Team Staples and Consumables

Based on the excellent Team Purchasing Guides/ Suggestions thread that was just started over herehttps://www.chiefdelphi.com/t/team-purchasing-guides-suggestions/393316, and the first response.

As I read that, I realized, we spend a lot of money last-minute during the build season. If we could avoid some of that, it could be really helpful as we pinch our belts in the next couple of seasons.

I wonder, what do you all purchase every year as “team staples”?
How much of those do you purchase before knowing what the game is?

My head defaults toward electrical first. That is just how I am wired, but I am wondering about all aspects of build.

Specifically, what do you reuse/ buy new, stock up on so you do not end up needing to create a new vendor order each day of build season (there have been a few weeks where we have done this?

If there are other threads/ guides for this aspect please help direct me. I have looked, and not found much.

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Basically anything The Thrifty Bot sells we like to keep in stock (except swerve modules). That means bearings, spacers, hubs, tread, etc. All the small things. Plus general shop supplies like drill bits and shop rags. And lots of materials like aluminum and polycarbonate too.

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#9 bits, stub length and regular length
F bits
#10-32 and 1/4"-20 spiral flute through-hole taps from mcmaster
Pre-patterned box tubing extrusion

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Wood screws: 2", 3", and 4" long.
Plenty of plywood (3/4", 1/2", 5mm)
2x4s

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First and foremost, try to standardize as much as possible, especially on the nuts and bolts (literally). Use organizer bins and stock up on what looks low. Having standard parts in stock is an easy way to encourage those standards to actually get used. Also buying in bulk often gets you a quantity discount, especially on small parts. Organization is key–know what you have, track how much you use each year, and you’ll have a better sense from year to year on where to stock up pre-season.

For example on bolts, standardize on a handful of bolt diameters (e.g. 8-32, 10-32, 1/4-20) and a variety of lengths from 3/8" or 1/2" through 3". Make sure you have several hundred nylock nuts of each standard bolt size.

Ditto on wire and connectors–standardize wherever possible (PowerPoles! PWMs!) and stock up on those things. Think about how many connectors a typical robot has, at least double that amount (or triple if you typically build two robots), and that’s how many you should keep in stock. Spools of zip cord of standard diameters (e.g. 18 AWG, 14 AWG, 12 AWG) are a good investment.

Bearings: definitely keep a good standard stock of the common bearings you use (e.g. 3/8", 1/2", 1/2" hex, thunderhex). Some of these often go out of stock on the supplier side during a season, and you don’t want to be in a position you can’t get what you need to finish building.

Gearboxes: a variety of planetary ones (either Versa or Ultra) are nice to keep in stock for prototyping, even if you go custom on the final robot. It’s generally not necessary to stock up heavily on motors, but having enough on hand to prototype with is good. Motor controllers generally go beyond “consumables” but again, have enough on hand to at least prototype with.

Machine shop things: drill bits, taps come to mind first

Material: buy what you tend to use a lot of, what is sometimes hard to get during a season, and what you have space for. This depends on your team design approach (sheet metal? plate for gearboxes? tubing?). Some stuff is harder to find, like 1/16" 2x1 box tubing… it’s not used every year but if you have the space, keep a supply on hand. Hex/Thunderhex stock for sure (this is not unusual to go out of stock). The variously sized plastic hex spacers from Vex are great–we typically keep a ton of that in stock. Wood is great for prototyping but typically is easy to get at a local hardware store, so we don’t typically keep a lot in stock but rather go out and buy what’s needed.

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Outside of the standard hardware (rivets, bolts/nuts, ferrules, etc) and raw material (Aluminum, Polycarbonate, etc), there are a few CoTs components we specifically stock up on regardless of the game challenge. Namely speed controllers, drivetrain motors, and drivetrain gears/gearboxes.

For speed controllers and drivetrain motors, the order and quantity has varied in recent years thanks to the continued advances in smart speed controllers and brushless motors. We assess the current product line sometime each fall and order based on what we feel is the right choice for our team.

The drivetrain gears are the area I want to specifically mention. Prior to kickoff each year, we make sure we have quantity 5 of the full range VEX 20DP 74T-combination sets (pairs of gears with a total of 74T) and a full compliment of 13 of each steel pinion gear. This provides us with 25 different gear ratio options for our drivetrain, and enough to build two full drivetrains with one spare gear of each. While this sounds like a lot, realistically we only have to restock the gears that we used the season prior, which cuts down on the order substantially. But we maintain the full sets worth so we can start on our drivetrain assembly as soon as we’ve selected our gear ratio for the season, and don’t have to wait on any orders.

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Zipties, dual lock, loctite.

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If you live near a McMaster-Carr distribution center you can sort of cheat here and claim you have most in stock already. We went from just custom parts in-hand to a complete assembly in a single day several times in our final seasons. (the drive is only ~2 hours round trip)

A lack of proper organization space accelerated our progress to this “just-in-time” part availability, as we called it when judges ask.

Not saying it’s a perfect solution, but that reduces cost and space tied up in components you may not use, which was a sticking point for us in 2018-19. Obviously, you still end up with some unused fasteners, but thanks to statistics “magic” these are often the exact ones you need to have on-hand.

