The LIFT Prize in Robotic Blacksmithing, Summary, Overview and Motivation:

The goals of the LIFT prize in Robotic Blacksmithing are to foster innovation in the manufacturing of lightweight high-performance metallic structures and encourage bright young people to enter the creative field of manufacturing and celebrate those who are in the field.  Integral to innovation is the availability of a workforce that can dream of, design, build and maintain the next generation of manufacturing processes.  This Prize, sponsored by the Education and Workforce arm of LIFT encourages innovation and strives to bring new talent to manufacturing.

A cash prizes totaling at least $50,000 will be awarded to the Student Teams that demonstrate the ability to create shapes from deformable materials using reconfigurable automated systems.  In this first competition, the essential elements of such a system will be demonstrated using a weak, deformable material, a non-drying modeling clay called plasticine.  Teams will compete on developing a single reconfigurable system that can shape 2 of 3 very different items: a prototypical horseshoe, a goblet and a bracket.  The teams will be judged on the quality and dimensional conformity of the items created, the speed at which the system operates, the extent to which they clearly and publicly communicate their approach, the scalability of their approach to metals and their ability to build a broad and interconnected team.  Later years of the competition are planned to extend this competition to process metals using a similar approach.

The innovations seeded in this contest should usher in the next wave of digital manufacturing — computer controlled reshaping.  This follows on two past powerful revolutions in digital manufacturing: Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining and CNC additive manufacturing.  Humans have been reshaping metal by incremental hammer blows (i.e., blacksmithing) since the Bronze Age (3000 B.C.).  As time progressed their techniques improved and blacksmiths learned to make and process other types of metals, such as steel.  Some steels, like Damascus steels, were known to possess outstanding properties that arose from the processes used to manipulate the steel.  Also, complex, intricate, functional and beautiful artifacts were created such as suits of armor and weapons.  These were done with nothing more than ores harvested from the ground and the power, ingenuity and skill of the smith.  Today, vision systems can sense shapes and temperature with great accuracy.  Robots that can provide precise and rapid positioning are common and easy to program and we have machines that are much more powerful than humans.  This competition seeks to supplement the artisan blacksmith with an automated system that will be far more productive, reproducible and powerful than a human ever could be.  Such systems can also be very environmentally friendly, as they do not waste material by cutting.  Because they can use heat and the work of reshaping, excellent materials properties can be created from a wide variety of materials. Components made from such processes can be used in safety critical applications, because sensing and computation can also assess the material’s history and structure at each point.

As far as the organizers are aware, no one has yet built a robotic blacksmith like this yet.  The intent of the LIFT prize is to incrementally develop the essential ideas and share the technology and workforce required to start the process of building efficient and skilled autonomous blacksmiths that can make a variety of parts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  LIFT does not want to throttle creativity or innovation.  There will be minimum restrictions in how this task is approached, or how external resources are used.  

  • Registration Deadline: NOW
  • Team Website launch: NOW
  • Final data uploads:  April 15, 2017, 5PM
  • Announcement of Finalists:  April 22, 2017, Noon
  • Judges visits to Finalists May 5-16, 2017
  • Winners Announced, Friday May 19, 2017

Contest details, status and links to competitor’s web pages will be on the competition website:

This contest is administered by Ohio State’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence. Questions or comments can be addressed to them at: Michael Gentil, Room 1533, 1314 Kinnear Road, Columbus, OH 43212 614-598-5276 Mobile

Guiding Principles & Goals


Safety is paramount in all aspects of this LIFT Prize competition.  These competition guidelines have been developed with the intent to avoid dangerous situations.  Each group must develop and adhere to established safety practices.

Equity, Good Faith, Fairness and Evolving Specifications:

Every effort will be made to assure that all teams are treated equally, fairly and the exceptional talents that will be brought forward will be celebrated.  This is a new and unique competition and unforeseen issues will arise.  The organizing committee reserves the right to revise these competition guidelines as appropriate.  Such changes will be made on the website and communicated to registered groups.  If there are inconsistencies or problems in the rules for procedures, the organizers and judges will appeal to the goals and guiding principles to find equitable solutions.

Desired outcomes:

As described above, this competition seeks simultaneously to accelerate the development and deployment of a new technology that can produce high-quality, environmentally friendly products.  And to celebrate and encourage the development of the skills required to do this kind of innovative and creative work.  This competition seeks to favor demonstrations of: creativity, technical skill, sharing of ideas, approaches and solutions, as well as building a community of doers, dreamers and designers.  Ideally this community will involve a range of students and companies

Summary of Registration and Selection Process

Form and Register a Team:

To become involved in this process teams must first register at .  This will put them on the competition mailing list.  While at the site teams can examine the latest rules, motivational links and see sites from other teams.

Social Media:

Documentation and dissemination are one of the key scoring metrics.  The goals of this are to spur innovation and inclusion by sharing your concepts and approaches.  LIFT hopes to embrace the values of Gracious Professionalism and Cooperation that have been a foundation of FIRST Robotics.  Teams who share innovative concepts first will gain strong credit for documentation and dissemination and innovation.  Registered competitive teams must show at least a public website or blog site that will be linked to  The format of the website is wholly up to the team, and all scored elements will be publicly shown on websites or social media and top marks will be given for developing an engaging presence.  Private communication with the organizers is not scored.  Facebook will be linked to the site.  All communication and team websites posting can be done through the FB page OSU Robotic Blacksmithing. The judging team will use public media in assessing progress.

