Building Heavyweight Robots For YouTube: Sidemen Robot Wars
How The Heavyweight Robots For The Sidemen Extreme Robot Wars (Battle Bots) Video Were Built Using Accu Components
Ed Hodges, Project Lead Robotics Engineer at Labman Automation, discusses his rapid progression in combat robotics; from starting a society at university with no previous experience, to collaborating with Andy Russell and Adam Hamilton to design and build two 110Kg robots for Sidemen, a huge YouTube channel with over 13.8 million subscribers.
Within 24 hours of the Sidemen Extreme Robot Wars (Battle Bots) video being published, impressively racking up over 4 million views, we spoke with Ed for a breakdown of the team’s involvement in the project, exploring which Accu components were used to build the robots and explaining what it takes to work in robotics
Developing Skills In Competitive Robotics Working At Labman Automation
“I’ve always been hands on and loved taking things apart, much to my mum’s distress” comments Ed, acknowledging that he’s been making and constructing things for as long as he can remember.
This passion led him to study BSc Product Design and Technology at Loughborough University, which is where he decided to “dive head first into combat robotics”, despite having no prior experience in this field. “I caught the bug after my first event, hosted by the Bristol Bot Builders and it has since taken over my life!”
As it happened, Labman Automation learned about Ed through the society when they approached him with a sponsorship proposal. He praised their approach to supporting the next generation of engineers, commenting; “Labman are great if you're looking to get started in engineering, offering work experience, summer placements, year in industry placements and apprenticeships as well as helping with degrees”.
Eventually this opportunity led to them offering a placement position at the company for him to complete a year in industry. “This was an amazing opportunity that allowed me to take my robot addiction to another level, quickly building multiple Heavyweight Robots (weighing a huge 110Kg) prior to the pandemic.” However, as with the rest of the world, this stopped a lot of his plans in their tracks.
“Fast forward to July 2021 and I’ve graduated from Loughborough. After leading a variety of smaller projects during my placement year, including the unassisted delivery and installation of an entire system in Shanghai, I returned to Labman as a Project Leader just in time to host our inaugural combat robotics competition FightFest!”
Labman built the specialised bulletproof competition arena using variety of materials designed different grade steels, with the ‘kick plates’ being manufactured from very hard ‘wear plate’, whilst the wall supports were produced from a high grade steel to ensure they could be bent to shape on Labman’s CNC press brake, removing countless hours of welding from the assembly process.
This competition was a huge success, being open to both Labman employees and external competitors, such as students and hobbyist robot builders. Ed’s featherweight robot, called Kakute, utilised a tracked undercutter and was driven by HTD 8M Timing Belts with an exterior coating, something which he noted gave it great traction.
Making it through to the semi finals of the FightFest competition with Kakute gave Ed a taste for competing with best in class robots, all in a state-of-the-art, bulletproof arena at Labman's headquarters in North Yorkshire, UK.
How The Team Was Approached By YouTubers KSI and Sidemen To Build Combat Robots
Whilst studying at Loughborough, one of Ed’s university professors put him in touch with Andy Russell of ARDesign Combat Robotics. “At this point Andy was studying the same degree as me, in the year above. He had experience in injection moulding and bespoke design projects creating Beetleweight and Featherweight robots, also making numerous TV appearances with Heavyweight robots he had designed and built.”
Andy initially started building robots with his dad when he was very young. From this, he developed over 15 years of hands-on experience having taken part in multiple TV shows across the globe, including Robot Wars and This is Fighting Robots.
It was at a networking event where YouTuber KSI met Andy. After striking up a conversation about Andy’s experiences making and battling combat robots, he thought it could be an amazing video for the Sidemen channel - a British group with over 13.8 million subscribers as of November 2021.
Following two year of delays to the project as a result of the pandemic, Andy brought Ed onboard, along with Ed’s teammate Adam Hamilton from Team Immersion, to help design and build the two 110kg combat robots.
Ed recalls that he met Adam through Andy, “which led me to joining Team Immersion in 2019 just before applying for the upcoming season of Battlebots.”
Adam is a self taught robot builder who started, as many do, with some hand tools in his garage. “He’s since built his entire business around creating beautiful machines utilising CNC technologys, such as Milling, Laser Cutting, Folding and EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining)”, adds Ed, who now works with Adam under the Immersion Engineering brand. They will soon be expanding their services, stocking parts for robot builders worldwide to buy from them.
Designing and Building the 110Kg Heavyweight Combat Robots
Meeting Tight Deadlines For Filming Dates
With their team assembled, and the project finally given the greenlight, they had a 2 month deadline to finalise their designs and build two 110Kg Heavyweight robots before filming started.
“As a lot of the parts were being manufactured abroad, the notice Andy got for filming dates left a very small window for the final assembly and testing of these robots”, recalls Ed. “On the way back from another event, with a car already full of people and tools, we somehow managed to squeeze in *most* of the parts for one of the robots!”
