Southco Sponsors Award-Winning FIRST FRC Team

The Southco Honeoye Falls Facility is nurturing the next generation of engineers through the sponsorship of a team of local high-school students, who not only competed in this year’s regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), but took the top honor against 41 teams.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. FIRST sponsors events for K-12 students which are designed to help them discover and develop a passion for science, engineering, technology and math.

As the main focus of this year’s FRC, Honeoye’s team, the SUITS (Students Utilizing Ingenuity Technology and Science) created a robot that they used to participate in this year’s tournament, which required them to compete against other teams by executing a series of tasks for points.

The robot, which was designed and completely built within six weeks according to strict FIRST deadlines, also helped the team to secure the Rookie Highest Seed Award in addition to their victory at the Finger Lakes Regional Competition at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in March.

Building a robot in only six weeks was no easy task. However, when it comes to design, Southco’s engineers are always up for a challenge. It’s only natural that Honeoye Falls’ own Rick Langkamp, Manager of Manufacturing Technology and New Product Development, would jump at the opportunity to mentor the SUITS and help them design, execute and test a robot in such a short time.

“It’s a very aggressive timeframe,” said Langkamp, who has over 28 years of experience with Southco. “It would be a stretch even if I brought it in here as a regular project.”

Langkamp is no stranger to FIRST – his own son has participated in the FIRST LEGO-League, a category for kids grades 4-8. Langkamps’s main focus as a mentor for the SUITS team is assisting them in the programming for the control system of the robot.

Langkamp, who has been with Southco since he was an engineering co-op, works primarily with mechanical and electronic controls and sensors, focusing on new product development and new manufacturing processes. He was impressed with the quality and sophistication of the software and full kit of electronic parts available to his team, which are provided by FIRST sponsors and are available to them for a full 12 months.

“We never had access to this cool stuff when I was a kid,” said Langkamp. “Imagine the potential of kids who come up through the program and what they could contribute to the future of engineering,” he said.

Southco’s products played a key role in the development of the team’s robot, said Langkamp. Scrap metal from Southco’s production facility, fasteners, latching hardware and other machined parts from the Honeoye Falls facility were used in the robot’s construction. Southco’s Information Technology (IT) team even donated several old laptops for the team to use when programming the robot.

The SUITS’ robot has a variety of advanced features and is designed to be as close to a real engineering experience as possible. Langkamp said that the robot-building process offered by FIRST is unique in that:

  • The frame is typically built from aluminum channel , similar to 80/20 aluminum.
  • A programmable logic controller from National instruments is included in the control system (These are programmed in Labview, Java, or C++).
  • A wireless network access point is incorporated, as all robots are required to run on a wireless network during the competition.
  • Electronics includes variable speed motors , switches, solenoids, servomechanisms and lighting.
  • Many robots incorporate a camera and vision system as well as ultrasonic sensors, gyros and accelerometers.
  • Teams also have the option of using a pneumatic compressor and air cylinders.
  • It is up to each FRC team to decide how they want to design their robot using Autocad, Pro- E (CREO) and other software.
  • The teams are held to a budget of $3200, with a maximum allowed robot weight of 120 lbs.

In addition to the robot design, FRC teams are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand” and work together as a team.  With the help of their team leader, Mike Shaughnessy, the SUITS have raised over $21K to pay for their entry fees and travel costs. The SUITS also sell LED light bulbs to support their team.

“It’s just a great program,” said Langkamp. “There is something for everyone because kids involved can choose to do marketing, fundraising and finance, not just engineering.”

Look for the SUITS’ logo, a black shirt with white tie, at the FIRST Championship competition, which will be hosted at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri on April 25-28. The SUITS (Team #3951) will compete against other regional winners as they contend for the top spot in the national competition.

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