Monday, December 23, 2019

Eric Leifermann - This is How I Work

This week we are hearing from Eric Leifermann, mentor of team 2826 Wave Robotics. Read our interview with Eric to learn more about him! 

[Responses from November 13, 2019] 

Name: Eric Leifermann
CD Username: Eric:Leifermann
Current Gig/Job: Mechanical Applications Engineer at RB Royal.
Alma Mater/Degree: BS in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Technological University
Current Team(s): 2826 Wave Robotics

Former Team(s): 93 N.E.W Apple Corps 01-05, 857 Superior Roboworks 07-10
Location: Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Hobbies: board games, sports mainly football, soccer, and hockey, but will watch baseball and basketball as well, woodworking, music, watching my 1 year old son learn and problem solve, reading, movies and tv, my dogs Gotham (rottweiler) and Wicket (pitbull).

Are you an alumni: Yes, I am 

What inspired you to do what you do?
Growing up I was taking things apart and putting them back together. My mother likes to tell a story about me taking apart her office chair and putting it back together but not fully secure and laughing when she would sit in it and it would fall apart. So she liked to make sure I wasn't in the house much and was always busy doing something. In the 8th grade I was in a High Mileage Vehicle extracurricular where you build a car and compete to get the best MPG. My club that year built 2 and I ended up being the kid who welded both of the cars' framed together. It was a ton of fun and I learned that working with my hands and designing things is something I really enjoyed. Fast forward to the fall of my freshman year in high school and I had no direction or activity to do, my mom heard about my schools FRC team through her work, as she worked at the main corporate sponsor of the team where all the mentors came from. They had a mentor meeting during lunch and mentioned they were looking for a student who had some welding experience and who might want to join the team. So the next day my mom as she's dropping me off at school tells me to go talk to the tech ed teacher, Mr Schuff, about joining the team. Went and talk to him 5 minutes later and have been hooked ever since. Never welded a single thing on any robot in my 4 years on the team as we switched to different manufacturing techniques that year ha! 

What is your day job and how'd you get there?
I currently work at RB Royal as a Mechanical Applications Engineer. Its part sales, part design engineer, part manufacturing engineer. RB Royal manufactures custom fluid transfer solutions for various industries. We've got part on Harley Davidson motorcycles, John Deere tractors of all sizes, boat motors, Semi truck engines and transmission, and all sorts of other equipment. I've only been at RB Royal since September of this year. Prior to that I worked at Oshkosh Defense for a couple of years, where I was a Design Engineer working on the JLTV Platform team as a Subject Matter Expert on the JLTV. 

I like new challenges and to learn new things so I've had a few jobs since I graduated college and each role has allowed me to learn and each one has been in a completely new industry. I've been an R&D engineer for the non-wovens industry (if you don't know what non-wovens are you use them everyday and you don't even know it google them it's pretty cool technology in how they are made), Manufacturing and Automation Engineer, Project Design engineer, and fresh out of college I was an AmeriCorps VISTA working in Washington DC with FIRST.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
I have a lot of stories with this being my 19th season of FRC coming up, but one of my favorites stories to tell new prospective people is about my very first regional in 2002 at the Midwest Regional at Northwestern University. I had a terrible cold and probably shouldn't had been at the event, but it was the only regional that was my team went to back then and I wasn't involved enough to qualify for going to national championship (that's what it was called back then) down in Disney with the teams so I wasn't going to miss it. I spent a good portion of Thursday practice day laying on the floor in the pits staring at the ceiling, then on Friday sitting in the stands shivering while scouting. Luckily my health improved friday night and Saturday was a great day. But the energy in the venue and seeing all the hard work my team, and everbody elses team put in was life changing. I thought I knew what I wanted to do for a career just from that build season, but THAT event and even being as sick as I was for the majority of it was some of the most fun I've ever had. I like to tell people that FRC is the most fun they've never heard of and that they won't understand until they go to an event, this is the story I use to try and explain why.

What's your favorite FRC game and why?
My favorite game is definitely 2005. The amount of things that you could do in the game was so vast that it was pretty much impossible to do everything that the robots looked SO different from one another compared to any time since. It was a great game for picking an choosing and compromising. I would love to play this game in the new era, though the field would have to be redesigned a bit as 6 robots would not fit on the field. 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
It's cliche but "if you enjoy what you do you'll never work a day in your life". I am in constant search for this balance. I think another good piece of advice I've been given, oddly enough by the same person, is "maturity is about timing." What that means is being aware of your environment and knowing how to act in that situation. A 32 year old man crawling on the floor barking like a dog seems pretty immature, but then you see their young child next to them playing as well, your perspective on their maturity changes. 

