Should we continue to teach soldering?

Since we started 7 years ago we always used XT60 connectors on all our motors. It allowed us to teach the skill of soldering and we’ve never had an inspector question those connectors.

This year, I won’t go into our sob story, we’ve cut corners and used Wago on our CAM bus - no issues so far, and crimp connectors on a new brushless motor/controller we are using this year.

We have had issues with crimps, mostly due to the dependency of forearm strength.

Soldering has it’s issues in terms of the learning curve, time and quality assurance

I’m curious what other Teams are using and is soldering a lost art.

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If your students are willing to learn, it could be a cool activity.

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How else would you connect your CAN chain?

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Use a ratcheting crimper. That fixes that dependency (it doesn’t release until it’s fully crimped).

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We use the CAN connector packs, available at CTRE. This year instead of expanding the number of packs, we used a set of Wagos

Can you suggest a crimper?

Whether or not soldering is a technique you end up using on your robot, it is still a relevant professional skill and very likely something that students who pursue STEM will end up doing in college or beyond.

There are roughly 93 other threads about crimps and wagos and soldering and whatnot, but if you have an opportunity to teach a useful skill take it!

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If you have the time and size of team to teach soldering, I see no reason not to. It will be useful to them in places other than just robotics.

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Different crimpers are used for different connectors–you want to use the correct tool for the job. Some ones I’ve used:

The best of course are the official tools the manufacturer of the contacts sells, but they charge an arm and a leg for those, so the above are good low-cost options.

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And for yellow/blue/red “household crimps” - spring for Klein, don’t settle for Harbor Freight.

https://www.amazon.com/Klein-Tools-Ratcheting-Crimper-10-22/dp/B07WMB61J5

For 6awg/4awg, the harbor freight hydraulic crimp sets are usually fine. Whatever tool you use, section your first crimp to make sure you’re getting quality compression inside the joint.

I still teach soldering on and off, depending on the year.

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WAGO 221 lever nuts are fine for CAN (If you disagree feel free to review the massive CAN thread that was recently posted, but the takeaway is that they work fine as long as you secure them). That said, soldering is useful for tons of other stuff, from simple tasks like soldering CANcoders to making custom circuits. I would highly recommend teaching it, as soldering is a valuable skill for anyone who tinkers in general.

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For FRC, crimping is essential - definitely the best way to connect wires together and connect wires to motor controllers and FRC-intended sensors.
Cultivating some skill at soldering will definitely open up more sensors and “custom circuit” possibilities than crimping alone. It can also save a good bit of money for budget-limited teams when using motors which ship without leads.

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Powerpoles, ferrules, “standard” press-fit .1" pitch PWM style connectors, wago-ish wire nut thingies, and a bunch of other things I like less, but which are fine from a functional perspective. Solder thrown in when critical for good measure.

I sure hope not! I’ve taught multiple students over the years, and I’m still a young person by most standards.

I learned because I had a model railroad set growing up, with all the associated tools. Learning to fabricate circuits happened well before I knew how to design them.

I knew far too many students in college who borked up their senior design projects by not knowing how to solder, frying components, then staying up till wee hours of the morning figuring out which component they fried, ordering more, waiting for shipping, trying again…

Getting good at soldering takes time and practice. If you don’t have a unit at home and projects to learn on, I doubt you’ll get good from the four times a year you have to do it for robotics. From that perspective, I don’t think you’ll increase your robot’s reliability by tossing a soldering iron at a new student and saying “go fix it!”.

But, I’ll fight tooth and nail before it becomes a lost art.

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Both are useful, both have applications on FRC robots. We teach both.

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I’ll add my experience with a handful of students getting hired as techs due to the soldering (and crimping and etc) skills they picked up in FRC. For my work at least, our weed-out test is soldering 5 wires to a Dsub power connector. Slam dunk even if you’ve just soldered thru-hole components on a PCB, but an obvious tell if you’ve never picked up an iron.

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Soldering is useful for putting those boards with power pole connectors on the back of 775Pro motors. Aside from that and custom boards, everything on our robot is crimped. But yes, soldering is a very useful skill. However, I’ve seen too many people do it wrong. My first words in teaching soldering are, “This is not painting. A soldering iron is not a paint brush. Don’t use it like one.” I then explain the concept of heat transfer, making a thermal connection, and getting solder to flow.

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+1

Soldering well requires good hand-eye coordination, good fine motor control (in your hands) and patience. Those born with those particular gifts will pick up soldering skills relatively quickly. Those born with different gifts may struggle, even with good training and practice.

Your team will must be able to make good quality crimps if they want to make up their own 6+ AWG power cables for the battery and for the connections to the main breaker and PDP. Soldering is a “nice to have” skill for most teams I have seen since many aren’t using that many sensors and some sensors don’t need soldering. Many of the teams that do use a lot of soldering are also likely to be doing a lot of work in the off-season so they have a better chance to keep in practice.

Home Depot sells the same model crimper for the same price. On Amazon, you have the option of purchasing the crimper with an auto-adjusting wire stripper which is a good deal. While the Klein tools are not the “official tools” recommended by the connector manufacturers, they are used by people like electricians who make their living using those tools and the price is not that different from the hobby grade ones. The hobby grade ones are hit or miss so just get the Klein crimper.

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I would be overjoyed to find a sparky using the above linked crimpers. Most of them seem to get by fine with much less, i.e.: various random pliers and those weird combo wire stripper/crimper/screw cutters.

Still, spring for the Klein. Elechickens have messed up enough to know what does and doesn’t work for them. Most of us aren’t lucky(?) enough to have that experience.

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I guess my brothers and I were spoiled as kids…we got to build Heathkits, although most of our soldering was on other homebrew projects, mostly using surplus parts.

I always take advantage of the opportunity to have a student solder something…it’s a great skill, and will probably be needed for a long time.

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Thanks for all the feedback!

It’s good to hear that soldering skills do still have value - so we will continue teaching it.

I remember soldering up my senior design project and I recall their were several people in that class that struggled with it. Now, even with cheater glasses I can’t see that great to do it anymore.

We will also be investing in the Klein crimper as that is also a skill.

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