Most things in VEX robotics need to be purchased from VEX directly or through one of their resellers; many products used in VEX are custom/only-to-be-found at VEX On High.
However, there *are* some items—identical to VEX parts—that can be purchased elsewhere, and are thus legal to use on a competition robot. And those other places are cheaper!
Jump to: Resellers • Standoffs • Pneumatics • Screws, nuts, & spacers • Stretchy stuff • Anti-slip mat • Non-VEX parts that are allowed • Practice batteries (NOT legal for competition use) • Value-added items • Wire repair • Tools
<R5> of the In The Zone game manual states that robots must be built from ONLY from VEX components—unless specified below. Well, specified below is:
- <R7b> states “Any parts that are identical to legal VEX parts” are OK, and that “identical” means the same “in all ways except for color.” SO – same material, same size, same everything else.
- <R7c> states that any commercially available #4, #6, #8, M2, M2.5, M3, or M4 screw up to 2″ long are fine. “Any” here means they can be made out of materials other than what VEX sells (more below).
- <R7c> also says that any commercially available nut and/or washer that fits these screws is also OK.
- <R7>, subsection L, states that commercially available products used solely for the purpose of bundling or wrapping wire and pneumatic tubing are allowed.
I’ll say it again: Items purchased from non-VEX suppliers must be *identical* to what you’d buy from VEX. Same material (with the exception of screws / nuts / washers), same size, same everything. For example, VEX makes aluminum standoffs in various lengths. The first parts section below lists McMaster-Carr as an alternate supplier. However, McMaster sells standoffs made from metals other than aluminum: not legal. McMaster also sells standoffs in sizes that are not in the VEX catalog: not legal for a competition bot. So when purchasing from other suppliers, be very careful to purchase products that are in every way, shape, and form identical.
I recommend that for any identical-but-not-purchased-from-VEX parts that your team is using, that you keep copies of the invoices/packing slips, and BRING THEM WITH YOU to each competition. Inspection volunteers have the right to ask for you to prove that the parts are otherwise identical to VEX. If you don’t have the documentation, your team may be in for a world of hurt.
For purchasing parts, one can order from VEX On High, or from one of several official resellers that offer the same thing—just through a middle-man. While the prices are the same as from the VEX Mother Ship, you may get a better deal on shipping or get products faster if you choose one of the resellers. (If you’re in the Western US — CO, UT, ID, WA, OR, CA, AK, HI — I recommend RobotMesh: $6 flat-rate shipping, free shipping over $50, and stuff arrives FAST.) You can locate the resellers that cover your state from VEX’s Find a Reseller page (scroll down the page past the map for countries outside the US).
These standoffs as well as a number of items further down have links to the McMaster-Carr website. Here’s a bonus on top of their cheaper prices: Next Day Air Shipping on Everything! For the same price as UPS ground shipping. If you order before 11am, you’ll get your item the next day. Otherwise the day after that.
Now the Products
McMaster-Carr sells standoffs that are identical to VEX, and vary from a little cheaper (small sizes) to WAY cheaper (large sizes). To filter McMaster’s very long list of options, in the left column, choose the following:
|System of Measurement||Inch|
¼” · ½” · ¾” · 1″ · 1½” · 2″ · 2½” · 3″ · 4″
One additional benefit of McMaster is that you can purchase exactly the number of standoffs you need, and are not restricted to packages of a pre-determined quantity.
The important part with pneumatics from alternate sources is that you MUST make sure that the parts are identical to VEX. You really, really don’t want your team building a robot that uses the wrong parts, and not even make it past robot inspection at a tournament. At that point there’s no way to remedy the problem.
One of the things I like about the reseller RobotMesh is that for pneumatics, they get kits from VEX, then take them apart and sell the individual components. Take a look at your region’s reseller, see if they offer anything interesting!
Robosource.net sells tubing in various lengths and (oooh!) colors. And WAAAAY cheaper than the Mother Ship; VEX tubing is $5 for 5 feet (= $1 per foot). Robosource.net is $2 for 5 feet (40 cents/foot). And it gets cheaper with volume: $30 for 100 feet (30 cents/foot).