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
My favorite robot I didn't help build would be 33 The Killer Bees 2005 robot. They had this cool way to stack tetras (the game piece that year) in their robot and they had this double jointed arm and trident type end effector to grab the tetras off their robot or from the loading station. Their operator controller that year was a button box and it had a button for each position on the arm and next to the button was a picture of what the robot would look like when you pressed the button. Pretty cool/advanced stuff for 2005 FRC. I tried to find a picture but couldn't, so if you're reading this and have a picture of this robot from back then upload it to CD or something. 

Tell us about a time you failed and learned from it. 
The only time you fail is if you don't learn from it. It sounds dumb but I say it all the time to my students on  Wave Fail is an acronym and it stands for First Attempt In Learning. So in that context im failing and learning all the time. If you're afraid to fail you'll never get anywhere in life. 

What advice would you give to your students?

The things I repeatedly tell my students:
-Ask questions early and often
-If you don't want to volunteer for something I'm not going to assign it to you, this isn't school.
-Go to whichever college that is going to give you the most $ or costs the least. At the end of the day a degree is a degree and your drive and life experiences are what's going to set you apart. Don't start life leaps behind because you felt that you had to go to XYZ University and end up in tons of debt. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics?
Never stop chasing your goals. 

What led you to become a mentor?
FRC had a huge impact on my life and put me on a trajectory that I did not see when I was 14 years old. Knowing the impact my mentors had on me, there is a need and want to pass that on to the next generations and to see how I can help change someone's life. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

FRC CAD Collection

We started putting together an FRC CAD collection - - It has over 375 links to FRC robot CAD files from many teams. We wanted something to be able to find robots from different seasons and from different teams.

Please submit CAD links using this form- 2

We know there are other paths for a similar resource to exist and this is far from the best way but it’s a start.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Will Barnickel - This is How I Work

This week we hear from Will Barnickel, mentor for Team 2481 Roboteers for the past 10 years.

[Responses from November 8, 2019]
Name: Will Barnickel
CD Username: barn34
Current Gig/ Job: Sr. Engineer - Caterpillar Manufacturing Automation Research
Alma Mater/Degree: Bradley University - BSME '05, MSME '08
Current Team(s): 2481 Roboteers (2009-present)
Former Team(s): None
Location: Washington, Illinois
Hobbies: Robotics, Tabletop Games, Video Games, AFOL
Are you an alumni: No

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
Growing up, I was put on the accelerated track for mathematics and just naturally gravitated towards science-related stuff. I was always trying to figure out how things worked and why. In sixth grade, my science teacher, Mr. Brewer, utilized educational LEGO kits in his class to teach lessons on basic machine concepts. Being no stranger to LEGO, I blew through the first several lessons worth of material in just a few minutes. Since nobody else was finished, I started to expand on the gearing chains from the lessons and started integrating a mechanical linkage while I waited. 
Mr. Brewer was walking around to help the other kids and he eventually got to the table next to mine. I very vividly remember noticing him do a double-take as he glanced over at me before walking over to ask what I was doing. As I gave my explanation, the corner of his mouth curled up in a crooked smile and he started to shake his head. He then just mumbled to himself "you're gonna make one hell of an engineer some day" and chucked a bit to himself. At that point, I didn't really know what an engineer was, so I was instantly driven to find out. As he started to walk back towards to the front of the class, I simply asked him. In typical fashion, Mr. Brewer didn't even turn back as he responded "I'm sure you'll tell me tomorrow" - he just knew it would be better if I figured it out myself. Sure enough, I looked it up in the library that afternoon. 

As the LEGO kits were distributed in class the following day, my table was skipped. Obviously puzzled, I raised my hand to ask what was up. Mr. Brewer walked over to my table with the same crooked smile he had the day before and asked if I knew what an engineer was that day. As I responded with a simple "yes", he pointed to the back corner of the room. As he began the lesson with the rest of the class, I walked over to find an entirely different kit waiting for me. This one was triple the size of the others and had a much larger lesson book. That became my curriculum for the reminder of the semester. 

As I think back, the lessons learned in that classroom are what started me down the path of becoming the engineer I am today. Mr Brewer's efforts as a teacher are also what inspire me to continue to give back as a FIRST mentor. 

What is your day job, and how'd you get there?
I'm currently a senior engineer in the manufacturing automation research group for Caterpillar. On a day-to-day basis, my primary projects investigate various industrial robotics technologies and develop automation solutions for Caterpillar manufacturing applications. My recent project work revolves around the integration of collaborative robots to augment manual processes. Those are all just fancy engineering descriptions for getting to do cool stuff with 6-axis robot arms. I've been in the current position for almost 2 years, but have been working at the Caterpillar Tech Center, primarily in various automation research roles, for nearly 12 years now. 

