STEP Kit and Part Procurement
So, you’ve seen the game challenge and have finished the conceptual design phase? Now, you need some details about the materials and parts available to build your awesome robot masterpiece. Before explaining the STEP Kit Policies and Procedures, you need to know a few things about real-world engineering.
Mimicking Real-World Product Development
- First of all, one needs to realize that there is no such thing as an engineering challenge with unlimited budget. So, STEP teams will learn to work within one. Each team is allotted an budget for procuring parts from the STEP store. In 2016, this allotment is 750 STEP-bucks for items on the Return Parts list. The allotment is 250 STEP-bucks for items on the Consumable Parts list. When you invest some of your budget in a particular item or strategy, those funds are not available for other items or strategies. Obvious, right? But, think about it. STEP teams have lots of decisions to make regarding parts. Any wasteful decision will take away from your team’s ability to invest in the team’s potential.
- Second, engineering groups have assigned Purchasing Agents (PA) who bear the responsibility of keeping the engineering/build teams resourced. The PA also ensures that proper channels are informed, purchasing procedures followed, and supply chain contracts are honored. They make sure that the proper information and material winds up in the proper hands. Though, in the real-world, the responsibility may rest elsewhere, the STEP Purchasing Agent is ideally situated to also ensure that the team stays under budget. The team’s Purchasing Agent will submit Purchase Orders (POs) to the STEP store to procure parts and materials.
- The third real-world component in the STEP system is the ongoing evolution of a design and subsequent purchasing of parts to support that evolution. STEP teams are allowed to submit Purchase Orders on a regular basis. To keep things sane at the STEP store, no team may submit more than one PO in any 7-day period. But, that won’t be a problem for an organized team. One word of caution, plan ahead for those last minute development needs. It would be unfortunate to realize you forgot a part the day before the competition and then realize that your most recent purchase prohibits you from placing a last minute order.
What Parts are Stocked in the STEP Store?
There is a concept in industry procurement called “sole source.” Normally, it is best to consider all possible vendors/providers when shopping for parts and services. Occasionally, there arise advantages from special relationships with particular vendors/providers. A company might apply the “sole source” label to a part-vendor/provider combination if the company perceives value in doing so…perhaps, value is added in discounted pricing, assurance of delivery, or after the sale service agreements. If an item is “sole sourced” the Purchasing Agent is authorized to save the effort of shopping around for the best price. The Vendor obviously benefit from the sole source relationship because they have a predictable flow of orders coming in. All items used by the teams on the STEP robot(s) are sole sourced through the STEP Store.
Return Kit List = electronics and such that we can reuse
Consumable Kit List = raw materials and parts we expect to be consumed in the process
Items stocked in the STEP store are broken into two categories, return parts and consumable parts. The current Return Kit List and Consumable Kit List can be found in the public STEP directory. Items on the Return Kit List should be returned to the STEP Store at the end of the season and will be reused in future years. Items on the Consumable Kit List can be altered, reshaped, modified, …destroyed. We generally don’t want them back. However, we’ll take them back if the team doesn’t need them and they are in condition meeting original SKU specification. After all, we’d love to make them available to other teams, and, why would you want to waste valuable budget on parts and material that you don’t actually need?
Protocol for Procuring Parts and Materials
- Assign a Student Purchasing Agent. The STEP store will only accept Purchase Orders from the agent… or coach.
- Plan your PO submission schedule…the last week could be strategically significant.
- Print out a copy of the Kit list, mark the quantities you want to order in the Team P.O. column.
- Submit the PO to the STEP store.
- If the column “SKU in stock” doesn’t have sufficient numbers to cover your order, then give us 2 days to get the parts.
- The Student Purchasing Agent will come to STEP store (at Mentors & Makers) and retrieve all the parts from inventory (that means counting everything out).
- If plans change and the parts are no longer needed by the team, simply submit a Reverse Order the next time you come in (negative numbers in the PO column).
Your team may submit no more than one PO/RO in any 7-day period. So, plan your schedule carefully especially for the final week before the mini invitationals.
Detailed Kit Rules
There’s a lot of fine print around the Kit parts and materials. Take a look at the Kit portion of the STEP Generic GAK Rules document. Yeah, there are a lot of rules. The rules cover a lot of issues including:
- what you can and cannot do with microcontrollers, shields, and breakout boards
- requirements and restrictions when making electrical connections
- specifics regarding motors and batteries
- accounting quantities across multiple robots
- restrictions and accounting of 3D printed parts
- details of purchasing protocol
That’s a lot of text. But, if you’re part of a STEP team, it’s information you’ll need to get things rolling. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a cart and let’s go shopping!