Many robots that use pneumatics use 2 air canisters/reservoirs so that they can get more “pops” from their system during a match. VEX On High does not sell individual air canisters, but (as mentioned above) the RobotMesh reseller does sell these types of parts individually (air reservior, $35). Check your state’s reseller to see if you can purchase *just* an air canister.
You can also purchase an extra canister from Radwell ($39). Note: Radwell’s website is particularly un-user-friendly; very limited on the helpful-description end of things.
It’s important that you match the SMC part numbers exactly. Here’s an example of where you can find these part numbers for the air canister. And as mentioned above, be sure that you can prove to inspectors at a tournament that you have purchased a legit, identical item.
Add a Shutoff with a Discontinued (but still legal) Part
From Mike Mohn, coach of VEX Team 3547: Virus:
This fitting is really handy [Part # US3729]. Years ago, it was part of the pneumatics kit; therefore, it is a legal part according to <R5d>. It lets you add a shut-off valve between the filler and the rest of the system.
Remember, Radwell requires $50 minimum orders, so you’ll have to fill out the order with air cylinders and fittings—check above & below for part numbers.
Other Pneumatics Components
From Mike Mohn, coach of VEX Team 3547: Virus:
The first industrial supplier to try is Motion Industries, below are the parts available from them (you’ll pay shipping). If you luck is good, you can check out Radwell International (PLC center) for deals, as they work with surplus equipment. Their inventory and availability varies daily, but there are deals to be had. They also stock the special reservoir in both the US and UK. You can also try Zoro for deals. Be sure to check and double check the SMC part number, as there are variations available that will not work for VEX.
So where does one find these magical part numbers? On VexRobotics.com, if you navigate to the pneumatics page, down at the bottom of the screen click on the tab that says “Kit Contents” and there is a part number listed next to each one. (I find the RobotMesh website easier to navigate and see the individual part numbers that match the piece you need, FYI.)
Motion Industries, catalog search page
Radwell International (PLC Center)
|8090410075||Tire pump fitting|
|VHK3-04F-04F||Blue on/off switch|
|NCJ2D10-200S||single acting cylinder|
|NCJ2D10-200||double acting cylinder|
|>See note below||Solenoid|
|* These part numbers are from the VEX website page linked above, as of November 9, 2017. Please double-check these numbers with the link above before ordering any pneumatics from a non-VEX source.|
And finally a word of warning, from experience: You need to buy the solenoids from VEX, they are “specials” with a 6 volt coil. I tried buying them from Motion Industries using the SMC part number from the VEX page, and got industry-standard 24 volt coils with attached wires. VEX is reworking the solenoids with 6-volt coils and the special connector.
Screws, Nuts & Spacers
As mentioned above under “Standoffs”, McMaster-Carr, the source for many items below, sends everything by next-day air. Order before 11am, it will be in your hands the next day. If not, the the day after that.
Robosource.net, mentioned many times here as well, doesn’t get stuff to you the next day, but they charge REALLY reasonable amounts for shipping. If you’re only buying a teeny thing that fits in an envelope, they’ll send it to you in an envelope and charge you whatever the US Postal Service rate is. I have always been happily surprised when I get to their checkout screen and see that the shipping is very low.
- McMaster Carr lock nuts ($3/100 instead of VEX $4/100)
- McMaster Carr keps nuts, which are also listed under the “locknut” category (they seem to be about the same price as VEX, but if you’re placing an order from McMaster, might be worth it to add some of these if you need ’em). Specs: 8/32 thread, 11/32 exterior size.
Spacers & Washers
- Robosource.net nylon spacers & washers are really nice because you can purchase JUST the sizes you want, and EXACTLY the quantity you want, and are not stuck with a small (expensive) multi-pack of sizes you may not need, and WAY cheaper.
When you’re buying screws, note that you are not restricted to screws that LOOK exactly like VEX screws. The ones from VEX are “button head”; there is also “socket head,” for example. While steel & aluminum screws are mentioned below, there are also stainless steel, alloy steel, and so on. You can find most of these other material types at McMaster and Fastenal.
- McMaster-Carr sells regular screws at prices cheaper than VEX (even a little cheaper adds up if you’re buying them for a large club). Recommended by a number of people on the VEX Coaches Facebook group.
- Fastenal (get it — fasten all) is a US and Canada nationwide chain that sells screws, nuts & washers. Obviously shipping is free if you’re standing in the store! Seems especially helpful if you don’t have time to get anything shipped in the mail and there is a store near you.
