Throughout the season, teams often want to quickly prototype and test different ideas for their robot or need a special part in their robot that cannot be obtained off-the-shelf. Teams often turn to rapid prototyping methods, most commonly 3-D printing and laser cutting.
The first major advantage of these methods is quickly testing ideas before committing to them on a robot. This way teams can quickly test ideas for different parts, rapidly make whatever changes are necessary, and fabricate a new one with a different material and process if necessary.
The major second advantage to using rapid prototyping is that sometimes there are specific cases on robots where no off-the-shelf components are suitable for a team’s use case and there is no other easy way to manufacture a specific part other than with a 3-D printer, laser cutter, or other CAM process. For example, on our robot we used the 3-D printer to make very specific parts in places like the pulley guards on the lift, connectors and parts for the forklift, and phone and battery holders to fit our needs.
Although these machines have many advantages, they often have disadvantages. One big setback with these methods is cost and accessibility to these machines, however recently many schools as well as makerspaces have bought these tools or have opened up and if teams talk to them they may even be willing to work out a deal with them for using their facilities.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons