process. That’s not to mention the convenience of the web-based architecture and the ease of sharing a project.


If you’re starting from scratch, I’d highly recommend Onshape. It has a ton of useful features for FRC like Featurescripts and public part libraries, as well as lots of community support and public resources.

Onshape has it’s own built-in tutorial system which is pretty robust, and for more FRC-specific CAD techniques for Onshape Nick Aarestad has a great selection of YouTube videos.

For designing mechanisms, CADathons and other design challenges are great places to learn. Posting your designs on the FRC Discord is also a great way to get feedback from knowledgeable students and mentors.

All in all, I’ve always found the best way to learn is by doing. Jump in, find some projects that get you hooked, and just keep going!


We use OnShape as do many others purely because it is “the Google docs of CAD”. The featurescripts and public CAD people have out is also extremely helpful.

I’d recommend discussing with your team how CAD should be incorporated into your build season and process. Without a process in place that uses the CAD, having a design in CAD isn’t as helpful as you’d want it to be. Discuss with your team what the workflow would look like.

2 Likes recommend looking over this website lots of good resources for how to get started and the features that onshape has for use in FRC


Cadathons baby


To add to what I said before here’s some more advice:

CAD in Your Future
If you’re interested in mechanical engineering or anything related, CAD is going to be an important tool that you’re going to need for your future employment. CAD isn’t an ME’s job, it’s a tool they use to do their job.

You should try to learn as many CAD programs as you can. An ME only knowing one CAD program is like a machinist only being able to run a mill and not a lathe.

To make matters worse, you really can’t rely on a university to teach you CAD very much. In my experience most university ME programs only teach one CAD class and they tend to split their time between multiple programs. FIRST alums tend to be pretty far ahead of the curve on CAD use coming out of an ME program because they usually know it before even going to university.

In reality learning more CAD programs is pretty easy. They’re all about the same with just different names for things and some workflow differences. It’s kinda like learning a new programming language if you already know another language well, there are certainly differences, but you can build on what you already know. Starting with Onshape is a good choice because it’s perfect for the FRC application and you can build on that knowledge to learn more industry-standard CAD programs later.

How to Learn Onshape
Specifically for learning Onshape, I hear the built-in tutorials are unparalleled (haven’t actually done them myself, but I hear very good things).

Once you’ve got the basics, I would try to design a single simple mechanism yourself. My usual go-to is just a west coast style drivetrain. It’s complex enough that you hit most of the features, but simple and constrained enough that you don’t waste time trying to define the constraints of a mechanism that isn’t actually solving a real problem (e.g. it’s hard to design an intake for an imaginary application that doesn’t exist). Don’t worry about designing a drivetrain that your team can use or even manufacture, just use it for CAD practice.

After that, do a CADathon. They take care of the “design constraints” thing and also provide an opportunity to work with other people under a time constraint. Highly recommend doing it with a couple other members of your team if you can because that will help you figure out the workflow and communication you need for the actual season.


How would I participate in previous CADathons? I would like to participate live, but I’d like to find the game manual/rules for previous ones too.

If you run a CD search, there should be manuals in the CADathon threads. They’re usually public. F4 also has a discord server for their CADathons.

My team just started using CAD extensively over the past season, and all but three of the people on our team had not used CAD in the past. One of the best ways to learn CAD for people new to it is to participate in CADathons. My team decided to use Onshape this season, and I would recommend it over Fusion, especially if you have more than one person CADing on your team. Onshape also is cloud-based so it does not require as powerful of computers as Fusion or Solidworks so it can be much easier for people to work on at home.

If you want to learn robot design, the best thing you can do (in my experience) is design robots (or mechanisms, or just single parts) and have someone more experienced review them and provide feedback.

I’m not the best at robot design, but if you (or anyone, for that matter) is looking for feedback, I’d be more than happy to review your models and provide some input on how to improve.

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