What do you want to see from sponsors/suppliers?

Hey Chief Delphi,

Sam from Anchor Labs here (a FIRST sponsor). A few members of our team were at the Festival of Champions and Supporter Summit and it got us all super excited about getting more involved with FIRST next year.

We wanted to get some input from the FIRST community on ways you’d like to see sponsors be involved. What ways do you like interacting with sponsors/suppliers? Any products you’d like to see offered? New KoP parts? Are there any services you’d like to see a sponsor run? We are looking for feedback that will help us shape how we are involved with FIRST next year.

No guarantees that any of this will come to fruition but we’d love to get some more input from teams themselves.

Best,
Sam

Documentation, knowledge retention and knowledge sharing.

Im cheating, these are the big pain points I’ve seen for long term team performance. I don’t have answers to these problems but they are problems many teams don’t even realize they have.

Documentation - Look at the award descriptions, how many of the technical ones mention the word process? Giving teams tools or practices that encourage good documentation of decisions, processes, or prototyping results would be a good first step. A great followup would be knowledge of how to communicate these with external parties.

Knowledge Retention - FRC teams operate, generally, on a 4 year cycle. Students come in, learn stuff, do stuff, and leave. This is normal. Mentors generally try to retain knowledge but mentors leave too. How does one retain institutional knowledge when so much of your institution is transient?

Knowledge Sharing - Training is hard. Teaching is hard. I’d LOVE to see a sponsor who, instead of giving teams more options of how to do something, simply looked at what options teams have and give them guidance on how to use it.

This thread comes up every year. If you make some of the parts here you’ll make me and a lot of people very happy.

Video tutorials that any reasonably [strike]astute[/strike] intelligent observer could find on your website and watch to learn basics about machining. Also, maybe design tutorials showing how to design with manufacturing in mind. I see a lot of young, aspiring engineers trying to learn how to design things in the real world, but don’t have access to the tools, the machinery, or the mentors so they can learn how to design for manufacturing. Now, no video tutorial will ever be able to replace time in the shop. But learning the basics of how mills, lathes and other modern manufacturing tools work could be a boon to FRC students.

Sponsor putting PoE injectors in the KOP? :wink:

If you are actively supplying parts during the build season, then fast response and shipping times are really desirable. There are a lot of instances where we have eaten large shipping costs just to get parts to us a few days sooner. Time is a big resource. That’s probably why we end up spending so much money at McMaster every year.

I loved the quite literal next day shipping we got with ground shipping from MMC. Always made our lives so much easier.

I know you asked for the things to do for the FIRST community as a whole so this suggestion may not be for you. I see that you are New England based so if you have the capability what you could do is create one or two mobile basic machine shop with say a knee mill, lathe, bench mill, band saw, etc… and bring each of these shops out to events both in New England and in NY since that’s also quite close. This is what Nasa does to the district championships but it would be awesome to see this at district qualifier events. It may be quite expensive since you would need to build a trailer that can house equipment and be worked out of since this trailer would also be the machine shop and on top of that you would need to send out a few employees to operate the machines and take often time very rushed parts all day which again can get very expensive. This however would have benfits for you since tons of people would see your work and likely go to you guys if they needed any machining work to be done.

You guys are definitely on the right track to be an amazing sponsor of FIRST. By just asking the community what they would like to see you have shown yourself to really care a lot about the students in FIRST Right off the bat.

From my experiences, shipping isn’t the crux of most FRC suppliers, stock availability is. I still believe that stocking inventory for a game you know little to nothing about for an unpredictable market is harder than building a robot to compete in said game. One of the best ways (imo) to solve out-of-stock issues is to give the key suppliers as much relevant game information as possible as early as possible. Most the time when the initial order comes in in December (and sometimes early January), the next order won’t be able to arrive until build season is already over! :ahh:

More openness out of CTRE. Schematics used to be available for many electronics parts, but that’s not the case anymore. Also, fully documenting APIs would be great. The API documentation appears to be auto generated from comments, but many functions provide just basic input/output type information with no mention of things like valid bounds.

I couldn’t agree more with this. AndyMark, VEX, REV, WCP, CTRE, etc. have a nearly impossible task of predicting a market without having most of the information. Despite years of experience of predicting these markets, AndyMark still ended up with a crazy amount of Fuel at the end of the year. I don’t think there’s anyway that they could’ve predicted that most teams would ignore Fuel, even if they were given earlier and better information about the game. Being an FRC supplier is tough. There’s no doubt that getting these key suppliers more and earlier information would help to increase market predictability, and thus decrese the issues that teams have during the build season. It’s also a double edged sword because FIRST obviously wants to give out as little information about the game as possible to prevent that information from being used improperly.

On a similar note, being a key supplier for FIRST requires a significant financial partnership with FIRST (I think a donation of at least $250,000, but it’d be great if somebody could verify that). If you think it’s tough for AndyMark, VEX, WCP, REV, and CTRE to predict stock requirements with the relatively small amount of information they recieve… I imagine that task becomes nearly impossible for the smaller, non-key FRC suppliers. If you stock too much, you’re sitting on inventory for possibly years. If you stock too little, you run out of stock and earn some bad rep and lose out on sales. Either way you’re losing out on profits.

I will also say that the market for FRC is relatively small and crowded. There is essentially a fixed amount of money that will be spent by teams each year (maybe $10 million as a rough estimate), and a large portion of that money is going to go to standard things like electronics, hardware, etc. The now for the OP, FRC probably wouldn’t be their primary market and therefore wouldn’t really be impacted by this. But for anybody looking to start the next VEX or AndyMark, it’ll be an uphill battle.

In terms of what I would like to see from an FRC sponsor, I think it would be really cool if a sponsor set up and maintained a permanent FRC practice facility. It would require a decently large heated warehouse that is centrally located to a large population of teams. I estimate that it would cost $40,000 or so to run the facility for the first 6 months (including the cost of building a full sized field - if you buy the field from AM the price will go up by like $10,000 or so). You could also charge teams a fee to use the facility to help cover the cost as well as sell advertising space on the field to local businesses (similar to the adds you see around local baseball fields). If you want more information regarding my estimates for the financials for this project feel free to PM me.

What do we want from sponsors? Money.