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Engineering, Robotics, and Epic Battles

Lisa Winter is an engineer, roboticist, and BattleBots veteran. That means she not only uses CAD and CAM in her regular business projects, but also in her hobby ventures and building destructive robots as well.

“I use Fusion360 to model personal projects, concepts for work, and even BattleBots. Fusion is so versatile; I design parts to be machined on my CNC, but also simple little items for around my house, or for my bike, that I can 3D print in under an hour,” she explains.

For most projects, Winter starts by doing a fast 2D sketch, “as if it were a visual PRD.” Then she moves to CAD to create all the different parts, where she pays close attention to designing for maufacturability. “I’ll spend most of my time placing the components, and making sure that the design can be manufactured, has a good user interface, can withstand the environment it’s designed for, etc. Maybe half the time I’ll use CAM, and the other half I send it to the 3D printer. It all depends on what the part is for.”

There are a number of reasons that CAD is important for building robots, and Winter has seen them all. “There are many things to consider when designing a BattleBot, and if you forget one your bot probably won’t last long. Your bot needs to be designed for offense, defense, stability, repairability, adaptability, and even appearance,” she explains. “I love putting my designs into CAD because I can iterate endlessly on spatial alignment and see potential collisions without wasting any money or resources on physical parts. Robotics can be quite exploratory, and it’s often hard to envision concepts if they are only sketched in 2D.”

For her most recent 250lb robot, Mega Tento from Season 2 of BattleBots, Winter CNCed the entire chassis. “One of the major reasons for doing CAD was that it would be very fast to make spare parts,” she explains. “For smaller personal and/or work projects I usually send my design to the 3D printer first, because that way I can do lots of fast, cheap iterations. Once I get an iteration I like, then I’ll do the CAM”

“CAD makes revisions easy. If I find that my bolts are too short, I can simply import a longer one from the in-app McMaster button. I also love designing in CAD because it’s so easy to go from model to physical prototype. Once I am happy with the model I can press one button to send the design to my 3D printer, or I can go to the CAM tab and get my model ready for the Tormach CNC.”

Being an engineer and roboticist has its challenges. Winter says, “The first thing that comes to mind is time. There is never enough time, and I always have fun projects I want to work on. Sometimes there are opportunities to outsource, but it’s tricky as a designer and builder to feel comfortable doing that.”

Designing robots requires you to wear a number of different hats – everything from electrical and mechanical engineer to RC expert and quality control.

Winter didn’t have the bandwidth to enter a robot to fight in the current season of BattleBots, but she was a judge. “Being at BattleBots without a robot for the first time ever was a bit unsettling, but it was super fun being a judge and seeing all of my robot builder friends.” Even though she didn’t build a battling robot this year, Winter is still involved in robotics outside of her engineering day job. “I was introduced to a FIRST Robotics Team who was in need of a mentor, and so I’ve been building robots with them. I’ve also been inspired to build my own Power Wheels Race car for the next San Mateo Maker Faire.”

Keep an eye out for Lisa as she continues to make her presence known in both the worlds of robotics and engineering.

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