One of the benefits of 3D printing is how the technology can be used alongside other STEM technology, for example VEX Robotics. Many schools have VEX robotics teams that take part in the annual VEX competitions. In this second of three case studies from Michael Noonan, Head of Technology at Queen Elizabeth School in Barnet, the students of Team HYBRID robotics explain how they made use of a Raise E2 3D printer loan from CREATE Education to enhance their competition robot.

Project 2: VEX Robotics Competition Robot

In the VEX Robotics Competition, teams of students are tasked with designing and building a robot to play against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge.

In this year’s competition, the students (Team HYBRID @hybrid20785a) utilized 3D printing to remotely manufacture parts for the competition robot from PLA in advance of producing them from the competition standard Polycarbonate (PC). In the past season, we found that we would iterate with compliant materials, or just go straight to cutting from Polycarbonate but had no method of testing the parts and their effectiveness in advance of making. This year we were able to make models and production aids (jigs) and test them on our build at home to ensure that the part met our performance criteria. This saved us a lot of time and materials cost, and ensured that the robot performed to its absolute optimum in the remote World Championships in May.

Designing and Making

We utilised 3D printing to build gussets for use on our robot. The standard components provided to us, i.e. VEX Robotics parts are limited in their fluidity for joinery at specific angles. This means that certain design ideas are not able to be tested, such as building a strafing chassis for easier manoeuvrability around the competition field. However, the use of CAD and 3D printing allowed us to develop gussets which joined parts at 45 degrees, so we could better our performance and further design iteratively.

Two VEX robotic parts

We also utilised 3D printing in the manufacture of decals for our robot. These included the names of our sponsors on a white background, for a more aesthetic and cleaner look. The use of embossing and debossing which could be integrated into the CAD and eventual 3D printing process helped in showing off the decals at competitions.

Results

We were the 2nd highest ranked team in skills in the UK throughout the season, and also qualified for the World Championships in plenty of time. We reached the division quarter finals (the first UK team to do so ) with a ranking of 8th place. Unfortunately our partner team had some mechanical issues during the match, but had we not have had this particular issue I am confident we would have progressed to the divisional finals!

Benefits of using the Raise E2 3D Printer

The printer gave us a fantastic ability to quickly iterate production aids, parts and models quickly and remotely (very useful for when we were in the most recent lockdown and did not have access to the workshop). The ability to mirror print meant that we could produce matching parts for the left and right of the bot simultaneously. Production aids meant that we were able to build at a much faster rate, quickly and continuously improving our designs.

Outcome

We thoroughly enjoyed and developed during our remote robotics season, and are indebted to our very generous support from CREATE Education! The next level 3D printer we were provided with through their loan scheme supercharged our mission to qualify and achieve new best scores en route to the VEX World Championships, and we developed invaluable knowledge relating to rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing which will benefit us enormously in our future career aspirations as Engineers!

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