Insta-connection – How a Local Robotics Team Partnered With a CNC Machine Company

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Insta-Connection

I first learned of DATRON Dynamics in January 2019 after they liked one of my photos on Instagram. Curious to know what this company was about, I did some research that lead me to online reviews of their company and products. I was impressed and intrigued by how easy their machines seemed to use, plus I have been wishing for a CNC machine in my parents’ machine shop since I was ten-years-old. So, I proceeded to request a quote for all of their machines because of their capabilities and due to the fact that I was developing a community FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team in my community, I was dreaming about running some sort of fundraising campaign to raise the funds to buy a DATRON machine. All that dreaming lead to me requesting more information about the machines in the DATRON lineup. Since I’m a minor, I provided my parent’s business phone number and name to make sure that I would be taken seriously. I thought that if they knew I was a 15-year-old high-schooler, they might not respond.

My Son Did What?!?

A few days later, my dad received a call from DATRON while I was in school to discuss my quote request. My dad explained that I was only 15 and was just super interested in CNC machines and apologized for leading them on since I definitely didn’t have the budget to afford a CNC machine of any kind. A few minutes later, I heard my dad and the DATRON associate having a good laugh before hanging up the phone. About 30 minutes after the initial phone call, my father received another call from the same phone number. This time it was from DATRON’s West Coast Division Manager, Chris Hopkins. Again, my father offered an apology for wasting their time and explained that I am in the beginning stages of building an FRC team and purely window shopping. This caught Chri’s attention as he was familiar with FRC and has met Dean Kamen, the creater of the Segway and founder of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST).

To my surprise, Chris extended an invitation for my team and I to go out and visit their Livermore facilities after our build season. That was amazing, but I admit I was a little bummed that we couldn’t have met sooner/ I had just finished manually machining gearbox plates out of aluminum and that process that took me over three and a half hours to mill.

A visit to the DATRON facilities proved to be tricky as they are located a few hours away, and none of us students can legally drive with other students in their cars. So we planned a few dates, and none of them worked out. Then a couple more…and the same result. I was beginning to think that we would never be able to line up our drivers and teammates’ schedules to meet Chris.

One Day In Late August

Finally after texting a series of dates that would work for one another, we had one date that would work! August 30th, 2019. We finally scheduled, confirmed, and synced our schedules and we were ready to go. I was able to bring six team members to visit their West coast facility in Livermore and it was awesome! I was given the opportunity to use the MLCube to make multiple gearbox plates (yes the ones that took me 3.5 hours were CNC’d in less than five minutes)! The machines were unbelievably precise and fast. Walking into the shop I had never used a CNC machine, so to be able to walk up to it and operate it with a few taps on the screen was amazing! Operating the controller was literally like using a smartphone or a tablet. It made for a fantastic field-trip and had us pumped to make our fundraising a priority to get one of these machines in our workspace.

How Much is This CNC Machine Going to Cost Me?

My initial goal was to obtain a quote so that I could move on to fundraising and showing team supporters why we need one of these machines for ourselves. However, what Chris offered was WAY beyond my initial expectations. Chris extended an invitation to partner with DATRON Dynamics! This meant that they were willing to be part of OtterBots #7667 and our future success. Being that I have had a tremendous amount of unsuccessful experiences in starting my community team, I was completely in shock. The hands-on opportunity provided to our team made us want a DATRON CNC machine even more! We were all thrilled when Chris invited us to return when we had something in CAD ready to cut on a DATRON.

Lets Make Some Chips!

My second visit to DATRON Dynamics West in Livermore was even more fun as I was able to mill two sets of 2-speed gearbox plates for our robots drive train. Once again, I was greeted by Chris. This time he invited his friend CJ, from Autodesk to assist me in Fusion 360. Not only were we able to train on a high speed cnc mill, we were also going to be given a hands on lesson in Fusion!

The positive impact from this partnership is hard to put into words but I do believe it’s a win-win as our mission statements are similar, and our philosophies are shared. As a young FRC team, with members ranging from 7th to 12th grade, it’s not everyday that you get the benefit of first-hand opportunities in the world of modern-day manufacturing. Not to mention being able to use DATRON’s awesome machines to produce higher precision parts so quickly. I believe our partnership will provide DATRON with future evangelists as we are introducing their technology to younger minds. If I had to sum the partnership up, I’d say that

“We are about building up people as much as robots.”

Looking Forward – 2020

We have just kicked off our second build and competition season with an exciting partnership with DATRON Dynamics West, and our team is in the beginning phases of a trade-study for how our 2020 competition robot will be designed and fabricated. We have continued conversations with Chris and fellow associates at DATRON as we move forward in development and fabrication. We can’t thank Chris and DATRON enough and are ready to return to DATRON Dynamics West in Livermore whenever they’ll have us.