I recently (meaning during the 2020 season) became lead mentor of team 2053. I was on the team all through high school and became a mentor during winter breaks of college. After a series of situations which I won’t get into here, we decided to move our workshop area to another school which was involved with the team.
This move lost us access to a metal shop with a cnc mill, two cnc lathes and more. The new school has a basic woodshop but that’s it. We were luckily given a large grant to help transform this area into a combo metal/wood shop but things take time so that equipment isn’t even ordered yet.
Now, as our team was in limbo for 2020/2021 because of covid we lost a ton of students due to low team activities.
Ok so now the actual question: how do we build a robot with minimal equipment? We have a drill press, basic hand tools and a 3d printer. We can also send parts out to be laser cut and bent, but the turn around time is too long for FRC. So probably our prototypes will be wood and then we have to hope everything in cad actually works when we get the parts.
We used to maufacture our swerve in house with the mill and lathes, but I’d like to get a WCD drive early week 1 this year as swerve is out of our reach with the equipment we have. I’d rather not use the kitbot, but I would be willing to order COTS stuff from vexpro as it seems more customizable to different games and lets us have more freedom with machanism design.
I’d rather compete with a drivebase with cardboard on top then not compete at all, as the students that stuck with us during this time deserve to compete and some never even experienced IRL competition.
There is no reason NOT to use the Kitbot if you are low on fab resources. Team 4926 has made a custom chassis annually since 2017, but we’re using the kit this year. After observing 1720 be so successful using the kit bot every dang year and kicking our butt, we’re going kit this year. Use your time and external fab resources on the ‘business end’ of the robot.
Also, you can totally use a wood-shop to build an FRC robot. See 6956, Sham-Rock-Botics. I believe they have been based out of wood-shop for several years and build fun robots every year.
Slightly similar situation for us, albeit with general good intentions all around. Still, we are going forward with a low tech build this year. A few thoughts…
Miter saw with aluminum cutting blade. Very helpful. We have accuracy competitions for our fab kids and it can get the job done. The one we have on hand has a laser sight on it.
Versaframe. Never went with it before, but having lost much of our high end machine access it helps a lot.
We are planning to outsource at least steel laser cutting and perhaps a bit of CNC work. Former work space willing to help, we had to move because they became uber successful, in part with our alumni working there. Our turn around on laser bits should only be a day or two, so we are in better shape on that point.
Get creative with storage space. The only two absolute rules are you need a place to keep stuff securely, and you can’t annoy the custodial staff. Our test beds and last year’s robot are currently living in a big display case in the tech ed area.
You’ll do fine. There is so much more available as “out of the box” solutions now as compared to even 6 years ago when we got started. Gauge how much you think your bunch can handle then dial the difficulty up by about 15% to keep it fun for all concerned.
It seems like you’re already on the right track - it starts with managing expectations. Recognize that there are things you can do and things you can’t, and understand that your robot may not be as advanced as previous robots have been.
There are COTS solutions available for many things, from drive trains to elevators, to shooters. When looking at the game, plan around using those solutions to help alleviate the technical burden.
Also recognize that wood can be a viable construction tool! I have seen robots compete successfully after being built almost entirely from wood.
Thank you everyone for the advice and tips! I really appreciate it.
I guess I’m just a bit overwhelmed with everything being my first full year being a lead mentor and actually competing. I just want to make it the best experience possible for students and mentors who feel a little disappointed with the lack of supplies and resources compared to what we used to have.
I’d recommend reaching out to this sponsor and making sure they understand the type of timelines we FIRST teams need to try and work to. They may still come back and say that the best we can do is 3 weeks turnaround (or whatever it is that’s too long in your eyes). We had similar “issues” with our main fab sponsor in 2019 and 2020. Turns out they just genuinely didn’t realize how tight of a timeline we were on, and we promptly went from a 2-3 week lead on parts, to 2-3 days at worst.
Can’t guarantee your experience will be the same, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Robots are built with a hand drill, screwdriver, adjustable wrenches and a hacksaw all the time. CNC lathes and mills are not really necessary, but a ‘nice to’ have.
