Trying to grow our program by building up our shop

As a mentor I am beginning to look into the big ticket items any good robotics lab needs (or might want) to get going. I have a general list of things 7226 would be looking for, but don’t really have any models I’m set on. Am also VERY open to suggestions as I’m trying to give these students the biggest chance at success I can and can’t really say I’ve built a robotics lab before.

Some things to keep in mind.

  1. Since this will be money coming in the form of a grant, the budget will be whatever can be reasonably asked for. For our team I am assuming mid to low tier new equipment and a lot of used equipment but I’m aiming high for now.
  2. Space is the least of our concerns, we have a lot of space just need tools to put in there. Right now we are in an out of commission wood shop and most of the tools in there are non functioning except 2 drill presses, a table saw, a sander, a wood bandsaw, and a miter saw. Rest of tools we have are hand tools.
  3. I know some of the stuff on the list may or may not be realistic, planning to go over the top while I’m looking around, and narrow it down based on reality.
  4. Thanks pals this will really help a lot.

So my sorta list of stuff we may or may not be in the market for but would love to see what you guys have to say

  1. Mill (With electric display)
  2. Lathe
    (2b. CNC Lathe???)
  3. Metal band saw (we have some wood ones but not high enough horsepower to do metal, even with better blades)
  4. CNC
  5. CNC Router (for aluminum?)
    6a. Pneumatics set up (Compressor, tank, manifold, output hoses)
    6b. Pneumatics tool set (dremel, rivet gun, drills)
  6. Quality soldering iron(s)
  7. (Portable?) High pressure compressor ~3000 psi (we have an offseason t-shirt robot planned)
  8. 3-d Printer (is one that can print metal based filament worth it?)
  9. Laser cutter
    11a. Powder coating equipment
    11b. Powder coating oven (a big ol’ one so we can do chassis pieces too)
  10. Sandblaster?
  11. Chop Saw (for cutting stock down)
  12. Belt Sander (besides standard 2 part vertical belt with circular on side)
  13. Sheet Bender
  14. Software that comes in handy (Already have CAD, looking at adobe for photo and video editing, free IDE for java)
  15. Storage/Organization

Like I said, not necessarily a realistic list, but hey dream big amiright?

Edit: Of course i realize the CAD and design skills a team will need to realisticslly use most of this equipment, this thread is not for that. This thread is to help me make an informed decision about what models we as a team should look into to purchase when the time comes. Trust me if theres anyone who doesn’t want to waste money its a rookie team barely affording worlds, but I’d still like to know what our options are as we progress as a team.

That’s a pretty crazy list. One of our team members this year wanted to build a forge in our workshop so we could melt down all of our scrap metal from past seasons.

On the note of the 3-D printer, we’ve got two of them, but only use them for little sponsor gifts. I’m not sure buying a metal-printing one would be worth it, all though it would be super cool. That t-shirt cannon sounds super cool, too. Maybe we should start investing in one too…

Just keep in mind that with out a team design and cad skills all the advanced machining capabilities are a pile of expensive junk. Make sure you pile resources and time into the design and cad skills to use the equipment.

We have had machines donated for CAD and are planning on spending a large amount of time during the off season teaching CAD and programming workshops for the whole team.

Yes. We are crazy enough for this. I think. Maybe.

Personally I really like using 3D printed parts on the robot and for event hand outs as well. Things like camera mounts, keychains, and weird little brackets pop out. Like i said i realize this list is a bit out there, but I’d rather dream big now and see whats out there then cut down when we’re writing the grant proposals.

We recently had a large investment made of machine tools for our school’s new STEM Center, essentially for the robotics program. This included a band saw, a 10 x 22 lathe, a CNC Router table and CNC Mill. We were only able to get the band saw and lathe up and running for this season. But this off season we’re going to learn how to use the others.

As was stated elsewhere in this thread, without CAD resources the CNC machines aren’t very useful.

Like I said above, we have access to the CAD resources and are planning very hard to work with our students so that they can make the most out of the upcoming seasons. Me and another mentor are trained in CAD and CNC software, and everyone else is willing and excited to learn.

What do you intend to do with all this neat stuff? Build robots? or set up a curriculum to teach students how to run machines? or how to design things? or all of the above?

You can build regional winning robots with the equipment you already have.

If you are trying to set up some classes, think about what they will teach, and why…

We have about a dozen Keter cantilever organizer boxes, and they’re great for organizing fasteners, pneumatic connectors, versaplanetary parts, and so on. They sit on shelves, and then we pick them up and put them on shelves in the pit. Easy and effective.

