VEXPro 2014 Product Initial Impressions

There’s been a lot of moaning and groaning about IFI’s poor customer service (for good reason, as my team has experienced), but let’s leave that for another thread. I’d like to talk about the technical aspects of the new products, and ask for others’ input on them. My first impressions are below.

VersaPlanetary Gearboxes

An extremely good product, made even better. VEXPro has added a new gear ratio (7:1) and plastic piloting plates for each type of motor.

Like: The new piloting plates are excellent. With the removal of the first internal bearing, the motor shaft is no longer overconstrained.

Dislike: Still no official support for CIM and Mini-CIM integration. The new plates make using those motors easier, but proper use still requires a few machining steps. Here’s a hint: make the motor plate mount holes rest on a true 2-inch bolt circle. Also, there should be labeling stickers for combinations of 7:1 stages. Simply reusing last year’s stickers seems a bit lazy.

Hex Shaft

Much better straightness tolerance than last year. Of the six 3-ft shafts we received initially, two were within .020 of true, three were within .050, and one was above .100. (We measured the height of the center, with the ends resting on a flat surface.) From what I gather, the main difference is in the shipping method – packing in a box this time around. For the future, I would like to see the shaft packed in a shipping tube. In addition, it would be nice if better extrusion methods could be investigated. Last year, WCP sold cold-finished shafts at a competitive price. Obviously, with the recent partnership, these are no longer available on the market. I’d appreciate if VEXPro could bring them back.

VersaFrame Gussets

Like: These offer a lot of good frame options to teams. The design of these was well-considered.

Dislike: The rivet size is very, very weird. Beyond that, though, the biggest issue I have with these is price. When a T-gusset costs us $2.50 apiece, it’s much more economical for us to have a sponsor laser us something similar. Such an option is not available for everyone.

Ball Shifters

The flagship VEXPro product, essentially. There have been a few modifications, but not enough.

Like: Last year’s construction was robust, and this year’s equally so. The gearboxes are still much lighter than anything else on the market, and personally, I greatly prefer the shifting method over dog or friction clutches.

Dislike: First off, the fact that the gearboxes still use the same encoder gear as last year comes as an incredible disappointment. Last time around, the press-fit was absolute trash, and required superglue on more than one occasion to retain properly. I expected better from a company that invites us to “Play with the Pros”. This year we are using a different mounting method for our encoders, so the first thing I did upon opening the box was to toss those gears. If they’ve actually been improved, please correct me; nothing in the ball-shifter literature suggests that they have been.

The R6 and R8 internal bearings of the gearbox have been changed from shielded to rubber-sealed bearings. I suppose the idea is to protect from grease. This would be fine, if they were actually sealed properly. The R8 bearings we received had a visible separation between the rubber and the outer race; I could peer inside the bearing housing.

Some of the hole tolerances are off; a few holes that were intended to be clearance holes needed some force to push screws through.

On the VEXPro website, the option to purchase a pneumatic shifting cylinder is separated from the option to purchase the base kit. I’m sure there could be legitimate reasons for this, but what I see is a blatant attempt to obfuscate realistic pricing data from the buyer. What a poor way to treat your customers. Please prove my accusations groundless.

That’s enough from me. Of course, my team has tried but a few of the vast array of VEXPro products, and none of the materials have made it through a season. What are your impressions on the product line? In particular, I’m curious as to how well the new belts/pulleys and wheels work.

Can’t be sure of my source here. But I seem to recall someone from vex saying they had made modifications to the encoder gear press fit to make it much more reliable. Might be worth looking into.

I wasn’t going to comment on this post, until I saw this. Our team really took a hit on this. We ordered 4 of the 3 stage Ball Shifters and when we got our order, we found out that they had separated the Pancake cylinders out of the “base kit”. I guess we ordered the Shifters thinking they would include one of the most important parts of making the shifter work, without the cylinder, the shifters are kind of useless. I thought it was a sneaky and unfair move on their part to raise prices. Maybe next time they could just raise the price of the entire thing without taking out critical parts of the kit.

Regarding the pancake cylinder… A lot of older teams have a lot of pneumatic parts sitting around their shops. It really wouldn’t be surprising to want to save money by not getting the pancake shifter and instead making one of your existing cylinders work. I know when we ordered a ball shifter from VEX this year, I found it fairly clear on the website and ordered a pancake cylinder from the start.

