Tormach at FIRST Robotics Championships

Tormach Inc. provide on-site CNC machining services at the FIRST Robotics Championships held at the Cobo Center in Detroit, MI from April 24-27, 2019.

Called ‘The World’s Largest Celebration of STEM for Students’, FIRST Robotics expects over 10,000 visitors and over 800 teams of students at this year’s event in Detroit.

This is the third year in a row that Tormach has been on-site at the FIRST Robotics Championships. The company is one of the event’s machine shop sponsors and also supports the regional FIRST competitions that take place around the country leading up to the championships.

Tormach had two CNC machines at the event, the company’s PCNC 440 and higher-output 770M mills which can easily handle cutting plastics, aluminum to hardened steel and titanium. In addition, the company will have a desktop router ‘and a well-stocked toolbox’ at the event to support the students, according to Jenny Bannink, Tormach’s Lead Machinist. Jenny and Tormach’s Brandon Faulkner will be working the Tormach machines.

Typical on-site setup at FIRST, with the laptop showing the CAD image and the actual product being machined on the Tormach mill.

“We really enjoy supporting the students at the FIRST events,” she said. “Education is a major initiative at Tormach, and we love the opportunity to not only help the students on-site with their projects, but also to show them that machining and manufacturing are great career paths to follow.”

At the FIRST events, Tormach set up an onsite machine shop in the ‘pits’ that are usually strategically located right in the middle of the action on the show floor. Students bring their robots and projects to Tormach for on-site repairs and modifications. The machining necessary to fix or improve a product can be challenging at times, said Bannink, but the experience provides a great real-life example for the students of what a CNC machinist’s job entails.

“We’re providing ‘on the fly’ machining services at these events, and it’s a competition; if a 120 lb. robot falls 6 feet to the floor, for example, or a gearbox malfunctions, that team of students needs help, and they need it quickly,” she said. “Also, some schools bring solid models and blueprints for their products, and others bring sketches; there’s a lot of on-site designing and re-designing happening between the students, coaches and Tormach machinists.”

Women in STEM

Jenny Bannink grew up on small dairy farm in Wisconsin. After graduating from high school, she attended college for one year, but left school due to financial constraints. “Growing up on a farm, I loved helping fix machinery and realized after high school that I wanted to pursue a career as a machinist,” she said. “I ended up going to a trade school and learning CNC machining, which has been a great career for me.”

Jenny tells a story of a young woman she met in St. Louis the first year Tormach supported the FIRST competition. A junior in high school, she approached Jenny and asked her ‘are you a real machinist’? Is it hard to do as a woman?’ “I told her ‘the machine doesn’t care’! We discussed some of the challenges of being female in a male-dominated field. Fast forward to last year, that same woman stopped by to see her again at a regional FIRST event. “She told me she’s now going to school for tool & die machining. I was so happy to see her and hear her story. Young women need to know this is a great career choice and if they want to do it, they can.”

Tormach's Matt Coppola and Jennie Bannink on-site at a recent FIRST regional competition in LaCrosse, WI.


FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. Based in Manchester, NH, the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.
FIRST is More Than Robots. FIRST participation is proven to encourage students to pursue education and careers in STEM-related fields, inspire them to become leaders and innovators, and enhance their 21 st century work-life skills. Read more at

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