Wednesday, November 2, 2016

80/20 Plus a Bumper Crop of Good Ideas

In the "pre-season" before FIRST Robotics really gets going we do get the team together once in a while.  On a recent Saturday we had several things going on.  One was a chance to play with a batch of 80/20 parts. For those not in the technical mindset this stuff is preformed aluminum in an assortment of clever sizes and shapes.  You can make many things with them, and it is easy to bolt things together, take them apart, modify them.  This has very obvious appeal for FIRST where you have a crazy short time period to build something quite elaborate. And many teams actually build two identical machines.  One for competition the other to practice with.

Its fun stuff to play with and I think will make our build season run smoother.  I will insist on having a bit of steel and plywood in the build anyway.  Traditions must be upheld.

We got other things done too.  We are going to actually keep detailed notes this year. And we have more in the way of manuals and such.  So a ridiculously over engineered book shelf got made.  

Of course we drove last year's robot around a bit.  We do need to start training up the next generation of drivers.  But several of the day's most interesting revelations centered around...bumpers.

Bumpers.  All FIRST teams despise them.  But the competition rules require robots to have protective bumpers with very specific construction. Plywood, foam pool noodles and heavy vinyl fabric must be put together just so, and then attached to the frame of the robot in a fashion that allows very rapid change out between two different sets of bumpers.  It is a real pain.

Last year our bumpers were difficult to swap out.  You had to get a socket wrench into some very tight quarters and when you did there was always the risk of bumping delicate wire connections.  So eventually we found some little plastic do-dads that fit over the hex head of bolts.  This allows a team member with nimble fingers to reach in and tighten the bolt by hand.

But these little plastic parts cost 50 cents each and are hard to find.  Hey, lets just make some...

Fire up the solidworks software and ten minutes later we have a design.  Here the kids are setting up to print a small army of them but I said we only needed a few.

The new version and the old.  They work equally well.  Our first 3D printed widget.  The first I suspect, of many.

The bumper question came up because we have been doing a variety of outreach visits these days, sometimes with the robot, sometimes without.  It really is best to have at least the front bumpers on.  This one is looking saggy and beat up, we never did get the letters perfect and had to keep slapping more layers of packing tape on to keep them in place.

We are in the process of bringing on some new members.  One of our freshman new recruits listened to our tales of woe regarding making bumpers and said; "What's the big deal?".  Turns out she knows how to do upholstering sewing.  Someone who can make really nice looking bumpers....a cheap and cheerful method of attaching them.  I felt as if the Heavens opened up and a ray of sunshine came down from above.  A few faint notes of song from Angelic Choirs on High whispered to me for a brief rapturous moment....   

1 comment:

wynne said...

That's so cool, because upholstery sewing is a dying skill. It's hard to find upholstery businesses these days. You've got a gem there!