I had the same experience. This seemed pretty obvious to me, and hardly a “blatant attempt to obfuscate” or “sneaky”. Intimating that the people at IMI are trying to pull a fast one on us is worse than speculative, and hardly helpful.

Regarding product quality, there are certainly good and bad things to say about VexPro products, just like AndyMark and any other COTS stuff we use. Constructive feedback will probably help make better products in the long run; just look how far we’ve come in the last five years. But if companies like Apple can have problems with supply chain, quality, and customer satisfaction, with their decades of experience, armies of employees, and mountains of money, how can we expect perfection from a small company testing the waters with new products for the nichest of niche markets?

VexPro products have significantly raised the bar in the last two years, and their current issues are largely due to our overwhelming (and probably unpredictable) demand for their products. Keep that in mind please.

We actually released both the 7:1 and the 9:1 this year.

We manufactured enough VP last year to make it through about 2 seasons worth of sales. As such, there was only so much we could change this year. The input housings, gear kits, output housings, and shafts we are using this year are exactly the same as last year. The hole pattern on the input housing was not intended to mount any CIM style motor. We figured teams would try to modify them so we put the 8mm bore with keyway because it was about the size we needed for the couplers anyway. Looking back, we could have just put the 2" pattern in the input housing mounting, but we used a 35mm square pattern instead. We will change this when we have to make more housings and add official support for CIM style motors after we do our own testing. The initial design intent for these gearboxes was only for the smaller motors and never for the larger motors. We have done 0 testing with CIMs and MiniCIMs so use at your own risk.

We had strong customer feedback in 2 other areas:

  1.  Motor mounting and efficiency.  Although the gears are very efficient, in some cases the motor mounting was putting undo pressure on the motor shaft causing excessive efficiency loss.  We solved this problem by making plastic motor mounts and eliminating the input bearing.  This gives about a 20% increase in efficiency.

 2.  Custom configurations.  Last year you could order 3:1 and 4:1 gearboxes with a CIM output shaft or 5:1 and 10:1 with a 1/2" hex.  Many customers asked to be able to configure their own gearbox so we accommodated them this year.

In order to achieve these two requests we had to disassemble every gearbox in inventory, take out the input bearing, add the plastic motor mounts, and reconfigure the boxes to have the base kits. The stickers were already in the boxes and throwing them away seemed silly. I apologize for not adding the additional ratio stickers for the 7:1 and 9:1. We will do better next time.

The 3’ sections of hex stock are actually the left over inventory from last year. These extrusions are done at tolerances much tighter than any regular extruding house was willing to do. The tolerance on this shaft is tight, really tight. The 3’ section did not have a flatness specification so some sections are less flat than I would like, but we did not put it on the drawing. Cold rolled hex shafts hex sizes are all over the place. Most times you need to file down the hex just to get it to fit. Our hex stock is all slightly undersized with a very tight tolerance so I am certain the extrusion method is sound. We also have released 18" versions that have a very tight flatness control, so if that is important to you, then I suggest you purchase those.

The rivet size is a 5/32 rivet. It is a very common rivet size that many teams have been using for years. Also, it can be drilled out to 3/16 or 1/4 very easily.

Ask your sponsor how much they would charge someone for one T-gusset if they were not making it for free. Better yet, ask them how much it costs them. I think you will be surprised at the answer.

Regarding the encoders, all Ball shifter gearbox customers should have received an e-mail from us at the beginning of the season stating that if they are using the encoder gears and are dissatisfied with the performance, they can contact customer service and we will send them a new (gray color) encoder gear to replace it. This gear has a much tighter press fit into the shaft. Many customers do not use encoders with this gearbox so sending out a mass shipment to every customer was just not practical. These gears were late because we were not satisfied with the fit so we shipped the initial gearboxes with the gears we had in inventory to not hold up shipment. again, any ball shifter customer from last year or this year can contact VEX and request a replacement gear and we will send it completely free of charge.

We ran out of the shielded bearings and the rubber seal bearings are all we could get in time. FRC application does not require a rubber seal, only a shield so we felt these bearings were fine for the application.

Emphasis mine. Really? Then go buy a different gearbox if you feel this way. I know my PR people are going to be angry with me, but what the heck are you talking about? Have you even compared prices to other products? None of the competitors’ products include cylinders. None of the competitors’ baseline products include the more expensive aluminum gears. And the Ball shifter is less expensive than any of those products. Your facts are totally wrong. Totally wrong.

