Best Time Savings

So one of my big goals this year is to be more efficient with are time. I was wondering what was your teams best time saver things you have done

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As a team which is only scheduled for 13.5 hours a week during build season (though near the end it usually goes up a few hours per week), the most important thing is to make good use of the time you’re not in the shop. Programming, CAD, purchases, planning, research, writing, and as much communication as you can manage has to continue between build sessions.

Of the time spent in build, the two most important things have been:

  • Planning, in particular defining the order and priority of specific, reachable milestones at a level of detail such that each work group achieves at least one each build session and tracking progress against the plan, and
  • Practice, that is, giving students some experience with the things they will be doing during build BEFORE build. This is NOT to say that you should stop teaching and learning during build season, but that the more you can front-load this, the more productive your in-season time can be, both for the builders and the leaders, who will have more time for planning. We recruited about half of our rookies for this year during the summer, so several of them already have experience working in the pit (at an off season event).

I can hopefully provide some tips in the CAD modeling section of work…

Our team is quite small and I am essentially the only individual who knows how to use CAD on our team. Here is how I am able to work efficiently to try and match the CAD achievements of teams with many more people:

First of all, don’t start the actual CAD model until you can’t visualize it in your head in any more detail. The more you design in your head, the more you can fix before it is CAD modeled. That way you don’t have to go through and redo entire subsystems quite as many times.

Also before starting the CAD model, draw the entire frame out on paper in all the different views (sides, top, bottom). This allows for the CAD to go quick once started because you can copy off of a piece of paper. This goes for other mechanisms as well but in a less detailed manner.

Don’t CAD model anything unnecessary. Make sure to think about where bolts and wires and tubing will be fitting, but don’t spend the time modeling them all in.

While CAD modeling, the biggest time saver for me has been this spreadsheet that I created. I used to end up with about 20 windows open on my laptop, but now with this I only need solidworks and the spreadsheet. It has info on all of the parts our team uses, and calculators for all types of power transmission and pneumatics. Also in other tabs it has an inventory, a space for pasting values from the calculators for future notice, and the CAW. It wont work for you when viewing it because the files are on my hard drive, but the titles of each part are hyperlinked to the drawings for quick mechanical reference. I would highly suggest designing a spreadsheet like this tailored to your team’s specific mechanical design style.

I hope some of this helps!

i really like your spread sheet idea. any chance you could zip all the pdf that you have linked in there.

Yes! I have a zip file made. Can someone explain how I put that zip file into this forum?

This is a great idea, I’ll definitely be implementing something like this, this season.

Don’t know if that was the best way to do it, but the zip file is in the most recent white paper! There is also a discussion forum for it now. Glad people are interested!

thanks for posting that

One thing I have tried in the past few seasons was giving the programmers a heads up on what to expect.

Telling them that the team intends to use X motor for a function or Y drivetrain style really helps give them time to work.

Even though it might be a week before a robot is ready to have the code loaded to be tested, the programmers can use this time to layout a basic framework for what the code will look like based on what is being designed/CAD’ed/built.

I’m hoping to try a new approach to electronics this year. Usually, our wiring process takes about a week, since we do it very neatly. Also, we usually wait until the frame is all machined, welded, and back from powder coat. This time, I’m going to try to work with the students to start on the electronics layout on Day 1, and mount it all to a sub-plate, that the rest of the design will have to accommodate later. That way, we can start wiring right away, and have it all ready to go whenever the robot is mechanically done. At least we can wire everything from main breaker to motor controllers and everything in between. Frame comes back from powder coat, assemble mechanical things, plop the electronics plate in, plug in motors and encoders, and you’re up and running. I think it would get us running about a day after powder coat instead of a week after powder coat.

I’m a mechanical stuff guy, and the best way I’ve found to save time is to think simple. Every year I see lots of teams invest a ton of time (we’ve been guilty too) into ideas or mechanics that were too complicated to sort out in the short build season. Every idea I come up with I try to think “how can I make this more simple?” This includes making it mechanically simple (less mechanisms/moving parts,) build simple using easy to work with parts (COTS vs. custom, or builder friendly stock like versatube, 80/20 etc.) making it easy to assemble/service/upgrade and more. The time you spend thinking about and simplifying your designs will be returned many times over in the long run.

Often times the more mechanically simple a concept is, the easier it is to CAD (saves time) the easier it is to build (saves time) and the easier it is to program (saves time.)

I also encourage our team to find a good balance between COTS and Custom parts. We have limited machining resources (all manual machines, except one DRO mill, still requires manual entry) so deciding when to make vs. buy is an important decision, and can often save a lot of time.

Think smart, plan ahead, and keep it simple! You’ll save a TON of time, and probably end up with a more reliable and competitive machine.

After our disastrous “fit the electronics into a really cramped space” experience our second year, we tried doing the electronics first, but we wound up having to change it anyway as an alternative to even more invasive mechanical issues. Some years, the space available is roughly square, others it is longer and thinner. Last year it wound up being two different areas, so we did electronics in one and pneumatics in the other; this was much easier with the PCM than it would have been with the cRIO pneumatics module.

