Members of the Bluestone Robotics Team met with the staff of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) at their facility in South Boston on Thursday, November 29, 2018. The purpose of the visit was two fold. First, the 11 team members and 3 mentors had the opportunity to see the facilities and opportunities available through SVHEC. Second, the SVHEC staff members assessed the team’s educational and support needs for their FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) efforts.

The staff at SVHEC included Stephanie Robinson, Scottie Clowdis, Brad Overby, and Ricky Gordon. These individuals conducted interactive discussions with the students that covered Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Numerical Control (CNC) manufacturing and Information Technology (IT) management.

After an initial assessment discussion, the team saw an example of how CAD programming can assist in the design process. Using CAD could lessen the time needed to design our Robot Skrappy each year and eliminate the trial and error that consumes time during the brief 6 week build program. The use of more effective IT management of final design elements, programming and operating mechanisms from one given year to the next could support efficiency and continuing improvement . For instance, the team develops a winch to lift the robot for a given configuration which is game dependent and needs the same or similar winch three years later. The basic design is retrievable for modification and production.

After initial construction of the robot last year, the students determined that modification of an off the shelf motor mount was necessary. The Center machined a motor mount for the team at the request of Bill Wilson. The staff demonstrated the CNC machine (a water jet) that was used for this purpose as well as the other CNC machines located in the Center.

One of the highlights of the visit was the tour of the Mechatronics Lab. The various elements that comprise an FRC robot; electric distribution, pneumatics, sensors, and computer control are all taught at the Center. The team observed a mockup of an industrial process in action. The students were able to recognize that many of the same elements were used and integrated into Skrappy. The elements while similar were integrated in a more comprehensive way than we have used and thus presented an opportunity of us to move ahead in the learning and competition process.

This was a beneficial visit and showed the students the value of CAD, CNC manufacturing and the similarity between FRC robot construction and real life industry. We need to explore further efforts to take advantage of the capabilities at SVHEC.