- Says another coach from the Facebook group: “Fastenal can get any screw size you might need. … Also – always ask for a discount or donation. Our local Fastenal gave us thousands of screws for free.”
- If you’re buying in-person from any store, I recommend bringing two things with you: an existing screw and a keps nut, so you can make sure—in the store—that what you’re buying is really the right size.
- Robosource.net aluminum screws save weight compared to normal, steel screws. (These have slot-heads, not hex-heads, FYI.)
- McMaster Carr set screws for shaft collars (the TEENY TINY screws in shaft collars): these are made of stainless steel and less likely to strip than VEX ones. Page title for this part reads “18-8 Stainless Steel Cup-Point Set Screw”). And way cheaper (100 for $4ish; VEX is 32 for $5).
- IME (integrated motor encoder) screws look just like the screws used to keep the green back on the motor, except way longer, since they have to fit through the IME cap. VEX doesn’t even sell extras (like they do for the regular length ones). A coach on the Facebook group said she bought them from MetricScrews.us, and that they work great. They are size “M2x18 mm.”
If you use the Torx screws (the star-shaped hole, instead of the hex-shaped hole), apparently VEX is the place to go for them. From another Facebook coach:
I only buy torx now, and VEX has the best price, because commercial torx seem to be all grade 8 (heat treated), which we don’t need for robot building. VEX is having specials made for them overseas.
RoboSource.net is great for latex tubing (1/2 the VEX price).
#64 and #32 rubber bands are official VEX parts, so you are welcome to use #64 and #32 rubber bands that you purchase from anywhere (like your local office supply store). I find that the orange ones in the VEX catalog are nicer than the ones you can buy around town. They’re really soft and have a nice amount of stretch.
There’s an alternative source! Woo-hoo! Some coaches have told me that they buy the Alliance non-latex #64 rubber bands on Amazon (also orange, BTW), in 1-pound boxes. Approx 380 rubber bands in a box for about ~$7.00. However, on Amazon this is an “add-on” product that they will only sell you if it’s added to your order of $25 or more—they’re just too low a price for them to make any $$. But this is a commercial item, so feel free to search for them elsewhere.
Robosource.net alsos carries rubber bands in a variety of stretchiness, that are very similar to those nice orange ones. And less than 1/2 the VEX price.
In our lab, we refer to this stuff as “bath mat”. What I’m referring to here is the thin and thick no-skid mat that’s in the VEX catalog. Apparently this stuff is just toolbox/tool drawer liner that you can buy by the roll (4 feet of mat, ~$6) instead of buying a small piece (15″ of mat, ~$2.50). I see that one can buy this stuff on Amazon as well as Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, and places like Harbor Freight. If you happen to already be in possession of a piece of this stuff, I’d recommend bringing it with you to a store to make sure you’re buying an identical item.
Searching online, I see it’s referred to variously as non-slip liner, nonslip mesh liner, toolbox liner, tool drawer liner, and so on.
Parts VEX Doesn’t Sell, But Are Legal
- Non-shattering plastic: Robosource.net, or local plastics shop. If you go to a local shop:
- Bring a printout of the game manual with you so you can be sure you are buying one of the types of plastic specifically allowed in the rules (for In The Zone, it’s on p. 29, <R7>, subsection f).
- Be sure that the plastic is not too thick. Last year we purchased from a local shop, and while it did meet the specifications, it was so close to the 0.07″ thickness that at States and Worlds, the inspectors were rather skeptical, and measured it a bunch of times (and gave us a warning that it was very close to the max).
- Keep a copy of the sales slip with your bring-to-tournament materials, so that you can show the inspectors that what you bought meets the requirements.
- 1/8″ braided nylon rope: find at your local hardware store
- Stuff to hold all your wires together:
- zip ties (VEX does sell these, actually) – local hardware store, Robosource.net, or—if you want to buy in bulk—Uline sells them by the thousand (or for some larger zip tie sizes, by the hundred).
- velcro – local fabric or crafts store, or Robosource.net. If you go to a local store, make sure you write down the exact specifications of the VEX product so you can make sure you’re buying an *identical* item.