I would recommend doing the electronics layout more in parallel with the chassis, rather than have it drive the robot design. That is, once the basic requirements are known (e.g. six motor controllers, four solenoids, and a raspberry pi vision processor), do a quick layout to determine how **much **space you need (don’t forget battery and main breaker), and make sure that it’s included in the chassis design. Then, after the chassis is drawn out, do the detail design and build the control board while the frame is being machined, welded, and powder coated. You should still be ready to install and plug in by the time the mechanical systems are assembled.

Edit: If you do this, make sure to coordinate between your board wiring sub-team and your chassis wiring sub-team as to where (and what type) your connectors will be. It’s no fun to come up a few inches short, or a foot too long. Even if it’s the same two people, it’s better to decide before you start terminating wires.

Single biggest time saver I can remember is learning to draft. CAD is great but takes an awful lot of time to learn how use it efficiently. I just sketch my ideas and only CAD when total precision is necessary. you’d be surprised the precision that can be achieved with pencil and paper. I saved countless hours.

Organize tools and supplies… we spend more time looking for things until I had had it as a coach… put the tool back was my refrain all last season… Just ask the forest lake team…

Know when its time to have a meeting and when to end one.

Its very easy to waste over a week if parts of the team aren’t unified or working towards ambiguous goals. Sometimes spending four hours on a Saturday with everyone in a classroom during week 4 is what you need to get everyone up to speed and working together. Most nights you can keep these meetings to 10 minutes with a one hour recap once a week for a more in depth conversation.

On the flip side there are many cases where a three hour meeting sidetracks a whole team with just two small groups (or individuals) talking. Know when a sub-group needs their own in depth conversation before bringing in the whole team for a larger discussion.

Don’t have long meetings unless there is a large volume of specific tasks to be done in the time of that meeting. Meetings where the tasks to be done aren’t clear should not be more than a few hours.

The reasons for this are simple:

  1. Time is a finite resource, and I don’t mean in the sense of “there are 24 hours in a day” time. I mean that, people will only be able to productively output a certain number of hours of time into the robotics team a year. Time you are using to have robotics meetings is time that person is not studying, resting, working, or otherwise not spending on robotics. Managing burnout is critical.

  2. Long meetings without an active plan are really not more productive than shorter meetings without an active plan. People get bored and lose energy. People get lost and unmotivated. Long meetings should be reserved for those contingencies when a deadline approaches and everyone knows how to proceed.

If you do it right, you might actually find that your team is MORE productive when meeting for dramatically less time. Don’t just max out the calendar because you can.

My first year on 2363 I noticed how much time was being wasted by people looking for common hand tools. We started buying all new mechanical and electrical subteam students small toolpouches with commonly used tools. Students can do 80% of their work using the tools they carry on their person. This has cut down drastically on wasted time. Over time, students add their own tools to the pouch as needed, and become even more efficient.


  • 3/16, 5/32, 1/8 ball end allen wrenches
  • 7/16, 3/8 open wrenches
  • 6" scale
  • fine point sharpie marker
  • tape measure


  • needle nose pliers (for tightening zip ties)
  • flush cut nippers
  • “tweaker” flat head screwdriver

Love this thread, and it seems like a good time to bring it back because teams are ramping up their activity & also because I have a question…

We’re planning to invest more time in driver training, and during the pre-build part of the season we’re going to start with a potentially large number (could be as high as 10 or 15) of team members who are interested in driving. We have ~4 robots to train with. Even though we’re investing more time, time will still be quite limited… We’ll probably manage to devote 2-3 hours, 1 weekend day per week.

I have ideas about how to organize this, like divide the students by the number of robots, focus on a different aspect of training with each robot, and do 1/2 hour rotations through the robots / training areas. I’ll be also be working with our student drive coach who may have different ideas.

The question: Given limited time, does anyone with experience have tips for how to make pre-build driver training time with lots of driver candidates efficient?


I agree with this 110% percent. I’ve gone through a dramatic reduction in team meeting hours on two different teams, and both times the robots improved after we cut way back on hours. The best time savings is for you (the students) to show up ready to actually do work (note that doing work doesn’t mean you can’t also have fun!). Nothing makes mentors run for the hills like a week of students goofing off followed by a Saturday request to meet on Sunday to actually get things done.

Never to nearly that extent, but I think the same answer still applies: remember that (unless your team has unusual dyanamics) one or two drivers (add operators if that’s a separate role) will do most if not all of the competition driving for the season. Reduce the number of candidates earlier rather than later. With that many candidates, I would try to knock it in half by early November and again in half by kickoff. Even if you build a practice robot or two, you still have limited stick time to apportion among all the driver candidates. As you thin the ranks before the game announcement, be sure to not only rank the candidates, but note specifically what each does well/not so well. Some are great at driving cross field and avoiding (or engaging) defenders, where others are better at detail maneuvers like lining up a hang or a shot. Try to have a relatively broad rather than deep selection of drivers going into the game reveal.

Another thing you can do if you have flexibility in your location and a bunch of mentor/coaches or one who is ready to be there lots of hours, is to have extra “driver practice sessions” where drive practice and pit-style repairs are all that happens. It’s also good training for the pit crews! We’ve only done this during build season, but perhaps you could benefit from this earlier.