KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The show “BattleBots” returned for another season this week, and so did a West Michigan business through a unique partnership.
Long before any “BattleBots” match, each of these fighting machines undergo extensive repairs and upgrades from teams and their partnering companies. One of them is Kalamazoo WaterJet, whose journey to the ring began in 2012.
Vice President Bryan Lepley said a team for one of the robots, Witch Doctor, sent an email out to about 10 different companies.
“I think I was the only one that responded to the email, saying that we would help them make their robot for the year,” Lepley said.
“When (Bryan) came and told me, ‘Hey, we got an opportunity to do this,’ I was all aboard. I was really excited about it,” added Daedal Canela-Derks, who works as a WaterJet technician and coordinator.
Witch Doctor is among the 10-plus battle bots Kalamazoo WaterJet has partnered with over the last decade. Primarily, the business cuts flat plates for the robot and ships them out to its team for final assembly. Those can size anywhere between an eighth of an inch to more than two inches, and either help shield the robot or give it some firepower.
“The weapons on the battle bots are often inch-and-a-half, 2-inch hardened steel, so that they don’t get damaged when they hit other hardened steel in the ‘BattleBot’ arena,” Canela-Derks added.
How the Kalamazoo WaterJet team makes them is not much different than their usual contracted projects, which are commonly in the automotive and medical industries.
“Basically, what happens is we pressurize water really high and then we mix it in with crushed garnet, which is basically a sand type of material,” Canela-Derks explained. “That erodes, and we focus that stream to a really tiny stream and that is what cuts the material.”
“Every year, they improve the robot … based on new technology, new materials, different ways of manufacturing the parts to make the bots even better from year to year,” Lepley added.
Before “BattleBots” was revived in the mid 2010’s, Witch Doctor appeared in regional competitions along the way. When the show returned, so did the team, who had a runner-up finish in season six last year. But Witch Doctor is not the only the robot Kalamazoo WaterJet worked on.
“Over the years, we’ve probably worked with about 10 different other teams, including Hypershock, Valkyrie, Ribbot … to name a few,” Lepley said.
No matter who they’re working with, Lepley and Canela-Derks are thrilled to be in the ring and in the spotlight.
“It’s really exciting. It gets our name out there. A lot of people will mention ‘Oh, Kalamazoo WaterJet? Isn’t that ‘BattleBots’ stuff?’ … ‘Yeah!'” Canela-Derks smiled.
“Working with the ‘BattleBots’ teams has allowed us to gain knowledge in different materials, different machining practices that we can then offer to our customers that come to us with their unique progress,” Lepley added.
“When we got the opportunity to do something a little bit different, it intrigued us and allowed us to get outside of our box. It’s just new and exciting when we hear from them,” he said.