Engineers don't always see plastic bearings as the No. 1 choice solution. But thanks to the Y.E.S. student program by igus inc. (www.igus.com), young engineers have gained hands-on experience applying these parts into their current designs—and perhaps those in the future. Through the Y.E.S. (Young Engineers Support; www.igus.com/yesprogram.asp) program, high school and college students from across the U.S. and Canada receive free polymer components from igus to apply in their designs. The products usually total $200, but may exceed $1,000, in addition to technical support and occasional cash sponsorship from igus, says Farrah Phillipo, spokeswoman and the Y.E.S. program coordinator. Most recent donations include the iglide L280 plain bearings (http://rbi.ims.ca/4390-531) for Kilroy, a robot built by students from Commonwealth Governor's School in Fredericksburg, VA, for the NASA/VCU FIRST Competition 2005. The entries must weigh no more than 120 lbs and they must be sturdy enough to perform specific lift-and-place tasks. By using the iglide polymer bearings rather than steel parts, the students managed to take out about 6 lbs from Kilroy's drive train and redistribute the weight to the lifting mechanism, enhancing the robot's lift performance while keeping the total weight under the contest's limit. "Another thing about the bearings is that they're also not susceptible to changes in climate," says David Shotwell, the Kilroy team's teacher, explaining that all finished robots must sit in the warehouse for days or even weeks before reaching the competition site where no design changes are allowed. As the entry continues to travel around the world to different FIRST contest sites, Shortwell adds, he's confident that the plastic bearings will continue to wear well.
With a better understanding of materials’ response to load and temperature, researchers could potentially use the knowledge to improve design. The research could even help geologists studying plate tectonics.
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