Split Thread: 3D printing and Raw Stock definitions

Would you call a printed part that does not have a particular use by itself but could be combined into anything as “Raw Stock” Lets assume the team designs something akin to a lego brick or erector set part in different forms and shapes like the Frame2020 pieces we just released on grab cad. Now there are 2 in pieces, 4in all the way up to 20 in and by themselves each one is a hunk of plastic - a brick if you want but you can interconnect them and build a robot out of it or reconfigure one in little time kinda like rearranging some lego bricks and turn a car into a truck etc.

Raw stock isn’t precisely defined but it seems to mean raw material stock. Filament would be raw stock, printed parts (no matter how modular) would not be considered stock.

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Martin - you guys are always pushing the envelope… :grin:

So, normally, I would not have considered printed parts to fall in the category of ‘not fabricated’ items since typically, people print exactly what they intend to use. But, if you printed something analogous to versaframe and then cut it to length prior to actually using it, I could see that a case could be made that it is ‘not fabricated’ prior to you cutting it. However, this really stretches the rule since work was done by the team to design and print the parts. The design aspect can be cleared by releasing the CAD publicly (which you have done), but I am really having a hard time reconciling the work done by the team in printing the parts.

The counter argument, which I have made before as you know, is if you print a part that exactly matches raw material that could be purchased from a VENDOR, then it is hard to argue logically that printing such parts are creating an unfair advantage for you (we made this same argument about drilling holes in aluminum extrusion to create material that is functionally equivalent to versaframe and whether that could be done before kickoff). Since VEX sells plastic fersaframe, if your 3D printed Frame2020 matched the specifications for the plastic versaframe, then you would fall into this grey region. Of course the plastic versaframe is made from polycarbonite and you would be printing from Nylon, so you may not be able to argue similarity here…

As vendor supplied material and 3D printing have advanced and crept their way into teams’ usage, it would be wise for FIRST to take a look at these areas of the rules and start to carve out some do’s and don’ts that can help keep things fair for everyone and help teams avoid getting into disputes with other teams or inspectors.

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What I want is for them to address 3dp as I feel it will be a thing of the future. We are not quite there yet but the goal is to lets say for simplicity sake show up with a 2019 robot for match one and be able to reconfigure it into a 2016 robot for match 2. We know by now that if we want we can make an about 60-80lb 2019 robot and then slap some weight on it with steel bar or led shot or whatever to bring it up to weight to give it enough innertia to not get pushed around. Right now the short comings on the frame is the lack of a fully integrated modular wheel mount that we are working on - the big time right not is to interface an existing gear box with it like a toughbox mini etc. But we are working on it (cycloidal inside a hub with a tire that slips on and turns it into a high grip or mechanum or omni) I probably upload the planetary dead end later this weak (to limited in gear selection and only currently works in an 8 in wheel format but we also have someone working on a compound one for that) But I digress. The bottom line is the rules are not clear for that at all plus IDK if they will address or change rules regarding these and other things we talked in the past like the andymark printed parts that if I buy them from them like the string pot that was designed by another team in the first place I can use it year after year and if I print it myself in 2019 I don’t get to use it in 2020 unless I print it again. So one rule that needs to be there is to address the question can an STL be KOP? If instead of GrabCad. We or I (who has a fed tax id) put the STL and IPTs on lets say Patreon and require you to buy a $2 membership to download them then now you bought the STLs from me/us and the process of running them through the printer. Is that manufacturing. Should you be punished for saving money by printing them yourself instead of lets say pay $100 to me to print them for you? You can make similar arguments with machined parts or electronics like our Talon SRX breakout boards. You can download the SVG and etch/machine it yourself - if you do you can’t use it as you produced it off season or last season if OTOH you upload it to lets say EasyEDA and hit “Buy” and they make it for you for $$$$ and ship it for you now its what? is it cots? You did not design it team 1989 did - you did not manufacture it that factory in internet-land did and they can make as many as you want rather quickly so that probably would satisfy the having enough stock and can deliver to anyone part to be a vendor. So now the only determining factor of you being able to use it is that you did not have your kids do it and instead used $$$ to pay a commercial entity to do it.