- wire/cable management – Robosource.net has a large variety of products, or you can hit your local electronics store
Practice Batteries (not legal for competition)
VEX requires that you use the standard VEX battery on your robot for competition use; they will check it at inspection. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that you have to use them around your lab for testing and practice. VEX batteries are pricey: $30 for a single battery. And since most teams bring 8-10 batteries per robot to a competition, there’s $300 of your budget right there. You can make these pricey batteries last longer if you don’t use them around the lab, and use substitutes instead.
Here’s a page on Amazon.com with identical batteries that you can use “at home” (wherever that may be — for us, it’s a garage!). The page linked here has a number of 7.2V, 3000mAh batteries with the same plug type as VEX (called a “tamiya” connector). Most of these are 1/2 of the VEX price, or less.
There’s another category of stuff that includes parts that VEX does not sell, but are made of VEX parts with some clever tinkering.
The first is a “lock bar” for extra stability when attaching a c-channel to a high-strength gear when using VEX’s thicker “high strength” axles. Without a lock bar, teams tend to crack the green plastic gear or strip the center hole into a round one. That’s because the thicker shaft does not have the metal insert in the center of the gear (you remove it to make room for the thicker shaft). Robosource.net to the rescue again! They have taken 1x pieces, cut them to various lengths for different gear sizes, and enlarged the center hole so that the thick shaft fits through perfectly.
On the same Robosource.net page, they have 1×1 L-angle pieces they’ve created by sawing an aluminum c-channel down the center of it’s length. It’s the same length as a 35-hole c-channel and can be used in small spaces or places where the full strength of a c-channel is not needed.
Want to make your robot look bad-ass? How about BLACK c-channels! An enterprising VEX Forum user sells black anodized (brand new) c-channels on ebay that are perfectly legal to use on your robot.
Want to make your joystick look bad-ass? How about crazy unique designs on it? There’s a company in Florida (Precision Hydrographic Designs) that will take your joystick, take the plastic casing off, dip it in some special swirly secret stuff, and send you back a tricked-up joystick. You can see various product pictures on the “Film Gallery” of their website, or an example of a VEX joystick that has been dipped on this VEX Forum post. Whee!
Another VEX Forum member is selling small, easy-to-use battery voltage testers. He just announced it a few weeks ago, and as of this writing has not started shipping them. See this VEX Forum post for the details.
Robosource.net sells various products to help you repair the ends of 2-wire and 3-wire cables (in fact, they even have an entire page dedicated to them!). Sometimes the blue/black plastic end gets pulled off (leaving 2 wires sticking out), or sometimes one or more pins get broken (leaving a non-functioning item). Robosource.net sells the plastic connector pieces as well as the pins and tools to make it all work. Parts are ridiculously cheap, and it’s worth the effort to fix motors and sensors that cost > $10 each.
One of the Robosource.net founders commented on the coaches Facebook group, about purchasing parts from sources other than Robosource.net:
One very important thing: When you’re getting pins from elsewhere, make sure they are Gold Plated! The non-plated ones are more common, but they are not meant for constant (un)plugging and not identical to the VEX ones.
See my VEX Sensors: Introduction post for some important details about the plastic end pieces. Robosource.net has kindly created some video tutorials on how to repair the wires that make the whole thing a lot less scary.
See my post from a while back on recommended tools as well as places to get them. (Robosource.net also sells tools, so if you’re ordering something from them and you need some tools too…)
New resource, 15 Nov. 2017: One of the coaches on the Facebook group has shared a new source for very long-lasting/durable allen wrenches (hex keys).
Check out MIP tools. My college team has used these for a few years and they are still like new. These are the highest quality tools I have ever used.
I was telling MIP sales about VEX Robotics and now MIP has a VEX package of tools which they sell at a discount. Sweet!
With concurrence from another coach:
I took Andrew’s advice on MIP last year and bought three sizes plus one [nut]driver for each team. My older team took longer to accept change. It is now being the tools used by both teams. They have never shown wear. MIP has a black label set that they are promoting for black Friday. I will be purchasing more in the near future.
My teams communicate by handing me the MIP, not the hex driver.
Here’s a link to their VEX tools page: MIP (Moore’s Ideal Products). Their VEX page includes a multi-pack wrench set, and also individual items if you scroll all the way down the page.