Final progress uploads – Saturday, April 15, 5PM:

Teams should upload their state of progress in forming plasticine to two of the 3 shapes by the deadline.  The LIFT competition administration team will copy registered team’s public websites at this point.  No direct uploads to LIFT are required.  Photos or movies should be produced that demonstrate the approach and final part quality and dimensions should be posted to the OSU Robotic Blacksmithing FB page.  Movies should also indicate how long the process takes for each component.  Based on these public submissions, the judging team will choose 3-8 teams to pay personal visits to.

Notification of finalists – Saturday, April 22, 2017 Noon:

Public announcements of finalist teams will be made on Arrangements will be made to visit top teams for final judging.  Visit scheduling will be determined largely by travel logistics, but a preference will be made for visiting the ‘top seeded’ teams (based on the website presentations) last.  Teams will not make substantial changes to their approach or equipment after the April 15, 5PM lockdown deadline.

Judges visits to finalists May 5 – 16, 2017 – Half day or less visits will be scheduled by a visiting delegation of 3-7 distinguished educators, engineers, manufacturers and/or industrialists.

Winners announced Friday May 19, 2017 – Appropriate recognitions at public ceremonies will follow.

Process Design and Execution

The essence of the contest is to create an agile mechanical shaping system that can make a variety of part shapes by deformation by only changing the code or machine instructions.  These instructions can be in any language and it is likely that two or more machines (possibly a CNC mill and a robot) must have coordinated actions.  The coordination of these actions must take place without human intervention after the process is launched.  In this competition three different components will be made.  Each will begin by placing an appropriate volume (about one pound) of Roma brand Plasticine into the contestant-specified jig.  The team can choose a roughly spherical or cubic shape that is created by hand and minor pegs or spikes can be placed on the stage to assist in holding the plasticine ‘workpiece’.  The detailed initial shape of the block should not be an essential element of the build process and should not need to be exact.  The machine system must create the final component shapes by deforming the plasticine block.  Cutting or scooping and re-extruding the material as strands are not eligible processes.

The plasticine workpiece can be manually loaded and a run sequence is initiated and after that no human intervention is allowed except to unload the part.  In separate operations 2 of the 3 components shown in Appendix A must be attempted.  They will be scored for quality and conformity to dimensions.  In posting to the web, a movie of the process, report of time, dimensional report and photos of the finished components should be posted.

The system or robot or machine that shapes the plasticine can have a variety of actions, including multi-axis actuators, hammers, punches, rollers, pincers, multiple changeable tools, rotating stages, optical or physical measurement tools, inserted die blocks or pins for positioning or bending and multiple motorized actions.  One possible approach would be the use of a CNC mill for deformation and a small human-safe robot that can move the plasticine workpiece, perform tool and jig changes, possibly with a rotating stage. Lubricants and/or anti-stick compounds can be used as well and can be manually or automatically applied. The use of vision systems that measure component shape and then physically correct the shape would provide an elegant and robust but difficult approach. These ideas are not prescriptive or intended to limit innovation.  Solutions can be built from scratch or innovative mash-ups of existing equipment and software.

The use of fixed dies that set the shape of the final component are explicitly prohibited.  Cutting and/or re-joining is also prohibited.

LIFT will recognize, in particular, approaches that can be adapted to metal forming in later development of this technology.  This will include hammers and the use of relatively small contact area punches and rollers.  Hammers and tools like English Wheels have a long history in metal forming and adaptations of these and other concepts that adapt age-old blacksmithing concepts are likely to be adaptable to metal forming.


In the spirit of posing as few barriers to innovation as possible, this competition is open to a team of one or more half-time or greater students who are associated with US schools at any educational level from high school to graduate school.  Teams can be from a single school or may come from several.  Partnerships with industry or interested non-student mentors are encouraged, but must be documented, and students must play a leading role in guiding the project.  Partner institutions can arrange access to facilities, mentorship and design assistance.   LIFT is particularly interested in including participants from Community Colleges as many of them have excellent facilities in robotics and CNC control and LIFT wants to make clear the contributions that these students will make to building the country’s next generation of manufacturing tools.

Competition Metrics

Judging metrics will mirror the goals articulated earlier in this document and may be subject to modifications.  The best team according to each metric will receive the full score and other teams will receive fractional credit.  The teams will be measured in the following areas:

Part Quality (100 points):

  • How closely did each final part meet the required dimensions shown in Appendix A?
  • Is the surface quality adequate?
  • Is each part free from obvious defects?

Documentation and Dissemination (100 points):

Sharing ideas, encouraging others and disseminating new approaches are key goals of this competition.  Accordingly, points will be provided based on providing a compelling web presence for team’s activities, for disseminating process details completely presented so others can learn and build upon ideas.  Demonstrating ideas on the web first will gain innovation points for a team. .

Process time (50 points):

At the finalists site visit the teams must demonstrate the use of their system. The time required to make 2 of the 3 components will be determined by a simple sum.  Points will be allotted in inverse proportion to total time required.  In the finalist’s visit a maximum of 30 minutes between runs will be allowed.

Innovation and Applicability (50 points):

This competition is intended to trial approaches that can be adapted to metallic components. Thus points will be awarded based on the elegance and adaptability of the approach to forming complex and high performance metallic structures.

Community Building (50 points):

LIFT wants to show the creativity and joy that is part of innovating new manufacturing solutions. Outreach to K-12 STEM students and collaboration with industry should be documented and is encouraged.


A panel of 5 to 7 independent judges will come from leaders of national educational manufacturing societies and government. Strong efforts will be made to avoid conflicts of interest.  Their decisions will be final.


Minimum cash prizes to the team will be:

  • First prize $25,000
  • Second prize $15,000
  • Third prize $7,500
  • And honorable mentions of at least $1000 and recognition will be given to several exceptional entrants.

Target component shapes

Dimensions in the sketches are in inches.







Part Creation Demonstration