Our metal shop has a cold saw that we use all the time for making nice, clean cuts on aluminum stock.

I like our Porter Cable band saw from Lowes ($500). It’s one of the few that’s both inexpensive and almost as slow as the recommended speeds for aluminum. We bought a different pulley and slowed it down a bit from it’s slow speed (it’s 2 speed by switching the belt on the pulleys).

For big tools, I’d say a lathe is probably the best first investment, and it can definitely be manual since most FRC turning is just drilling, facing, and reducing diameter. A manual mill with Digital Readout (DRO) is also a great investment, and between those two tools you’ll be able to do a lot of awesome things. I’d say, for FRC purposes, a CNC mill is also definitely not necessary, and most of the things that most FRC teams want a CNC mill for can easily be done on a CNC router.

For resources on a CNC router, I’d check in with CitrusDad and 1678, they have a ton of resources on this forum for routers and making them work well for FRC.

For the mill and lathe, the most important thing is getting high-quality tooling and consumables. The things that come to mind off the top of my head are good drill bits (Number in addition to fractional), center drills, drill chucks, endmills, maybe a facing tool/fly cutter, boring head/bars, reamers for sizes you think you’ll need, v-blocks, clamps, lathe cutters and cutoff tools, parallels, 1-2-3 blocks, cutting oil, layout dye, and chip brushes. Also you might want to invest in a few dial (or digital for you modern folks) calipers and a micrometer set (at least a 0-1" one) if you can afford it; there’s no sense in doing precision machining if you can’t measure and check your work.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, and you probably don’t need all of it to get started, but that is what I would do if I could. Further, before you invest in lots of expensive tooling, you need to consider your design process. How will these tools help you to build better robots and expand your design capabilities? Do you have the manpower and knowledge to use these machines safely and properly, or are you going to spend half of your build season trying to teach students how to use the mill and lathe?

Also, machine tools are probably secondary to a complete and quality set of hand tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, sockets, allen keys, pliers of all shapes and sizes, crimpers, etc.) and some better power tools (cordless drills, drill press, band saw, chop saw, belt/disc sanders, etc.). For complete lists of recommendations on what to buy for any budget, I think Spectrum (FRC 3847) has some awesome lists for different budgets floating around on CD, that would be a great lace to start.

We’ve had a bandsaw, lathe, and two working drill presses for a couple years. We just bought a bearing press, a disc/belt sander, and a cold saw which has helped us tremendously over this last year, though I would say our most used tools and equipment would be our bandsaw (for cutting), drill press (for drilling holes in plates), lathe (for drilling holes in shafts as well as straightening edges of shafts) and sander (to straighten out the edges of our plates).

This is a long list. I would concentrate first on those items that will help your team build a better robot.

A few comments:

Lathe: I would skip any CNC lathe, and just get a larger one in the 12 x 36 size range. A quick change tool post, and extra holders really speeds up the work. Will need turning (CCGT & CCMT inserts), cutoff and grooving tooling (E-Clips & C-Clips) as a minimum. Several Dial Indicators with different mounting options.

Standard 14" wood band saws can be converted to metal cutting with a different blade. We keep one for Metal only, and one for plastic, wood, etc.

A chop saw with the right blade is useful for cutting angles on metal pieces, but they are very loud! For very accurate straight cutting I greatly prefer a cold saw.

With a CNC router available, you will need to decide how big of a milling machine you need. I would recommend one with a full DRO installed, or CNC with a manual option. If you intended to cut drive-rails, and other long items you will need one with up to a 36 of 40 inch table length. Otherwise a smaller non-knee mill would be fine. Lot of tooling (collets, end mills, fly cutters, vise, parallels, v-blocks, drill chuck etc.) An indexed dividing head and some 20 DP cutters would allow you to cut gears as well.

Sheet Metal Brake
A floor standing metal brake (48’) can handle any FRC job. When bending aluminum in particular, you need to watch the minimum bend radius.

CNC Router & 3D Printers:
Great Choices. These have been covered to death in other threads.

**What’s Missing: **

  1. The tooling costs for lathes, mills, and CNC routers is not insignificant, you must include these in the acquisition costs. You will also need a full set of both lettered and numbers drills, and a full set of taps.

  2. Bearing Press or larger Hydraulic press for broaching.

  3. Measuring & Layout tools.
    Calipers, Micrometers, Dial Indicators, Test Indicators, Squares w/ center head, precision squares, 16R rules for measurement. Height Gauge and surface. Layout fluid, automatic center punch, and scribers. Also thread gauges, feeler gauges, and hole gauges.

