Cornell AUV Team Improves Production Process with DATRON


DATRON’s mission is “To deliver complete solutions with a promise of quality and partnership that enriches the lives of our customers, employees, and the community around us.” For the last two years, that community aspect has included producing autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) parts for a Cornell University robotics team.

The Cornell AuV team competes in RoboSub competitions and has won seven times.
The Cornell AUV Team has a long history of RoboSub competition with 7 wins.

The Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team (CUAUV) is an entirely undergraduate-run student robotics team, consisting of over 45 students from numerous academic disciplines. Since its creation in 1999, the CUAUV team has created twenty-three unique vehicles and has competed in nineteen competitions.

The Odysseus AUV produced by a Cornell team featuring parts made with a DATRON high-speed milling machine
Odysseus AUV designed by Cornell Team with parts on left being machines with a DATRON MLCube.

Machining vs. WaterJet for AUV Manufacturing

During the production of parts for their most recent designs, the team felt that the waterjet process used to make them was both time-consuming and less accurate than they wanted.  Cuyler Crandall, Co-lead of the Mechanical Submarine Team explains, “For the past three years we’d gotten the frames done on a waterjet and then manually drilled and tapped all their holes. But, the time that post-machining takes, combined with the more loose tolerances of waterjet, were holding back the frame’s design.”

Ajax AUV designed by Cornell's team and made with parts machined on a DATRON high speed milling machine.
Cornell’s Ajax AUV with parts on left machined on the MLCube.

Fusion 360 & DATRON for AUV Design & Production

Fortunately, at a robotics event, the CUAUV team found out about DATRON. Crandall says “I was introduced to DATRON by an alumnus of my high school robotics team and learned that they had made a number of parts for a local RoboSub team.” This inspired the CUAUV team to collaborate with DATRON on part designs using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software. Fusion 360 was ideal for sharing files and updates in real-time.

DATRON MLCube high-speed milling machine used by the Cornell AUV team to machine aluminum parts.
The DATRON MLCube high-speed milling machine featuring DATRON “next” touch-screen control.

Once parts were designed in Fusion 360, they were machined from aluminum sheet material on the DATRON MLCube. The sheet material was held with an integrated vacuum table with an air-permeable sacrificial sheet between the material and the top of the vacuum table. This allowed for multiple parts to be cut from a single sheet with through holes being milled and threaded all in one setup.

DATRON vacuum table has a sacrificial layer that allows for milling through holes and cutting parts free from the material.
An integrated vacuum table on the DATRON MLCube provides almost 30″ x 40″ of work area and allows for milling through the material.

Crandall says “DATRON was particularly helpful in solving the most difficult part of the build cycle, which was manufacturing frame pieces for the vehicles. Our tolerance issues were alleviated by using the MLCube and the process was more efficient with the vacuum tables.”

Mid cap of Cornell's Odysseus AUV with aluminum parts made with a DATRON high-speed machining center.
The mid-cap of the Odysseus AUV on an aluminum frame that even includes logos machined on the DATRON MLCube.

Cornell AUV Design Competition Success!

Overall, the CUAUV team puts in 1,000 plus hours of in-house manufacturing each year on their autonomous underwater vehicles. Those efforts are put on display when the team competes in AUVSI’s International Robosub Competition which takes place at the Transdec Naval Facility in San Diego, California.

Robosub is comprised of over 50 teams, each of which designs and builds their own Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) which autonomously navigate through a series of tasks such as: ramming buoys, dropping weighted darts, firing torpedoes, and more. To date, the CUAUV team has successfully navigated those tasks to be crowned RoboSub Champions seven times.

Chris Hopkins, Division Manager at DATRON West says, “It has been great working with the CUAUV team. Cuyler is originally from our area and he’s very hands-on and passionate about manufacturing and making. Even with our day to day work, it’s important to take time to help the community and share our resources with the next generation of makers.”

Cornell AUV Logo that was milled on a DATRON high-speed CNC machining center
Cornell AUV Logo machined on a DATRON MLCube high-speed mill.

Enriching the community isn’t just a saying for DATRON. We’re continuously working with local vendors, universities, and have recently partnered with Autodesk to advance American Manufacturing in the “factory of the future” at MxD in Chicago, IL.

To learn more about the Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) team please click here.

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About the Author

Eric is a Marketing Specialist at DATRON Dynamics, Inc. who is involved in marketing strategy, automation, and content development including video of machining applications and instruction.