A North Wales robot-building team is being aided by igus’ engineering support and engineering-grade plastic bearings through the company’s YES (Young Engineers Support) programme, established to foster and support design ideas of young people with a passion for engineering. Designed by 10-year old team captain, April, the pink, sparkly and very formidable GlitterBomb robot has competed in the BBC’s iconic Robot Wars, as well as paid regular visits to schools and other venues to help inspire young people to study STEM subjects.
A family affair, GlitterBomb team members include engineer and robot builder dad, James, with additional support and encouragement from costume maker mum, Rachel. Encouraged by her parents’ diverse interests, experience and skillsets, April has been combining her passion for robots and engineering with her enthusiasm for cosplay, singing and dancing for years.
“April has always shown a keen interest in engineering – watching me tinker with robots in my home workshop,” explained James. “She attended her first live Robot Wars show when she was just three months old.” A keen fan of the original show, when it returned to television in 2016, April asked her dad if they could take part in the series. James agreed, but was keen for April to take the lead role; a challenge that she relished.
As team captain, April came up with her own ideas for the robot design, which dad, James took as the blueprint for the robot build, with April helping wherever possible. She also works with mum, Rachel to design GlitterBomb’s unique pink and sparkly look. During competitions, April takes complete responsibility for operating and driving GlitterBomb in the robot battle arena.
Teams that apply to compete in Robot Wars undergo a rigorous selection process, and are typically given short notice of selection before competing and recording for the show. As a result, Team GlitterBomb had just four weeks to complete the robot build.
“In school, we learned that the triangle is the strongest shape,” explained April, “which is why I based my designs on the triangular shapes used by stealth fighter planes”. April also took inspiration from the detailed Robot Wars online community: “I looked online at previous Robot Wars contestants – and I loved the ones with axes. We were studying the Vikings in school, and we saw some of the battle-axes used – so I decided that should be our weapon of choice.”
During the course of the build process, the team secured support and sponsorship from companies in the form of often advanced, high-tech materials and parts, as well as access to workshop and tool facilities at the local Wrexham Glyndŵr University in North Wales. After a brand new, out-of-the-box but untested component failure put a premature end to the team’s first entry, April insisted that each individual system – including the axe and its mechanism – be made redundant in next the version of the robot. In other words, if it fails, there is a standby already in place.
In the original robot design, there were no bearings in the axe mechanism. This is because after thorough evaluation of various traditional metallic options (including roller, needle and ball bearings), it was determined that they would fail and were too costly to replace after each use.
“Each axe is 10kg of titanium shaft and head, and operates with 40,000 Newtons of force, exhibiting considerably higher dynamic load force and energy density than many light industrial machines – plus unpredictable radial shocks and twisting loads,” explained James. He accepted that material would have to be sacrificed during each use, with the shaft sustaining damage and requiring repair.
As part of the YES programme, igus field engineers regularly visit UK universities to provide free advice and parts. During a visit to Glyndŵr University, Team GlitterBomb asked igus whether there was a suitable engineering plastic bearing that would endure these excessive loads and forces in the axe mechanism, as well as the drive system and wheels.
iglidur Q2 is a tribopolymer material developed specifically for heavy duty applications. Bearings made of this material are especially durable, with high load capabilities and good wear resistance. As with all iglidur bearings, the homogeneous structure of the material integrates solid lubricants, which reduces the coefficient of friction and improves resistance to wear. As the bearings are self-lubricated, a welcomed benefit to the robot’s operation is that they are resistant to the ingress of dirt and dust, an ongoing challenge while fighting in the arena, and are maintenance-free.
“We are incredibly grateful for the generous support of all our sponsors, without whom we simply would not be able to afford to build GlitterBomb and compete,” said James. “The responsiveness and comprehensive technical knowledge of the igus engineer, as well as rapid delivery of the parts, were critical in helping us stay on schedule, even after this late design enhancement.”
An additional benefit for GlitterBomb was the lightweight nature of the material, helping the robot stay within competition weight restrictions. And because all igus bearing materials have been extensively tested in its 250m2 state-of-the-art laboratory, the industry’s largest facility of its kind, Team GlitterBomb can calculate and depend on its predicted lifetime.
Meanwhile, April has coped with the demands of robot design and competition in the noisy battle arena admirably, not to mention the celebrity that has gone along with Robot Wars. The school has played an important supportive role, encouraging April while keeping her grounded. When asked what she wants to do when she is older? April says that she either wants to be a Formula 1 engineer… or a singer.