Your post lists many different tools (physical and software). It is more important to know what to make then decide what tools are needed to make it. I have seen quite a few beautifully made robots that perform poorly on the field of competition. I have also seen winning robots that look like they were made using hacksaws and hand drills because they were.

Many people know how to use Microsoft WORD. There are only few who can write like Ernest Hemingway or William Shakespeare. Similarly, I have worked with a lot of engineers who are very proficient at using CAD tools to make designs (electrical and mechanical) but only a few of them make really good designs.

It is also crucial to learn about manufacturability. Just because a part can be drawn in CAD does not mean it can be manufactured. Similarly, just because a part can be manufactured does not mean it can be easily installed or removed for servicing later.

Since it sounds like you might get most of the money you ask for, ask for as much as you dare then hold on to it. Acquire the tools one at a time so your team members learn to use them properly. The easy choices for an initial purchase would be #3, #6a and #6b (rivet gun only), #8, #13 (maybe), #16 and #17 since most of them would fit into your current work flow without a lot of additional training and would make life a lot easier.

Have your team think seriously about how important the aesthetic aspects of your robots are and what trade-offs they are willing to make. The powder coating equipment will add a step in your manufacturing process that you will have to fit into a limited time. In the end, your team might decide that bare metal looks good enough. Time is the most precious and most limited resource for every team.

Thank you everyone for your input!

We may or may not have powder coated the bot this year…

Spectrum put out their FIRST $10,000 spreadsheet, which is a pretty excellent starting off point to tweak based on what you have now.

If you’re going to be in the space for several years, you may also want to consider a small office-style space if that’s missing. The ability to have a no-safety-glasses area for programming, awards, travel planning, and things like that can save your team a lot of stress.

Our space right now is actually a large woodshop attached to a classroom, and we have 7 relatively modern (<5 years with GPU’s) computers which we will make a computer lab out of in the corner of the woodshop.

Please read about CNC routers at this link when you have time

When I look at the machine hours spent in our school shop this last season building our two robots, most hours were spent on an industrial-scale CNC mill (and one off-site in a garage) making gearbox plates, elevator roller guide supports, and frame members. Next is likely the drill press making holes where the CNCs didn’t, making wood bumper guts, and things like that. Third are the Jet 14" vertical bandsaws, identical but for blade speed - one for metal and one for wood (although the wood saw does pretty well with aluminum). Next is the industrial-scale, but moderately cheesy, metalcutting lathe, mostly used to face and chamfer hex shafts, drill and tap the ends, and put in snap-ring grooves. Last of the major machines is the horizontal band saw, which was used for long stock. All of this was supplemented by a few benchtop sanders and grinders, cordless drills, and lots of hand tools.

Practically all of the work done by these machines could have been done by a bandsaw, drill press, sander, cordless drills, and hand tools. It would have taken more care to get the same accuracy with respect to bearing fits and hole locations, but not impossible. I expect the gearbox plates would be out of reach and the shaft ends would be challenging, but there are workarounds.

The CNCs are a blessing and a curse because of the high amount of training and experience needed to be effective and not crash the machines.

I suggest you run what you brung, in terms of equipment that you know how to use, rather than wish. Lots of teams do this. If you were into sheetmetal machinery, you could make a great robot using a shear, finger brake, and slip roll. If you were into woodwork, you could make a plywood robot - they are out there. If you were into plumbing, you could make a robot out of PVC pipe - I have seen one.

Some teams farm out the CNC and other difficult fabrication to professionals, in which case their resources are better spent on schmoozing donor vendors than buying and learning their own machinery. Our team’s preference is to keep fabrication in-house so the students learn the processes. YMMV.

My suggestion is to scoop up all of the smaller power tools and hand tools on your list (with a few change-outs), but only get a CNC router and a manual lathe. That tool-set will not be overwhelming to learn in a year, will be acquired for a reasonable price-tag, and enable most (or all) of the capability that you need to build a top-end robot.

-Get a cold saw, not a chop saw. They are safer, more accurate, and designed for metal. Thisis our favorite. I know it looks like a chop saw, but spins considerably slower than ‘chop saws’. Look for ~1,300rpm saws.
-Get electric tools instead of air-powered tools. I’ve never seen air drops at competitions, and you’re generally not allowed to bring non-robot compressors. The only exception here is a rivet setter.

I forgot to mention: I don’t see much call for a CNC lathe compared to a mill. Our school shop has a small CNC lathe, but it is not wired up. It has no tool turret, so at best it will be a training tool for the curriculum, not a robot-building tool. The manual lathe with added digital readout (DRO) does all we need (as long as I loan some tooling from my own collection).