Did you even think that some people may not want the cylinder? This cylinder is $40 and is an unnecessary expense if you already have it. We clearly put on our web site that it was not included. With that said, there was a period during the inventory transition that our web site stated the ball shifters included the cylinder, because we included it last year. Customers that ordered at that time (during the order period for the old 2 CIM Ball Shifter) that have contacted us were sent the cylinders free of charge.

Are you stating that you purchased VEXpro items from us last year and they did not make it through last season? If so, then I am interested to know what products you are referring to so we can determine if that was normal wear or unusual circumstances.

The shipping delays were bad for a lot of teams, but IFI and WCP have had nothing but the best customer service during the course of this season so far. They did everything in their power to get teams their parts as quickly as possible, given the low inventory they had a large mass of orders to tend to, and have been very transparent to teams about the given situation. To blatantly call out their customer service and degrade it (especially in a thread where you claim your only intent is product performance) is not only disrespectful, but also embarrassing to see from one of the top California teams.

VersaPlanetaries are still the biggest game changer for our team in several years. The improvements this year make it even better.

The large selection of quality aluminum gears are a close second.

The inventory problems are a pain in the you-know-what but they show how the products from Vex and AM have really changed our sport. I’m excited to see what teams are doing with this stuff this year.

All of this supports my thought that FRC has become too reliant on COTS items. :rolleyes:

Maybe you’re right. Ideally all teams would have access to a mill and lathe and have some ways to slide into Plan B if certain items become unavailable.

this is a problem why?

Raising the floor makes all the events more exciting, and its nice to see the ability for many teams to more “easily” make a robot that drives, but also has some sort of function.

I think the large array of COTS parts are great. Il add a review of 5031’s vex experience once we get the rest of the parts we need to actually use them. (could have been delivered on the weekend, or yesterday, i don’t know, haven’t been at the school.

Seconded! Vex has been incredibly upfront with the status of everything we’ve ordered.

About 2/3 of the money spent on our robots so far this year has gone toward Vex/WCP products. Everything we bought from them last year ran great through ten competitions, and after the game was released, we thought using their part ecosystem was the best COTS chassis option to meet our needs for this game. A team like ours would not be able to be near as competitive without the array of COTS options available by suppliers like Vex.

I really appreciate the responses in the various CD threads and Chance from Vex, Clinton from The Robot Space, and the WCP team for responding to my calls, helping me to properly forecast when items would arrive, and letting me know which distribution hub has given items in stock. We will be providing more business as the needs arise.

Thanks BTW for Build Blitz, it was nice showcase of how to make really effective robots while not neglecting the design process in a very short span of time. I learned a lot.

<offtopic>Is there a good choice of snap ring for the hex shafts on the Versachassis? Maybe a McMaster part #?</offtopic>

I’m happy with the VEXPro experience thus far. We’ve had a few hiccups, but all of them due to user error :slight_smile: (which is all well and good, it’s a learning experience, the products aren’t supposed to do the thinking for us)

Gussets - The gussets have all been great. We are using a number of them, and the concept has inspired the students to design their own custom gussets as well. They were so enthused about it that they went out and found waterjet sponsors so that they can expand on our VEXPro stock with their own custom additions. We switched to 5/32" rivets this year so that we could cut down on the number of drill bits we needed to stock and generally simplify fabrication (same hole size for #8 clear and 5/32" rivets). The only downside we’ve found with the 5/32" over 3/16" is that we can’t get countersunk rivets for 5/32", which is fine because we don’t actually need countersunk rivets for any reason, and if ever we do we’ll just drill the holes out to 3/16".

VersaFrame 1x1 and 1x2 - My students have been drilling spectacularly centered holes on their tubes. They are all rookie students so I don’t have last year to compare, perhaps they are just all naturally gifted fabricators. I think it’s more likely that the etching on the tube is providing enough of a reference and guide to get the holes properly centered on the first try.

No specific comments on the other products yet as we haven’t spent enough time with them.

Wait, what? It was stated multiple times in bold font that the cylinder is not included in the base kit. I figured it was because many teams would rather not spend $80 on new ones and would prefer to recycle the ones they had from last year.

Here you go

Thank you!