I earned my original position at Caterpillar following a working partnership with Bradley University. My graduate thesis was on object detection and collision warning algorithm development and this was research that aligned nicely with the work the Caterpillar automation team was doing. This provided the opportunity to work closely with the Caterpillar team while simultaneously completing my graduate work. It was an outstanding working relationship that resulted in a great career path with Caterpillar research following graduation. 

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics? 
I have a lot of great stories from the past 11 years, which makes it incredibly difficult to narrow down to the moment, based on recent events, the story that most jumps out to me is from the 2013 season. 

For Ultimate Ascent 2481 designed our most complex and versatile robot up to that point. It was one of the few robots that season that could hit the shoot, climb, and dump trifecta. The 2013 Crossroads Regional was our second competition of that season. We learned a lot from our previous performances and started out the event well. We finished day one of quals in 1st place and we were excited heading into day 2. Our friends from 868 had a killer cycling robot that year and we were hopeful to get the opportunity to pair up with them for elims. As fate would have it, Murphy's law kicked us square in the jaw early on day 2 and we struggled to get things repaired over the final few matches. We headed into alliance selections ready to go, but our showing that morning was so bad it justifiably took us off the top of the pick lists as we dropped all the way to the sixth. We ended up captaining the number 5 alliance into the semi-finals and ran into the number 1 alliance captained by 868. 

With our mechanical issues resolved, our alliances were very well matched, and we only manage to lose match 1 by a narrow margin. We had match 2 under control until everything changed dramatically in the closing seconds. As we were perched on the top corner of the pyramid after a successful climb and dump, I noticed something ominously twitch. As the final seconds counted down, our alliance partners sprinted into the bottom rungs to get their level 1 climbs, as usual. In this match, the results of those normal impacts to the pyramid ended up knocking us completely loose. At that moment, everything seemed to transition to slow motion as I watched our robot topple backwards and do a complete "Peter Pan" off the top of the pyramid. It hit with a sickening, ground shaking thud as it landed directly on the climbing claw after the acrobatic dismount. Fortunately, the fall didn't impact the result on the scoreboard and we still managed to force a deciding match 3. That also meant we only had a few minutes to get our robot repaired and back on the field.

The drive team wheeled the robot into a curtained off area next to the field, and the entire pit crew frantically got to work inspecting and repairing the robot as fast as possible. I got a glimpse of the damage and noticed the climbing claw was completely split at the weld points and the pivot for our shooter appeared bent out of alignment. With that damage, I was pretty sure that meant we could't climb and put a big question mark on if we were capable of shooting. As I backed away to give the crew room to work, I was then rapidly engulfed by members of countless other teams handing me parts and asking if there was anything we needed. In perfect FIRST fashion, 868 even came over to offer their help to get us back on the filed opposite them for match 3. Collectively, it was the most incredible display of gracious professionalism that I've ever experienced in my 11 years in FIRST. Unquestionably, everyone that contributed in those events that day made Woodie proud. 

Through everyone's support, we managed to get the robot repaired enough to get it on the field for match 3. If we somehow found a way to survive and advance, we had a change for an impromptu fix of the climbing claw prior to the finals. In the match we did well primarily defending 868, but without bulk of our contributed offense our alliance just couldn't pull off the upset. As our drive team was carrying our robot off the field like a fallen gladiator after the match, the ovation we received from the crowd was amazing. That's yet another great testament to the class of the FIRST competition. 

868 advanced to the finals and their alliance won the event after 2 more matches. Their well-deserved victory was awesome and celebrated, but I'm not sure if it was possible for any team to have more fun at Crossroads 2013 that we did losing in those crazy semi-finals. 

What's your favorite FRC game and why?  
My favorite game is easily 2014's Aerial Assist. The game is still the closest the FRC competition has ever gotten to that true 'sports' feel and provided a very spectator friendly experience. As a strategy coach/mentor, this game also required the most alliance synergy to be effective and provided opportunities for building great alliance relationships through this coordination. We've always been a team that puts a lot of focus on that cohesive alliance experience, so this game was a perfect fit for that approach. 

The general concept and rules were also simple enough that you didn't need to reference a massive appendix of definitions to understand how to play, but still provided a lot of organic strategic depth. The strategic layers that unlocked at the various levels of game competition was awesome to experience as the season evolved. I honestly feel that this game provides a great foundation that could be further developed and expanded upon for a broader robotic sports competition 

What's that best advice you've ever received
Don't sweat the small stuff. 

