If you could 3D print robot parts, how would VEX change?

My mind was wandering the other day and I was thinking about how much 3D printing has gotten so much cheaper and easier… What do you think VRC would be like if teams were allowed to 3D print parts?

For one, I think it’d make people plan out and CAD their designs more, to reduce the amount of “tinkerbots.” Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing though…

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I think 3D printing would open up a whole host of opportunities for teams everywhere - especially since plastics are easy to print, can be any shape you want. It would certainly add another “dimension” to building, where you’re now also looking at the different types of printing, structures, materials, and working in CAD to reallly create devices that are going to help your robot. It does also offer an “easy way out” for some things, if we were allowed to 3d print i’m not sure if we would have discovered “locked omnis”, people might have just decided that they could 3d print a large center wheel and then stretch rubber around it or something.

I personally would love to see 3d printing allowed for functional parts, but our school doesn’t have a 3d printer (lol).

I certainly see your point about giving an easy way out, but at the same time, teams would have to learn how to use CAD and design for 3D printing, which is certainly a skill set of its own. 3D printed plastic (at least the PLA that I use) isn’t very strong compared to the VEX gears and wheels, though, so teams would still have to use those parts (I wouldn’t foresee people using 3D printed wheels due to strength concerns).

I bought my printer for less than the cost of a v5 brain. While it can’t print anything larger than 5" on a side, it still works very well and would fit in the budget of pretty much any team. Maybe some sort of rule about sizing and plastics (can only use PLA plastic, no more than 4" on any dimension or something like that) would help even the playing field?

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You would definitely see cooler designs, and a lot less slop. It’d basically be like vex u.

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This wouldn’t be so good in terms of trying to create a playing field that is fair. Teams with access 3D printers would be so far ahead in build quality versus teams who do not have access to 3D printers that I feel like it could almost be an unfair advantage.

Though, making 3D printing legal would do absolute wonders for

  • Getting robots built faster with good build quality from the get-go

  • Creating larger incentive to learn CAD

  • Increasing robot diversity in competition

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I’ve that if you have access to basic tooling such as a bandsaw, drill press, etc. you can most likely afford some form of printer, and other teams should be able to source a printer, whether it means getting parts done on shapeways or a similar service, or going to a makerspace/school nearby that has a printer. I don’t see a 3D printer itself as very cost prohibitive, as the savings found by using less parts probably also sums to the price of the printer and its filament. After all, printers that are cheaper than the brain are actually quite good nowadays.

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I have had this discussion a lot, and in fact I made a document a couple years ago when the “Rumor” for VEX U was to become the VEX Unlimited Division. Which is essentially what VEX U finally became (Other then it is only locked down to college now).

I think being able to 3D print is only quarter of the equation to cleaning up the robot designs. I think the one quarter is the craftsmanship, another part would be machining (CNC), and finally cable, program management, good sensor and motor placement with a engineer notebook to really finish off a good robot. Having the ability to CNC items along with 3D printing is an amazing feature.

When I competed (a few years ago now) every time we would make a hole we would throw the piece in a vise on the drill press, no doing it with the dewalt. This kept everything super straight, we would de-bur the metal on the press right away and finish it up with a table top grinding wheel. I know of teams that even go as far as putting items on a CNC to make sure the modifications are very tight tolerance.

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