We’re using some VEX products this year, including many sets of wheels and versakey parts, and aluminum gears. I personally am loving the aluminum gears. They sounded great last night when paired with CIM motors and 11 tooth pinions (so much more gear ratio flexibility!)

Last year we ran the W-tread VersaWheels and were happy with them. We went from a much more expensive wheel and replacing the tread regularly (usually once per tournament) to a much cheaper, lighter wheel and replacing the whole wheel at the same interval (it’s still cheaper to use the $5 disposable wheels vs plaction wheels and tread and a lot lighter)

In fact, I can’t think of very much we bought from AM this year. Mostly pneumatic tanks and pumps and pneumatics stuff. Aluminum gears FTW.

Paul, could you put the gear ratio for the CIMile on the site? I downloaded the CAD model and figured it out from there. It’s a fantastic ratio for both motors (29 tooth output gear, 12 tooth 775/8 tooth 550 input gear) (we aren’t actually using a CIMile this year but we thought about it)

Also, you should make a shorter shift gearset for the ball shifter (<2:1) and a system to shift with vex motors.

I know this was intended to be somewhat sarcastic, but to those concerned about the impact of COTS on FRC (I’m not one)… these comments remind me there there is still a huge amount of value to building team resources that can machine components and do internal testing.

There is always room for improvement. For example, the VersaChassis tolerances aren’t tight enough such that you can just slap rivets on a frame and magically get a perfectly square chassis. We had ~1/8" of runout at 1ft from square after the freshman rivet team had their fun. It probably would have worked, but I had them drill them all out, showed them how to assemble it square, match drill, watch that they weren’t twisting the frame as they riveted, etc. Now we are < 1/32" runout at 1ft.

That being said, when the Versa 2x1" was out of stock, our team priced regular 2x1" stock at a local supply house. Same price. Meaning, VEXPro is already beating them on VALUE. Sure they can charge me double for the frame to tighten the tolerances up a bit to make it foolproof, or I can be less foolish.

Same thing goes for other products. I remember reading about motor failures (BAG?) because people were side-loading or thrust loading motor shafts that were never spec’d for those loads. I can either demand VEX make a “more robust” motor that has additional weight and size with internal bearings able to take more abuse… or I can not abuse it.

Another one for us was Delrin washers. We figured out pretty quick that the 1/16" or 1/8" spacers weren’t a great value (for us), as we’re lucky enough to have a laser cutter that can run 300 to a sheet for 10% of the cost. Not everyone has a 30W laser cutter though. Even then, the thicker ones bloomed too much and the 2" thick spacers were a better value than spanning a several inch gap with a bucket of 1/8" spacers. Same goes for machining, many teams with “free” student/mentor machining time can create parts from raw stock cheaper than VEX. I’m sure VEX would be perfectly willing to sell parts more cheaply to FRC if you will supply them with the parts at a consistent tolerance and free labor to make thousands of them each year.

Back to the OP:
Long story short, if you want to hop on CD to criticize VEXPro (or AM, or any of our other suppliers that cater to FRC)… you would be well off to word your posts more positively. I may share some frustrations, but I also understand what is and is not realistic to expect of both the equipment and the companies at the pricing we receive parts at.

Thus far we have been very impressed with the VP parts we’ve received.

The 2X1 versatube is just freakin’ awesome stuff. I love the 0.100" wall for weight savings and the ability to stuff a pulley inside.

We used several of the 15mm HTD pulleys (24T and 36T), as well as a few belt sizes. The parts are all obviously very high quality. We of course love the black anodize of the pulleys, but the fact that we didnt need to machine off hubs, or broach them ourselves is just a giant PLUS in our book.

The gears are very high quality as well. The drivetrain all assembled very smoothly, and runs extremely smoothly with very little noticeable friction in the system. Our drive train subteam was extremely happy with the setup.

Some photos below showing our implementation.


Having never purchased VexPro parts before, extremely impressed with the Versaplanetaries. Gave one of our with-it a freshman a shipping box and a bucket of grease, told him where the Vex website was, and an hour later we had gearboxes! I love the options you have… ordered stages intending one set of ratios and actually built a separate set of ratios.

The CIM to VP also gave us an excuse to cut down some really banged up CIM output shafts.

There is just something adorable about a BAG in a Versaplanetary… thinking over the off-season we’ll have to to purchase some 2 or 3 inch colsons and make a little drivetrain.