I am an open source kinda guy. I pushed and still do in our team to push open source mindedness. I hope a lot of people download and print our parts that we probably will use in 2020. And I hope some will say “Hey this could work better if you … and here is the modified ipt and stl” And hopefully 1/2 the parts or more on the field are shared open source parts manufactured by the teams and then may the better team win. So I would like to shift the focus from who has a big $$$ workshop with a dozen machine shops ready at command at the beginning of build season to give them an edge to something where poor team (like us) has a real shot too and then it comes down to skills that do not require a lot of $$$ to win like using the parts in a smart way, understanding the game and performing the tasks quickly and score a lot of points.

This whole 3DP project was born out of the desire for us to kinda eliminate the disadvantage we had of competing with a saws-all and hand drill against machine shops. There are 3 FRC teams between us and the closest machine shop.

And the other question is environmental friendlyness. I print a bunch of Frame2020 parts and then at the end of the season I do what with the plastic? Ideally disassemble and reassemble into next years robot but to be compliant with the rules right now I dump them into the landfill or ocean and print the same parts next year?

As for frame2020 and the other parts. Right now no Nylon all is HIPS we know how much stronger Nylon is than HIPS but we get HIPS at $10/kg and for now for most things its good enough. We had bumblebot assembled and disassembled 6 times yet to try things in different combos and right now we are putting it together with mechanum wheels for the ERRF (hopefully we get done in time) with the climber based on rack2020. Big problem we have right now its one of those years where we are extremely freshmen heavy and we had a lot of seniors last year who are gone now… So I can report one shortcoming of rack2020 it is not freshmen friendly it boggles my mind with instructions how many wrong ways there are to put it together. But at least we have proven it will survive teenagers trying to make it fit with a hammer.

I agree with you Martin. There are definitely ways that teams want to operate that were not envisioned within the rules.

Your example of the break-out boards is probably the best one. Can you create that breakout board before kickoff and use it on your robot. Right now, the rules say ‘no’. We talked about making a relatively simple printed circuit board to attach to our potentiometers that we use as swerve steering encoders to make it easier to plug into a PWM cable instead of needing to solder wires to pins on the potentiometer. These parts would be made by a company that qualifies as a VENDOR, but the parts would be custom designed by us using their on-line design tool. This falls in a grey area of COTS or not?

Your 3D Printing examples are good as well, although for the most part, teams are currently using 3DP to create custom parts that are specific for a game - not ‘stock material’.

Like I said, FIRST could do themselves and teams a great service by starting to clearly cover these topics in the rules.

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On your boards i don’t see it as gray and neither do I on ours as they are published and come from a qualifying vendor and if you take our drawing and have them made then they are not longer custom as they are public domain and made by a vendor so you qualify by spending $$$ otoh if you buy some copper clad pc boards and use our drawings to have your cnc grind off the copper where not needed then you made them yourself and they are illegal. So on your vendor thing I think you are ok as you can not control if another team actually uses your parts neither as andymark can control if a particular item sells or not

I think the easiest way to put the rule is to ask the question

Did a corporate entity profit from it

If the answer is yes its legal if no you can throw it away

I split this discussion off from the main FRC blog thread. If I split something here by mistake, please flag it.

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That’s entirely inaccurate with the 2019 vendor rules.

Parts fabricated to a team’s custom specifications are counted as FABRICATED ITEMS per the game manual (section 10.1):

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

This is backed up in the example of criterion D for VENDOR status (emphasis added):

For example, a VENDOR may sell flexible belting that the team wishes to procure to use as treads on their drive system. The VENDOR cuts the belting to a custom length from standard shelf stock that is typically available, welds it into a loop to make a tread, and ships it to a team. The fabrication of the tread takes the VENDOR two weeks. This would be considered a FABRICATED ITEM, and the two-week ship time is acceptable.

@wgorgen’s example is a textbook case of a non-COTS item.

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How would you classify print on demand items. I martin Pirrringer sell you with proper tax certt etc an stl or svg. You take it to a print/etch on demand shop. Its not custom anymore its a public purchased design that is built by a public available business. Now if I buy that manufacturing/printing/etching place and sell you the part outright I am a vendor and its COTS. Does it loose COTS standing just because 2 businesses are involved? 1 selling the design the other manufacturing it.

