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Javelin-sponsored Canadian robotics team turns heads at competitions for its use of SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing

Story by Karen Majerly on July 5, 2017

Javelin Technologies sponsors two Canadian schools with student robotics teams in Ontario – Eastwood Collegiate Institute in Kitchener (Rebels 2702) and Oakville Trafalgar High School (1334 Red Devils and 1374 Amped Up). In one Ontario division match at McMaster University on April 9, 2017, two Javelin-sponsored teams competed together on the same alliance (a group of three teams working together) and won the exhilarating round.

If you haven’t watched a FIRST robotics competition, you should. And we have the perfect video to show you:

Every student-built robot is a feat of engineering and the pride of its team and school, but the Eastwood robot in particular has been standing out from the pack. Why? It has more than 300 3D-printed parts.

At competitions, number 2702 has become known as “the 3D-printed robot,” and the team was recognized with the Creativity Award at the 2017 McMaster competition for its use of 3D printing.

Clear benefits to using 3D printing

3D-printed parts are used in every subsystem of the robot, including the drive train. The smallest can be printed in 15 minutes; the largest and most complex took more than 20 hours. With no machine shop on site, Eastwood is limited in what they can make from aluminum, and machining parts elsewhere would take several days. Using 3D printing, the team can create complex designs and enjoy the benefit of rapid prototyping. They can design or download the CAD model for a part and print it within hours, allowing them to test designs quickly and develop better iterations.

In robotics, being lightweight is crucial. Depending on the required strength and weight, the team can 3D print using more or less infill. Many teams struggle to keep their robots to less than the maximum 120 lbs, which limits the features they can include. The Rebels’ robot weighed 112 lbs going into their first competition, leaving room to add mechanisms to improve performance at the next event.

Perhaps the coolest benefit of using 3D printing is this: being able to print on site, in the middle of competition action, right in the pit. The team’s printer of choice is the MakerBot, a portable, desktop-sized, affordable 3D printer popular in schools. The team operates two MakerBot printers during competition. In one case, when the robot got banged up in a match, the team printed spare corner clips in less than 20 minutes.

3d printed robot

Student skill-building

Benjamin McDonnell is 15, and a driver on the Eastwood Rebels team. He spends up to 30 hours a week working with the team, and says he’s learning valuable skills.

“I’m working with tools, gaining mechanical skills, and learning programming and SOLIDWORKS. The skills I gain throughout my time on the team will affect me for the rest of my life.”

The Eastwood team has been around since 2008, and Terry Fisher has been a professional mentor since that first build season.

“FIRST robotics teams operate like a small business,” he says. “We have marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and administrative functions. Students are introduced to potential career paths they would otherwise not know about. Designing and building a robot also shows the students why subjects such as trigonometry/algebra, calculus, and physics are important. This can lead to students having more interest in those subjects and sometimes higher grades.”

3D printed robot

3D printed robot

Students learn the tools of the trade

Robotics teams are one example of how SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing can be used for student learning. Javelin offers SOLIDWORKS licences and resources for educators and students, as well as 3D printer advice, sales, and support. Education is a major focus for Javelin − getting the most popular and valuable tools of the trade into the hands of younger and younger students, preparing them for rewarding careers.

Javelin’s Applications Engineer Paul McDonnell is Benjamin’s dad and a mentor for the Eastwood team. He explains the connection between Javelin and high school robotics teams.

“These are our future engineers. They are using the technology Javelin has expertise in. The Rebels made a ground-breaking robot using 3D-printed parts – a robot much more complex than they could have made using traditional machining. That’s what we do at Javelin. We help people make intricate machines using SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing.”

Robotics team sponsors

Robotics team sponsors

Impact of sponsorship

Competing at the FIRST robotics level is expensive, so sponsors like Javelin help fund the cost of registration, raw materials, tools, and promotional materials. For the Eastwood team, Javelin also stepped up to loan them two 3D printers during the critical build season.

“Sponsor funds allow students to be on the team without paying an entrance fee, so anyone can join,” Benjamin points out. “Without sponsorship, even if we could exist, we could not be nearly as innovative or successful.”

Robotics event

Robotics event

Inspiring students

For Terry, the best thing about mentoring the team is seeing a student who doesn’t know what they want to do for their career become inspired.

“Students sometimes join the team for something to do after school and it ends up changing their lives. They go on to college or university and get hired to their dream jobs.”

He explains that competing motivates the students to try harder and do better.

“As soon as our competition season ended, the students were already talking about things we can do in the off-season to build a robot that is even more amazing than what we built this year.”

The Eastwood Rebels have an online home at 2702rebels.com. To learn more about robotics at Oakville Trafalgar High School, visit ot-robotics.ca.

The Eastwood Rebels

Members of the Eastwood Rebels, Red Devils and, Amped Up teams

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