Article by Dan Reynolds, Technical Sales

Bots.114105Have you ever considered mentoring an Xtreme BOTS team?  Maybe you weren’t sure what you’d be getting yourself into.  We wanted to give you an inside look.

About four years ago, a request came to American Testing from the former DTMA (now DRMA) regarding mentoring a BOTS team.  The question was not so much if the company would be willing, but if I was personally willing to help.  I have past experience in welding and fabricating, mainly building machinery and components from detailed drawings.  (Sometimes the engineering was chicken scratch on a note pad, but it still had to work when completed.)  I also taught welding at Miami Valley CTC for about 3 years.

I was paired with Chaminade Julianne High School, and they were anxious to put their first team together in conjunction with their STEMM program.  I contacted Meg Draeger, the STEMM coordinator at CJ to let her know I could help with input and how-to guidance.  We are a service company, so we don’t have any manufacturing equipment to speak of.

The first meeting was about six weeks before their competition.  The other mentors and I met with the engineering / BOTS students and instructor.  Even though I didn’t know much about BOTS competition rules and regulations, I did know that this compared to real world manufacturing – from concept to build to delivery.  I explained to the students the competition date would be the same as what we call “drop dead delivery.”  No excuses, no reprieves, no reason what-so-ever to miss delivery.  The BOT has to be ready for inspection the day before the competition.  If you don’t meet this deadline, it’s all for nothing.  You don’t get to compete, so just stay home!

Considering this, I explained we would need to work our design and build schedule backwards.  This included setting target dates for each build stage.  The other mentors gave the engineering group additional ideas to keep in mind, and we discussed some of the students’ BOT concepts.  A week later, the class instructor informed me the other mentors decided they couldn’t commit to helping out.  He asked me if I thought the class should wait until the next competition and try again.  After a little thinking and few head scratches, my reply was “NO!  We’ll just have to come up with a plan to get this done.”

I told the students we’d have to stick with a basic design, and they’d need to put detailed drawings together.  They sent me drawings to review, and I sent them back if they needed correction or were missing dimensions, hole sizes, etc.  I found a few shops that committed to helping by simply making the details per these drawings.  Once the details were complete, Mike Bozzo of T&R Welding agreed to do the needed welding.  He let the class come in for a first-hand experience with aluminum welding, watching the operation wearing welding hoods.  Some of the students even tried their luck at a little welding.  There were a few hick-ups, as with any design and build project, but the BOT was ready for go-time on time!

Then it was competition day – the first one for the CJ Eagles BOTS team and for me.  The monster wedge design the class developed (no weapon, just mass) was named “Swiss Cheese.”  Out of about 30 BOTS teams, the CJ team powered Swiss Cheese to third place!

I’ve now mentored CJ for four years, and I don’t really feel like a mentor.  More so, I’m another team member working with the classes and the engineering instructor.  Considering most of the teams are made up of juniors and seniors, I usually get to work with each of them for two years. My best one on one conversation with a student happened while he was escorting me to the classroom on one of my visits.  It was a short conversation, but as good as it gets.  I asked, “So, are you stoked for this?”  The instant reply was, “This is the only reason why I’m in the engineering class!”

As a part of the school’s vast STEMM program, CJ now has a new and modernized engineering classroom.  It includes modular work stations, a surround of dry-erase boards, and a working lab area with a few metal working tools.  It’s a perfect atmosphere for brainstorming, trouble shooting, and problem solving as a group.  Last fall, we put these amenities to use as the class re-vamped the first and second generation BOTS for competition.  This spring we’re looking to build the next generation BOT from scratch.  Some of the students I’ve worked with are now in college majoring in engineering.  Hopefully they’ll be back to the Dayton area to pursue their careers.  I certainly hope the BOTS experience had an impact on their decision!

So if you or your company have thoughts about mentoring a school or team…it’s a great experience.  If you want to see the ongoing growth in manufacturing in the Dayton area, put this on your bucket list!

Ohio Robotics Spring Xtreme BOTS Competition
Saturday, March 22nd
WSU Nutter Center Arena
3640 Colonel Glenn Highway