In FIRST Tech Challenge custom Parts are an amazing tool for teams to use. Having the option to make original parts allows for more flexibility in robot designs. The purpose of creating a custom part is to make one part that solves a problem, rather than assembling many standard pieces to do the same thing. Custom parts are a better fitted solution than making something out of standard pieces.
To create custom parts, team members use Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software to design them. These CAD models can be 3D printed, created with a CNC machine, or machined by a sponsor to physically make the part. 3D printing is often the easiest and most commonly available resource for FTC teams. If the team does not have 3D printers, then they can contact schools, libraries, sponsors, or local companies to ask if they have any available.
- Parts are made to fit a robot
- With custom parts, team members can make the parts so that they fit the robot exactly. One of the unique benefits of CADing and then 3D printing a part is that changes can be made in the software.
- A more creative way to solve problems
- Having custom parts opens up possibilities to new solutions that teams may have been interested in, but unable to pursue. The ability to create whatever can be imagined has brought many creative ideas to life. Many of the most successful FTC robots implement custom parts to make them more efficient and reliable. These parts can be made into whatever the creator wants, and having these options enables people to bring their designs to life.
- Easily definable iterations
- Custom parts are important to hardware with their customizability and creativity. They can show clear examples of the Engineering Process and iterations. The Engineering Process is important to highlight in the Engineering Notebook to show a team's growth through the season. Creating a custom part makes each step of the process clear to the judges.
- Design is when the part is being created in CAD.
- Implement is the printing and installing of the part.
- Test is how the part is used with the robot
- Review is the evaluation
- Not all FTC teams has access to materials
- Not all teams have access to the resources needed to create custom parts. Some CAD software are free to FTC teams like Onshape, Fusion 360, and Creo. Finding a 3D printer or machine shop is harder. Some schools have makerspaces available to their students. These are great resources for teams. Otherwise, local companies may have 3D printers that they will allow teams to use. Reaching out to these contacts often creates a stronger bond between the team and their community. Often companies that the team connects with will be willing to sponsor them after a demo. Many professional engineers are passionate about robotics and want to help wherever they can.
- It can take a lot of time to 3D print parts
- The process of 3D printing can take a lot of time. 3D prints, which are usually more accessible, can take hours to a few days depending on the size of the print. To make things faster start printing in the evening so they run overnight.
- Finalize custom parts before asking to fabricate them
- Asking a company for a machined part takes very long. The company has to find time to make the part and it can take weeks to get back to the team. It is important to take these times into account when creating a custom part. Don’t ask for a machined part unless it is finalized and no more changes will be made. If a part is not finalized, asking a company to make it is a waste of their time. Changes can’t be made to machined parts so it is not helpful to the team of the company to have an unfinished part machined. This is because the part is much more professional and takes more effort to make.
- Parts can be hard to create in CAD
- Creating custom parts in CAD can be very challenging. It often takes a while to become accustomed to the software that is being used. Don’t become discouraged. CADing takes time.