Design and build something basic, that you feel confident the students can build with hand tools. X-bar (e.g., 80/20), a kitbot, plywood and 2x4s, or something like that for a frame. Very basic 4- or 6-wheel drivetrain, with whatever motors and controllers are available.
For the rest, KISS. Don’t expect to compete at the Einstein level just yet. The goal this year is to get the robot onto the field for your first match, and not break down!
Get it driving ASAP, as a well-trained driver can make a mediocre robot into a winner, while a poorly-trained driver can’t do much with even the very best robot on the planet. Maybe consider building two robots, one for practice & programming, the second for competition.
A lot of FRC is adapting to what we have. It can be a difficult thing to do, but that can be just as inspiring to students. I think it’s a good idea to push forward.
I second @sgeckler thought process of the kitbot. I think that would be a good start as well. Take it apart and put it together many many times.
The best thing you can do is not worry about the robot then. At all. As the leader, it’s your job to provide for the people who’s job it is to worry about the robot.
Rather than asking us “How do we build a robot with minimal equipment?” ask them. Let them problem solve, think, experiment. “This is what we got, how do we make the best of it?” Don’t shoot down ideas, but rather run with them.
One of the hardest lesson’s I’ve had to learn as a mentor is that your toughest questions often shouldn’t be answered by yourself.
This one was made with a little drill press, a little band saw, some hand tools, and a couple parts were turned on a small lathe, because we had one. Ok, we also did a little bit of welding. It earned the #2 qualifying spot at Denver playing the Cargo game.
It takes a sort of different way of thinking about design and building. We try to take advantage of different shapes and materials available, looking at them from the perspective of “what can we use that will require minimal machining to turn into the part we need?”
Also, you can have fun with wood…depending on the game, of course. Our best performing robot had a lot of wood, the chassis was plywood, so was the shooter housing. This one was designed in CAD and cut out with stuff at the sort of well equipped wood shop we had access to at the time.
The finish is a couple coats of spray can paint, sanded between coats.
One reason this one turned out well was that we figured out the design early, and had a working prototype robot at the end of week 3, and it only took a week to make another one with the desired changes and a nice finish. Yes, it won a blue banner.
As other people have noted, you will have to get a very firm commitment from your sponsor to deliver on a timeframe that works for you. Otherwise, your team may be scrambling to finish assembly at your first event like one local team, when their sponsor delivered the parts the day before bag-day.
This is a learning opportunity for you and your team, to adapt to your new conditions. Whether you continue to use your sheet metal sponsor should be considered. You all should be designing around your current manufacturing capabilities. One of Karthik’s “Golden Rules” states that “teams must build within their capabilities”. It is also likely that your new students would not know how to properly use many of the manufacturing capabilities you not longer have access to. It may be necessary to aim for a simpler robot.
Were you all using parts from your sheet metal vendor to prototype? If you are concerned that sheet metal parts won’t replicate the performance of your wood prototypes, your team probably needs to do much more thorough and comprehensive testing of your prototypes. It also means that your design process is not coping well with the change in materials. As @UnofficialForth suggested, you may want to continue using wood in the final design. The success of your design requires that you fully understand the properties of the materials you are using and how you can exploit those properties. Using wood means that you would only have to understand one material, not two. My experience has been it is easier to teach/lead inexperienced builders to build something effective and get the result quickly when using wood.
These two statements appear to be contradictory to me. At one event I volunteered at in Toronto, I saw a robot with a really amazing upper structure/scoring mechanisms in the pits. The parts were all beautifully machined. They were installed on a KOP chassis. Two of the mentors were old time machinists who could have easily shown the students how to build swerve modules or multi-speed gearboxes. They said they could not build a chassis that would perform better than the KOP chassis and they could get the KOP chassis driving two days after Kickoff so they could focus more time and resources on their scoring mechanisms.
You’re approximately describing our team. And, we haven’t used the kitbot in years.
First thing: get a decent miter saw with a blade that’s good for cutting aluminum. It doesn’t have to be expensive. That’s not an ideal way to cut aluminum, but it works reasonably well, although it will kick up a lot of aluminum shaving that you have to deal with. (Be careful of what’s behind the saw.) Be sure that you’re appropriately supporting your work – a miter saw can kickback.
