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Discovery Channel’s Battlebots: SawBlaze

June 30th, 2021

Manufacturing custom-made parts to the highest quality standards on schedule is business as usual at Southwest Plastics. We usually put our skills to work for companies in industries from aerospace and automotive to healthcare, electronics, and more, but during the 2020 season of Discovery Channel’s BattleBots, our team had the opportunity to keep combat robot SawBlaze in the fight when its team needed to modify a critical part on the fly.

Meet SawBlaze

SawBlaze is a 250-pound combat robot with two-wheel drive, an articulated arm with a spinning blade, and a flamethrower. Team SawBlaze was started by professional engineers who met as grad students at MIT, participating in a combat robotics club. From there, the team grew to include other former MIT students as well as professional engineers that team members connected with through work at places like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The team’s current roster includes Jamison Go, team captain and driver; Lucy Du, team captain; John Mayo, builder and flamethrower engineer; Jacob Chesin, builder and flamethrower operator; Ray Ma, builder and flamethrower engineer; Samantha Glassner, Shakti Shaligram, and Kim Jung, builders; and Stephanie Chesin, graphic designer.


The Scenario

Team Sawblaze has competed together on BattleBots for several seasons. In the 2019 season, the team swapped out the robot’s diamond cutting blade, designed to cut through concrete and steel, for a heavier, AR550 steel blade. The goal was to make the weapon more effective by delivering a harder impact and more damage to SawBlaze’s opponents. In the 2020 season, also the first year Southwest Plastics sponsored the team, they decided to use this as SawBlaze’s main weapon.

After SawBlaze’s first fight that season, the team realized the success of the weapon came with an unanticipated problem. During the inspection and teardown after the fight, they saw that the impact of the blows was so strong that it sent force back into the robot, destroying the weapon pulley. Specifically, a custom aluminum piece had warped at a critical point. Although the team had spares on hand, they knew they weren’t going to get very far in the competition without an improved replacement.

For a team of professional engineers, redesigning the warped part to absorb the weapon’s impact wasn’t a problem. The team maintains a full 3D model of SawBlaze in SolidWorks, the modeling software they use in a professional capacity daily, so pinpointing and modifying the affected part to add material to better absorb the shock was a matter of less than an hour’s work. The problem was then getting it made quickly enough. With only 12 to 18 hours between fights to fix their robot, the team needed replacements as soon as possible.

The Solution

When the problem came to light, Team SawBlaze contacted Southwest Plastics to see if we could help. Confirming that we had the right material on hand, we told them we’d get right to work when they emailed us the CAD drawing. When our operations manager received the file, we sent it straight to our programmers. Within three days, Jake Chesin was able to pick up three brand-new parts exactingly made to the new specifications to keep SawBlaze battle-ready.

Although SawBlaze was ultimately knocked out in the quarter finals in 2020, Team SawBlaze is optimistic that their ongoing improvements will give them a shot at the finals in 2021, even as the competition gets tougher. They were so impressed with the workmanship and turnaround on the custom parts Southwest Plastics provided that they are ordering original parts for their 2021 build from us. We’re looking forward to helping Team SawBlaze prepare and, if necessary, troubleshoot their 2021 run.

At Southwest Plastics, we enjoy a challenge. For over 50 years, we’ve worked to deliver the highest quality, service, and value in the molded plastic and machined parts we produce for our clients. To find out more about our design support, capabilities, and projects, contact us here.

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