To make matters worse, the day after Ed started on the build, he landed badly whilst bouldering, tearing ligaments in his knee. “This really put the pressure on, making it a huge team effort. It also meant many late nights at Labman, who thankfully allow their employees to use tools and machinery for personal projects, which was amazing.”
Sourcing The Components Needed To Build The Robots
“I have been using Accu’s components since my GCSE Design and Technology Project, their nylon spacers are still holding together parts of my desk!” Ed recounts, as a long term Accu customer.
“I prefer Accu to other sources as I can rely on the components being of a high quality and arriving when I need them, usually by the next day. At Labman, we typically turn to Accu for unusual bolts, such as non standard lengths, finishes and materials, but we also buy spacers, bearings, belts and pulleys.”
During the build of the robots for this project, key components that were supplied by Accu included M10 and M16 Shoulder Bolts, used for both the weapon transmission and drive transmission across both bots.
Andy added that “I like to use them as drive shafts to save cost and custom machining work where possible. Due to Accu’s Shoulder Bolts being made of a high quality material with a precision ground surface finish, Bearings fit over well.”
Ed elaborates on this choice, saying that “it is quite common to use a Shoulder Bolt as a ‘dead shaft’ (a fixed shaft that allows free rotation around it) for transmissions. This is because they offer a surface suitable for Bushings and Bearings, whilst being easy to attach to the mounting plate. They are pretty much the only off the shelf solution for this sort of application.”
Another component provided by Accu were the 8mm External Circlips used to retain the gears on all of the 8 motor shafts which power the entire bot. For The Tenderizer this included the 4WD as well as the hammer weapon; which each required 4 motors to operate. “We used the motor controller mounting plates that I was making on the bandsaw, to fix the controllers to the chassis using anti vibration mounts.”
The team utilised nutstrips, a popular component for robot builders, in the assembly of both robots. These strips of metal feature threaded through holes for fastening panels together at right angles, with Accu’s M6 Button Head Machine Screws being used for the small nutstrips and M10 Button Head Bolts used for installations with large nutstrips.
Ed has trusted Accu’s components for a range of robot builds, from Ember, his first heavyweight robot following Labman’s FightFest competition, to competitive bots Immersion and Abrasion he said “we spent about £600 on Bolts alone, about 50% of that was with Accu!”
As a large portion of their work revolves around CAD modelling in the time sensitive design and prototyping stage, Ed highlighted that it's hugely important for all components to be accurately modeled - “which is another reason I like using Accu, as they have all the dimensions required for each component, using clear diagrams. This really helps me make sure that there won't be any unexpected issues.”
Given the quick turnaround time from modelling to building the robots, it was important that the components the team needed were delivered quickly to allow for building and testing to be carried out in good time before the filmed battle.
Ed added that having AccuPro on his account, Accu’s express delivery service, was “really handy in meeting the tight deadlines”, emphasising that “even the smallest delays can have a huge impact on a project's timeline as it disrupts the critical path”.
Finalising The Combat Robots Ready For Filming The Battle Video
The team designed and built two combat robots for Sidemen, named ‘The Tenderizer’ and ‘The Golden Daddy’ during Sidemen’s initial filmed meeting with Andy, during which they looked at potential designs for their robots as he gave them a brief rundown of the pros and cons of each design.
With one team opting for a blunt hammer for The Tenderizer and the other choosing a spinning disc for The Golden Daddy, Andy and the team had the challenge of creating two robots with very different weapon systems. In response to this, Andy focused on designing and building the Golden Daddy, whilst Adam and Ed put their sole focus into making The Tenderizer.
Ed comments that “the hammer head weighs more than 4kg, whilst the spinning disk is closer to 25kg, however both are powered by 4 motors creating a whopping 18hp. The weight difference allows the hammer to actuate instantly, whilst the spinning disc relies upon the constant power to gradually spin up the weapon."
How Labman Supports The STEM Ambassador Programme
In his role as Project Leader with a mechanical specialty at Labman Automation, Ed oversees a range of projects, noting that he does a lot of proof of concept projects, which are “small scale projects to test parts of a system before we design a full system.”
With his core responsibilities including the sourcing of components and ensuring that critical parts are delivered on time in full by key suppliers, Ed was well equipped for the task of procuring fasteners and hardware for the Sidemen combat robot video project.
“For most of Labman’s systems, we often work on bespoke, one-off systems, meaning that we are less concerned with commercial viability and large scale manufacturing and tend to focus on optimising performance”, Ed notes, highlighting that his experience of designing systems and overseeing assembly and testing was a key factor in sticking to the production deadlines the team were presented in order to get the project over the line ready for the scheduled filming in November 2021.
In and out of his daily work at Labman, Ed is also heavily involved with the STEM ambassador programme, supported by the company. He mentioned that FightFest and the challenge of building combat robots from scratch are great opportunities for would-be engineers and students to learn the skills to make it in the robotics industry, whilst demonstrating the desire to have a good time with engineering.
Special thanks to Ed Hodges, Andy Russell and Adam Hamilton and the media team at Labman Automation for their insights and contributions to this guest article.