We’re diving right into the new year here at Onshape, a PTC business.

As an Innovation Engineer for the PTC Education team, I look forward to prepping educators and students for the upcoming semester and for some of my favorite events: FIRST Robotics Competition. 

It’s already time to rev up those motors for the next season, too. The 2022 FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff is January 8, 2022, so there’s still time to hammer out details and get your team ready. 

I’ve already made the case for educators and mentors to use cloud-native CAD for quick collaboration and iterations of ideas, but I wanted to share some more tips on how to best use Onshape to go above and beyond for the 2022 season. 

In the webinar, “Collaborate with CAD Using Onshape in FIRST”, I discuss with PTC Education Tech Services Engineer Drew Bennett three tips on how to organize and coordinate the process of designing a robot and what Onshape tools will make everything easier. (Fun fact: We’re both FRC alumni!)

One of the amazing things about FIRST competitions is that your team has to go through the same design steps as professional engineers – an incredible feat that develops skills long before entering the professional world.

Let’s dive right into the three tips to get your build season into gear (by using Onshape, of course).

1. Designing in a Single Document vs. Multiple

Two approaches to robot design: single-document or multi-document.
Take a look at our two suggested approaches to designing robots in Onshape.

There are two ways to approach robot design: designing in a single document or splitting it up into multiple documents. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each so you can decide what will fit your team’s needs. 

A single-document design in Onshape will contain all components and assemblies for the robot. Assemblies, part studios, and drawings will be organized into folders by subassemblies. 

This approach helps teams keep CAD data in one location, dependent assemblies will get automatic updates, in-context modeling is easier, and getting started is very simple. 

On the other hand, complex robots will have longer loading times, comments from team members can get easily overwhelming, control over previous changes and version control gets watered down, and things like parts can get scattered around easily. 

Our recommendation: Use this approach if the team is new and relatively small (about 8 design members or less). 

The multiple-document approach splits up assemblies that will be placed into a shared folder. Each assembly, part studio, and drawing in a subassembly will be in a document. This approach utilizes Onshape’s version control features to allow for more complex in-context modeling. 

The benefits to this approach include faster loading times, finer version control for each subassembly, document-specific comments, and ease of directing students to the document they need to work on. 

Since this approach is more complex, some of the drawbacks include the need to have a dedicated student or mentor to set up and monitor the document structure, small changes still need versions to be created, and there are more possibilities for broken or outdated references. 

Our recommendation: Use this approach if the team is experienced and has more than 8 design members. 

Watch our webinar to see examples of both these approaches. 

Bonus tip: Make a team account that is tied to the team’s contact email instead of an individual’s email address. Sign up for the Onshape Educator Plan, which will allow you to create a Classroom for your team. If you ensure that all documents your team creates are owned by the team’s Classroom, this will allow team leaders to control and access all documents – and they won’t get lost when team members graduate.

2. Use FIRST Community Resources

Designing and building a robot takes a lot of work.

Members of the FIRST community have developed resources to take some of that menial math work out of the equation. You can further take advantage of these resources by linking to them in an Onshape tab. To do this, use the Onshape Link Tab app that will allow you to input a URL into an Onshape viewing window. 

We recommend using these resources:

JVN’s Mechanical Design Calculator Google SpreadsheetJVN’s Mechanical Design Calculator Google Spreadsheet

3. Use the Best CAD for Robotics

Onshape tools, like being able to import Parts Libraries and creating custom features, can make the robot-creation process seamless and fun. Onshape features make it one of the best CAD for robotics.

Teams are able to import already-made components used in FIRST competitions.

  • Send an email to first@ptc.com to access useful parts for the FIRST Tech Challenge. (Thanks to Team 2901 for putting this together!) 

  • Use the MKCAD app from the Onshape App Store to import parts commonly used in FIRST Robotics Competition. Many of these parts are configurable.

FeatureScript is also an important tool to help teams define their own features. Teams are also able to use FeatureScripts created by others in the FIRST community, like Julia’s FeatureScripts. 

Ready. Set. Create!

By using cloud-native CAD, plus all of the tools created by the FIRST community, your team will be set up for another successful season. Let us know about any breakthroughs, fun discoveries, and more by mentioning us on Twitter.

Ready to integrate CAD into your robotics team? Join Onshape for Education to get your team started. 

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