Second, sendcutsend.com will do cutting and bending and their turnaround time is quite fast.
Third: make sure that you tune up that drillpress – fix any runout that it has, make sure the table is perpendicular to the bit, put it at its slowest speed. Use Cutting Fluid. Buy annular cutters in the appropriate sizes (Yes, get a 1.125" cutter.) Get a drill press vise.
Fourth, make sure you have good measuring and marking tools.
Fifth, reset your expectations. If you don’t have access to a CNC mill or a lathe, you’re really not going to be able to create parts that require those type of machines. You need to train up your design to focus on COTS parts and parts that you have the ability to machine.
Sixth, I’d probably go to Harbor Freight and get their 1-ton Arbor press. It’s fairly small, but there are definitely times when it comes in handy. And, it’s not something a woodworking shop is likely to have.
We use a lot of hand tools to build our robots every year. We do have a CNC plasma table and a small lathe, but the majority is made with simple tools in a woodshop with a small metals area attached. We use the kit bot every year and never have to worry about our drive base.
It may best to use some of the money to get a slow-turning cold saw. They tend to be expensive but a used one would be less money.
If you do get a miter saw or chop saw that is intended for use on wood, make sure you have some way to firmly clamp the workpiece to the base of the saw. One saw I was using had a cast fence that tapered in thickness. This caused the C-clamp I was using to slip along the taper. The blade caught the clamp and threw it past my ear. It bounced around the room for a while. Fortunately, none of the other team members happened to be in the room at the time.
This is a chance for your team to learn the fundamentals. I have noticed that designers (on FRC teams and at work) who know how to make the parts they are designing by hand will produce better designs.
We’ve been doing that since 2014, and it’s worked out well. Those students who might have been working on a chassis design and complicated fabrication, can instead work on playing with the game pieces and refining the manipulator ideas and design, and do more iterations to make the robot play the game well.
Of course, it depends on what your team is trying to do…it may be that you are trying to do something besides build a robot that will win a lot of matches.
Do not underestimate the utility/viability of wooden robot parts, even on a finished robot. If you have a woodshop, that’s still an asset.
You can do a lot with this, if you’re crafty and dedicated.
For starters: match drill wherever possible. The biggest challenge with limiting machining resources is holding tolerances in the places where it matters; the mindset for doing this with imprecise tools is fundamentally different. Clamp assemblies together, drill, and fasten. A good set of transfer punches is also probably a wise investment.
Your access to a 3d printer can be a huge boon, if you use it right: you may not be able to CNC your parts directly, but you can print drilling templates and jigs to hold your assemblies in place precisely while they are fastened.
If you have the budget, this probably won’t hurt, but make sure you purchase your drive fundamentals before build season starts; you do not want to be sitting in season waiting for parts to come in to get something driving. Iteration time is still valuable, even in the post-bag world.
I think the kitbot is great, though, and if you slap some brushless motors in it and change the gearing it probably performs as well as any other tank drive out there.
Usually we never needed the kitbot, so I opted out of it already without thinking. So i think the next best option is a versachassis. Or I could just buy a kitbot separately.
Also, looking back at the first post, I didn’t mean to offend anyone by saying wooden robots were any worse then robots build with more expensive methods. And obviously my issue is a very privileged one to have and I see that.
Again, thank you everyone for the advice and resources. I really appreciate it. I feel a lot more confident in myself and the team.
You do have a $450 AM voucher because you opted out of the kitbot. That would definitely get you the frame, but won’t get you a full kitbot…
That said, if I had to guess you’ve got a fair amount of COTS gearboxes around and some motors. (Any veteran team that doesn’t I’d be worried about.) You could use that frame with the gearboxes and motors you have, and then get some part upgrades and not be out of voucher space.
Yeah we have a bunch of falcons, cims, mini cims, basically any motor you can think of. We actually don’t have a ton of COTS gearboxes because we would use swerve or a custom mecanum drive system. We also have a bunch of versa planetaries for mechanisms so I’m not too worried about that.
Unfortunately it looks like the kitbot is out of stock right now on andymark, so I’ll have to wait for that to come back in stock.