FIRST needs to go with the times those 2 are exceedingly split. In RL I hire a company to design the stuff and then I hire someone else to build it and then I either use or sell the product. Now FIRST seeming or pretending to push open source with the sharing should embrace the philosophy completely. If I have a design - intellectual marketable property but property nevertheless and I make that property available to everyone for pay of under some GPL license then you should be able to produce it. So for example the FRAME 2020 pieces you should be able to print them, hire someone to print them - but you should have to wait to assemble it into the robot you are going to use until build season starts just as you do with the frame and other parts you buy from Andymark. Otherwise you would have to rebrand first as a subsidary of Andymark and Vex with the purpose of creating a market for a select number of entities and that would be exactly contrary to any aspirations or claims of coopertition or open source development. This of course should extend beyond 3DP so if for example you publish some GRBL files or designs to be used on a CNC to make your kind of swerfe drive I should be able to manufacture it off season instead of hoping andymark picks up your design and sells it to me at a profit.

Yes, it does, and it’s very clearly outlined in the rules. Example 2 in the first blue box on that same section 10.1:

A team obtains openly available blueprints of a drive module commonly available from Wheels-R-Us Inc. and has local machine shop “We-Make-It, Inc.” manufacture a copy of the part for them. The produced part is NOT a COTS item, because it is not commonly carried as part of the standard stock of We-Make-It, Inc.

I don’t think that’s true. Aside from the core control system components and motors (which should be vendor-locked in my opinion because anything else would be a major safety concern), absolutely nobody is forcing you to buy anything from Andymark, VexPro or anyone else. Those companies were founded in order to cater to the specific needs of FIRST/FRC teams. Just in the past few years, we’ve seen plenty of new companies like Swerve Drive Specialties, Swyft or (eventually) Cuprum start selling parts to teams.

While I agree with you that the current rules maybe should be loosened in terms of their allowance for 3D printed parts, you also don’t get to interpret the rules your way because it doesn’t match how you do it in “real life.” If it’s not part of the standard stock of a vendor, under the current rules, it’s a FABRICATED ITEM no matter who fabricates it or whether the design is publicly available.

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I know its not COTs my point is it should be as design and manufacturing are increasingly split. IMO its an arbitrary rule to give advantage to corporations who do both design and manufacture and if flies in the face of the philosophy of modern business to JIT (Just in time) and on demand manufacturing and the ultimate goal of a Start Trek type replicator where you go and say “one toughbox mini” and there it materializes. So my point is FIRST should go with the time and embrace the split of the intellectual and physical component. All my posts where to voice my dissatisfaction with the current set of rules in that regard. Now you may or may not agree and right now they are nothing more than the oppinion of an old dude

I’ve always wanted a rule along the lines of “Parts identical to COTS parts (in material and shape, within reasonable tolerances) are considered COTS, regardless of who manufactured them or when they were manufactured.”

I personally can’t think of any downsides to this rule. It doesn’t change what is considered COTS; only enables teams who have the resources to manufacture these parts to do so without having to “pay” for the ability to have it before build season or reuse them season-to-season.


I agree with you, but I also see this as an area where things are getting a bit blurry.

To give you an example clearly on the COTS side of the line, you can order gearboxes from VEX or WCP or Andymark where you “customize” it by selecting the gear ratios that you want, add motors to it change the length of the output shaft, etc. This is easy to argue that it is COTS because it is really just configuring a kit with a bunch of other COTS parts that are in stock at that vendor. I’m not sure that the answer changes if they were to deliver it as a fully assembled gearbox, but it does start to encroach on the criteria listed in the blue box - it is a custom ordered configuration and that configuration would not be stocked on the shelf at any of those vendors.

With the rise of 3D printing, it is possible to order an item that is shown in a catalog and have that vendor 3D print it once they receive that order. It was not stocked on the shelf at that vendor and was in fact made to order. But you as the person that ordered it may have absolutely no knowledge of that. You ordered a part out of an on-line catalog and it showed up in the mail. So now we are further into the grey region.

