This past fall, one of the tool design engineers for cold forming at MFCS Mundelein had the opportunity to volunteer as a mentor for Mundelein High School’s robotics team. He enjoyed the chance to inspire kids and, maybe being a little biased, possibly nudge them to pursue engineering as a career.
About the Mundelein High School’s Robotics Team
The team competes through an international youth organization called FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. FIRST Tech Challenge is a program that gathers high school aged teams for competition, and designs the “challenge” for that season. This season’s competition consisted of a 12’x12′ playing field with two teams of two robots competing against each other by shooting balls into different goals, pressing different buttons to score points for their team, all cumulating in the “end game” consisting of lifting a small yoga ball 3 feet off the ground. This is not a small feat for a robot that is limited in dimensions to 18″x18″x18″.
The Team’s First Season Experience
Mundelein High School has had a robotics team for a couple of years. This season was the first time they participated in this program. From the introduction of the challenge at the start of the school year, until their first competition in November, they had about 11 weeks to design, build, and program their robot from scratch.
It was a balancing act for students to meet after school and juggle their classes and homework. They put in a huge amount of effort to reach this deadline. The team this year had quite a few members that were completely new to robotics and building anything, so it was a great learning opportunity for them to experience everything from using a band saw to coding controllers for the robot.
Starting with design, the students decided on a robot with an arm that would be able to lift wiffle balls and place them in a goal. The team worked diligently to assemble the mechanisms required, and program the controllers to work as intended. The night before the first competition was long, but well spent tweaking the robot and running practice situations.
As with most in manufacturing, duties can be performed well, but it becomes a totally different game when the pressure is on. The first competition turned into quite a whirlwind for the team. They had some electronic issues, and trouble passing the tech inspection before being cleared to compete. That first time on the field, the students quickly realized that their strategy may not have been the best choice. Lifting balls proved to be tedious and slow for the robot. However, the students quickly pivoted and changed their strategy to pushing buttons on lighted “beacons” to score points.
As those in engineering know, any problem to be solved can always look rather simple at the beginning, but prove difficult once the details are unwrapped further. The students were able to pull through all the various setbacks that they encountered and they didn’t give up.
As a mentor for these few months, the tool design engineer helped the students in their endeavor. He found mentoring important and rewarding to give back to the community in different ways. You can check out FIRST (www.firstinspires.org) and what they offer to students interested in technology and problem-solving. With over 140 teams spread across Illinois, they have tons of teams scattered around the country, and there may be a local high school looking for volunteers to help them succeed. These students will be the inventors, scientists, and engineers of the future, so why not invest in them as you have invested in yourself?
Here are a few stats about the Mundelein High School team for this season:
- Team’s record — 6-8-1
- They placed (out of 14): 7th, 4th, and 11th at each of the three qualifying matches.
- At season’s end, they ranked 8th out of 14 in the division and 13th out of 36 in the northern Illinois league.
- The team did not qualify for the state tournament this year, but performed fantastic for their first season.