This approach can be taken to an extreme by dealing with those last minute runs of supplies for a year or two, but picking up 2-3x as much as you actually need in the moment. Every team will will have different needs in the misc department and it’s difficult to get a solid grasp on what those actually are. Eventually you’ll be able to say “we will need quantity X of Y for the season, lets pick it up during fall training” or similar.

You sort of hint as this earlier with standardizing, but I’d like to make it abundantly clear that purchasing just 4 sizes of drill bits and taps for the whole season is an absolute pleasure compared to those garbage tap and drill bit sets many teams deal with. You can even get fancy and purchase specific taps/drills for extremely specific tasks, like spiral flute 1/4-20 for power tapping hex shaft or 11 stubby bits for drilling out rivets.

I've also been reminded that you should never forget literal consumables:


FRC Team 330 The Beach Bots on Instagram: "RIP Oreo Wall 2014-2016. It was fun while it lasted! #Team330 #BeachBots #FRC #FIRSTrobotics #MoreThanRobots #MakeItLoud #Stronghold #Robotics #Robot #FIRSTinspires #Oreo #Oreos #OreoCookies #timelapse"

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Thank you all. This is invaluable info. And just what I was looking for.

Some of it we knew. We have been standardizing as much as possible, but inevitably there are some pieces that require more custom sizes than we would like (VP gearboxes).

Shifting to powerpoles may have single-handedly increased our robot’s reliability.

But, all of this is a helpful reminder and some of it we overlook every year (which was the impetus for the thread).

There is also a lot of new info like the importance of organization and up-keeping inventory. I know we should fully grasp the importance of that, and we do, but there is a world of difference between understanding it and being able to effectively implement it.

Also, as I expected, there are some things we use and overlook in our yearly purchases.

Resupplying pool noodles has gotten tougher since it seems only the wrong sizes are available locally, but that is something we have to do in the early Fall.

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That is a good point. Perhaps something to think about as summer is close upon us.

Our official team staples are the Swingline Optima Premium:

https://www.swingline.com/p/staplers/stapling-accessories/optima-premium-staples-1-4-inch-210-per-strip-3750-per-box-s7035556e/

We find that they don’t jam as frequently as less premium staples and can handle going through many sheets of paper. We don’t use a lot of them but they are great when paired with my stapler:

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Since we’re off the rails, when I first saw this thread I thought it would make a great team name.

MC: “And the third member of the alliance, Team Staples and Consumables. Sponsored by Staples.”

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But this is missing the point of the thread: you’re paying a premium to use McMaster as your personal stockhouse. The thread started with the poster realizing they could save money by not doing this, and then asking which things can be bought in bulk in advance from suppliers who don’t have such huge margins. McMaster is best used as a site to get you out of a jam, or when you have enough funds that you can spend the money to save the time hunting for cheaper parts and waiting for them to arrive.

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We’re not off the rails. Do you not use paper and need to collect it together?

Though not our official team staple. We also use these staples for our bumpers:

They are labeled as construction grade and heavy duty and also brand name. We don’t use cheap staples because we want things held together securely. I think some team staples, you can get away with using less expensive versions of but when it comes to staples, you should spend a little bit extra so your papers and bumper fabric are held securely.

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In our part of the world Fastenal is a big distributor of, well fasteners, but lots more. One of our kids contacted them and they were happy to give us the same rate they give the school system. It’s a substantial discount and they have a small facility right around the corner. Much as I like McMaster (great selection and super human delivery times) it does make sense for bulk amounts of standard things.
TW

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And that brings up two important issues: Inventory and Purchasing.

Purchasing intelligently can save you money. Once a thing is identified as being needed, shop around for the very best price (but consider quality). You will often find that a local vendor has the item, and if you ask nicely as a robotics team they’ll meet or beat that Internet price for you. One year I knew of a team that spent $1000 on fasteners, by buying in bulk and with a discount, saved them triple that over the years.

Inventory is critical. I can’t count how many times the team has ordered XXX only to find that we had a box of them sitting in the gray tote. Ugh. Wastes time and money. First get storage and develop a locating system, like “shelf 2 bay 6” or “Tote 14”. Then develop* a system to keep track of how many of them you have and where they are. Surely someone on the team can develop something.

*That wheel has already been invented. Find one that works for the team and enforce its usage brutally. I suggest using old-fashioned index cards instead of a computer.

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'Bout that. If you run a comparison between McMaster, MSC, and Grainger, I rather suspect that McMaster will end up being cheaper. I’ve done that a few times, with that result. And that’s with two different employers who say “McMaster is too expensive!”

Not for every item, and not as cheap as, say, Amazon, but as a whole, that’s the result, in my experience. (That said, I believe the other two offer discounts; McMaster doesn’t other than their bulk pricing.)

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nice…

Seriously though, these last few threads have been valuable as our team is restructuring and preparing for next season.

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The largest complaint I’ve heard regarding McM from FRC teams, by far, is the price of shipping and lack of transparency in shipping prices. We completely avoided this by picking up from the warehouse, which was feasible and significantly less expensive, especially when we had team members commuting from closer to that area.

Sorry for not stating that explicitly in the above post.

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