Steel Hawks Robotics Team: Cutting Their Way into More Innovation

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During mid-November, the Steel Hawks Robotics team was granted a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, whose microcomputer software is very new to technology. Unlike the famous and popular 3D printers, a CNC machine does not simply create parts by printing filament–it does the complete opposite.

The CNC machine enables 3D printers to cut through stronger, more durable materials such as metals and wood. In doing so, the CNC instructs the printers to bring designs to life, presenting itself as an useful tool to engineers worldwide. Due to its heavy pricing, however, this technology is not easy to obtain, and many do not find it affordable. The Steel Hawks were recently introduced to the CNC system during last September’s Maker Faire in New York City, where companies displayed hundreds of different products to the public. There, the Steel Hawks found a new addition to their family of machines – the ShopBot CNC machine.

Physics teacher and Robotics coach Joel Heitman explained, “Before the CNC, we used 3D printing to prototype parts for the robot and then we asked for assistance in producing those parts from our corporate sponsors that had limited time to produce parts for the team.”

With the addition of the new machine, the team will be exposing themselves to new fields of engineering. They plan on using it to create specific parts during build season, a six week period in which FIRST robotics teams must design and build their competition robot.

Senior Robotics Captain Marcus Barbu stated, “The CNC will allow us to speed up our prototyping and production times, letting us build a more robust robot more quickly.” The team would be capable of creating or recreating high quality parts at a cheaper expense and more exciting experiences in just hours. Currently, they are training robotics team members in the software necessary to run the machine.

Mr. Heitman added, “[The CNC] will also increase the number of students who will have the opportunity to learn computer aided design (CAD) both in class and through the team, as CAD is an integral part of the manufacturing process.”

Not only is the CNC machine going to benefit the production of the final robot during this year’s competition season, but Steel Hawks members will get an opportunity to experience what it feels like to be part of the next generation of innovators.