There's a lot of things in life that are completely out of your control. If there's nothing you can do to impact something at that moment, it's a complete waste of your time, energy, and sanity to direct your attention there. Instead, focus that effort towards a productive response and gain a better understanding of what you can do to improve the situation moving forward. That's always the better long-term play for the end game of life. 

How did you get involved in FIRST? 
Caterpillar is a huge supporter of STEM outreach and FIRST robotics sponsorships are one of the primary programs. A presentation about FIRST was given at one of the new-hire orientation events and I inquired about getting involved immediately after. Caterpillar sponsors several teams in the greater Peoria area, so finding a team fit was the next challenge. Through 2 completely independent sources, essentially simutaneously, 2481 was recommended. This was 2009, so they were heading into their second full season and looking for professional mentors. I curiously attended a build season easy that season, not knowing what I was getting myself into, and have been involved every since. 

What advice would you give to your high school self? 
-Don't be afraid to fail.

-Never sacrifice your own happiness and principles to appease those of others.

-Invest in Apple, Amazon, and Netflix. 

Tell us about a time you failed and learned from it. 
For Ultimate Ascent in 2013, 2481 sacrificed multiple areas to get the full shoot, climb, and dump capability package integrated together. Subsequently, that forced us to suffer from the dreaded "jack of all trades, master of none" syndrome. The design and execution of this robot combined for one of the best learning experiences we've had as a team. 

First, we misjudged the effective time requirement for climbing to level 3 compared to cycling for more disc shooting. This lead to a much more improved approach to strategic design in following seasons where we very rigorously break tasks down and focus on maximizing our points per second potential. All design decisions are now heavily influenced and effectively driven by impact on this metric.

Second, one of our main design tradeoffs was shortening the wheelbase to provide more stability while climbing up the corner and allowing for a disc dump at the top. Coupling that with the weight of the folding shooter integration and that resulted in a design that has a Cg a bit higher than we wanted. That effectively cost us a win at the Wisconsin regional that year as we ended up tipping after a midfield collision early in finals match 3. We added a self-righting mechanism immediately following that event, but it still cost us at a critical moment. Design tradeoffs that impact Cg are now evaluated more appropriately and performance requirements are used for developing extra safeguards in software (speed-based extension limits, for example).

Finally, and most importantly, we fully learned why the "jack of all trades, master of none" design philosophy is not an effective winning strategy for FIRST competitions. Our design goals for every game since have always placed a focus on identifying at least one area that we strive to be among the best at. If we must sacrifice complete functionality in one area to become better in another, that's preferable. There's a lot that goes into identifying the effective costs/benefits and prioritizing them, but they're always an effort to continue to move the needle forward on our most advantageous design feature. If you are among the best at something, there will always be a place for you on an elimination alliance, and in a much-coveted role if you focus on the right area. Perfect example of this was in our key design decisions for the 2016 season. We made the choices to fully forego going under the low bar and climbing in the endgame to avoid having to sacrifice any shooting capability or consistency. Most teams weren't willing to give one or both capabilities up and we were able to take advantage by continuing to fully focus on improving the accuracy of our shooter from distance over the course of the entire season. Circling back to the first point, we also evaluated the point per second effort in climbing versus the additional benefits of continuing to shoot for higher capture potential. The tradeoff was that we then knew we had to work harder on building proper alliance synergies to fill the capability gaps we had. 

What advice would you give to your students? 
Embrace the learning opportunities that come your way in everything you do. When something works, don't forget to still look for what you can learn. Strive for continuous improvement and never be satisfied with "good enough". When you experience failure, don't dwell on the negative, focus your attention on what you can learn from it. 

In engineering, a test that fails still produces a result. That result tells you one more way something doesn't work or how not to do something in the future. That information can be just as valuable, if not more, than what can be learned from a successful test. Make sure to document those failures just as you would the successes. Those same principles apply to my life, as well. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics? 
It's better to concede a mistake to learn and grow from it, than compound one by trying to continually fix something fundamentally broken. 

What led you to become a mentor? 

For me, Mr. Brewer's efforts to open my eyes to engineering at an early age did a lot to give me direction. It's not uncommon for young people to have difficulty identifying what they want to pursue for an eventual career. Students that could have an interest in engineering fields may not be fully aware of what their opportunities are. Parents, teachers, and guidance counselors can all be limited by what knowledge they have gained through their own experiences, connections, and backgrounds. I'm thrilled to be able to volunteer and act as a conduit they can direct those prospective engineering students towards. I know how much the bit of guidance I received meant to me, so I want to do all I can to help provide that for a new generation. I feel incredibly lucky to be even a small part of helping so many students over the years identify and embrace their desired career path.