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How 3D Printing Drives New York High School’s Robotics Club

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The Birch Wathen Lenox School’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, Birch Bots, eagerly participates in a New York City Regional Competition every year with a brand-new robot. For those unfamiliar, FRC is an international youth organization that operates STEM-based challenges and competitions. Birch Bots utilized many components provided by FRC to build our previous robots, but often needed to procure essential electrical and mechanical materials from additional sources. We collaborate throughout the Fall, Winter, and Spring in order to construct an industrial-sized robot capable of earning points in a unique game designed by the FIRST committee. The competition tasks, which differ each year, often demand a wide range of actions for the robot to complete: from placing cones on metal rods, to balancing on a charging station and cooperating with other teams’ robots to satisfy the game’s objectives.

As Birch Bots gears up for this season’s brand-new game challenge, the atmosphere in our workshop is charged with excitement, creativity, innovation, and the kind of pressure that drives us to excel. This year our priority remains on designing and building the most efficient robot within our budgetary constraints of $15,000. 3D printing sits at the epicenter of this task, as this technology allows the team to generate cost-effective solutions to engineering problems and foster an atmosphere in the BWL community that keeps the team’s motivation strong!

Our workshop.

The budget is one of our most pressing concerns throughout the design and build season. As a team, we recently dove into the world of 3D printing, quickly discovering its efficiency, affordability, and reliability. We utilized our two Flashforge Adventurer 3 printers to produce spacers this past year that were used throughout the robot, specifically in the arm intake mechanism. Last year’s competition entailed placing cubes and cones on various shelves and metal rods of different heights. The 3D printed spacers enhanced the robot’s ability to smoothly grab the cubes and cubes. Because this process was cost-effective and quick, Birch Bots plans to expand our usage of 3D printers this year to create a wide variety of small parts for the robot construction.

With two additional Adventurer 4 printers provided for our workshop, we anticipate printing anything as minuscule as sensor and camera mounts and gearbox shields, as well as larger components like Mecanum wheels and bumper supports. The ability to 3D print spacers introduced us to a new approach to FRC robotics, and ultimately demonstrated the vast intersection between 3D printing and FRC!

A 3D printed mecanum wheel.

Yet, 3D printing is useful beyond being a source of robot parts; it also plays a pivotal role in Birch Bots’ broader objectives. Whether we are printing promotional items, such as miniature robots, keychains, or signs with our FRC identification number, 3D printing is an indispensable instrument that allows us to express our creativity. Moreover, the 3D printed promotional items allow the Birch Wathen Lenox School community to recognize and appreciate the robotics team’s dedication to modern technology.

This inherently brings the whole school together, celebrating the never-ending possibilities that robotics and mechatronics provide. When other students, teachers, and faculty are able to both touch and observe our 3D printed creations, they glimpse a tangible reflection of our hard work and commitment. Consequently, 3D printing not only allows the team to solve engineering issues in an economical manner, but also allows us to share our excitement with the entire BWL community and ultimately enlarge the Birch Bot’s family.

The intersection between robotics and 3D printing is undeniable and the opportunity to use a 3D printer is an amazing privilege. 3D printers, however, are not only tools that amplify our robot, but they also have the ability to foster excitement in younger students, allowing them to gain a greater appreciation for the tools of their future: robotics and mechatronics. Just as the filament is the primary resource in an FDM printer, 3D printing stands as a foundational tool for Birch Bots. It not only allows us to create a more competitive robot, but also enables us to share our passion for robotics in tangible forms, exceeding words alone!

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