Now, I go online and order a PCB using an online design tool that lets me configure the board the way that I want and install all the electronic components. This is clearly a custom component and, as you say, clearly FABRICATED. But what would happen if that company built a catalog (similar to thingaverse) that included my design. The next time I went to that company’s website, I now see my design in their catalog. I order it from the catalog and they ship it. I don’t know if it was in stock on a shelf in their warehouse or if they fabricated the part after I ordered it. I’m not sure which side of the line I am on any more.

When I order a Hero board designed by CTRE (a subsidiary of Wheels-R-Us) from VEX (a subsidiary of We-Make-It inc), how do I know that they did not build it after I ordered it? Is the only difference between this example and the blue box that I did not give the blueprints to VEX and instead they got them directly from CTRE (or got the boards directly from CTRE)?

These scenarios are becoming more and more a reality and these questions are going to get more and more blurry.

At this point, the grey regions are hard to find and 95% of people will never find themselves scratching their head wondering whether they can do something. Guys like Martin are pushing into these grey regions but doing so in a way that they can still tell which side of the line they are on (but left wondering why the line is there in the first place). I believe that it will become easier and more common to order something that looks like a catalog part but is actually something custom made in the future and that it will not be the 5% that are operating in these grey regions but will be more like 25% or more. Is the world going to end when that happens? No. But if FIRST is able to clearly draw lines for these cases, then everyone will be a lot happier knowing that what they are doing is within the rules.

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Just to make sure - I/we are not pushing into a grey zone for the sake of going “grey” we just take the means we have and make something out of it. Talking about the pc boards. We initially designed one and then realized that if we built it we got to throw it in the garbage after one year so we published it and got it made and you can have it made - and there we arrived in the grey zone. And then we got into 3DP… Now today we tested the Rack2020 and the only thing that did not work right was the recording of the test as the video quality is pretty crappy… But Iwill try to post it

I understand, Martin.

Other teams are hitting the grey zones as they venture into other areas where they naturally want to go as well. I don’t think any of them are hitting these grey zones as an intentional act to see what they can get away with.

I work in aerospace and the inductry today is running into things that the FAA did not think of: remote flight (drones), autonomous flight, electric flight, eVTOL (electric quadcopters), etc. etc. I am familiar with the frustration when there are no rules to cover what you want to do. The FAA rules are there to keep flight as safe as possible and you can’t certify your product without them. The FIRST rules are there to keep the competition fair (and to some degree to keep it safe). I would like to think that FIRST could be a little more nimble at adopting new rules as technology changes than a big bureaucracy like the federal government.


I am just worried that at some point the inspector will come to check if frame is a ground electrical and raises an issues as there is no metal part for him to put his meter on. Thats extreme I know but I have seen crazy things. This year we did not get done fixing between 2 competitions in the 6 hours we had so we brought the robot in and the lift thing in pieces the kid was carrying the lift in one hand and the motor in the other. The inspector at the door said “you cant bring the assembly and the motor in at the same time but you can bring them in seperately” So the kid laid the motor down on the floor walked with the assembly through the door. Laied it down now 6 feet away from the motor, walked back, picked up the motor and walked in and picked up the assembly the inspector said “Thats better you got to keep within the rules” Now I was just standing there baffled. But we did not raise an issue at that time as we had a robot to finish. But tell me how does that make sense? And what is the lesson in that?


I am not sure what rule he was referring to. You can only bring in fabricated items during load in. When you present your witholding to be weighed the motor would count as fabricated only if it was physically attached to the fabricated item. But sometimes it is better to go with the flow than make an issue about it. As apparently your team wisely did. Which is actually a pretty good life lesson.

The frame isolation rule doesn’t address what the frame is made of or that it has to be conductive. If your frame is non-conductive then it is an easy test to pass. In the old days, the electrical board pretty much had to made out of something non conductive to comply with this rule.

We water jet our gusset plates. They look a lot like the kind you buy from VEX. We have to make them every year. Sort of a pain to make sure we only use the new ones on our competition bot. Short of scrapping the rules on this I don’t know how to change them without adding more complications than you are solving.

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