Electrical planning

What program does your team use to plan out the layout of the electrical board? I am currently using Inventor to plan it out, but am looking for alternatives.

Cardboard, sharpie and the components themselves. Remember that you can also have stuff in three dimensions, I know of at least one team this season mounting their roboRIO sideways to save space.

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Wing it.

that’s the spirit

On a more serious note, we tend to do a couple of iterations of wooden boards and then a final one out of sheet metal or polycarbonate. No software.

My team has laid out the electronics in CAD before building in the past. It helps with getting the layout set up, and you can print out the electronics board on a big piece of paper and get wires made before anything else on the robot is done.

We are going to plan it all out roughly on plywood then put them in cad and cut out all the mounting holes in our final aluminum belly pan.

I’d suggest a rough layout in CAD and then match drilling the actual holes into whatever board you are using. We’ve used ABS and polycarb with success in the past.

Vertical electronics are handy for space saving, just be careful of some gyros that have to be mounted horizontally to function. Also would suggest taking the time to heat shrink connections, zip tie / fasten everything down nicely, and add labels—neat electronics look nice and are easy to troubleshoot.

CAD is a fantastic option if you can. If that is not within your reach, I’d recommend cardboard cutouts of the components (if you have extra’s, the real ones work great too) and either a cardboard/wooden equivalent of the belly pan, or the real thing if you’ve got it. Now you can place everything out, and move it around as needed. Finally, once you’re confident that you’ve got your layout, mark the parts outline with a sharpie on the temporary board in case things get bumped or moved.

I’ll second what cad321 had to say. Not all the students (or mentors) are well versed in CAD. Making a life-size “CAD-BOARD” model helps them visualize the space requirements for components and wire routing.

Inventor is the best option for the final presentation of it but I need to be drawn out so you can make sure the lines are the least cluttered.

Tim, you beat me to it.

One other thing to note with the cardboard and sharpie strategy: If you want to let new members try to make their own layouts so they get the experience, trace the components you want them to use out of more card board. You can mark where certain things are on them (Vin, CAN, etc) so they function as a closer replica of the real thing for practice.

+1 for cardboard assisted design (CAD)!

I’ve asked the electrical team on 868 to create a schematic / wiring diagram to show all components, connectors, etc. so that every wire can get a label and that we can use the diagram to track progress when wiring the robot, and to aid troubleshooting when it will be necessary.

The students are working with Autocad Electrical, it looks like that allows them to create the schematic and then route the wires.

For rough ideas and brainstorming we have 1:1 printouts of electrical components that we laminated and attached magnets to. We mix and match on a whiteboard and use expo markers to represent wire paths.

After that we use Inventor to figure out mounting for all of components and to make sure everything clears mechanisms. We’ve stopped using threaded fasteners on our controls components and have standardized everything to 3M Dual Lock instead which has greatly simplified mounting stuff.

For basic organization we use a sheet like this:

We’re using AutoCAD Electrical for the first time this year for a full wiring diagram, not sure if it’s really worthwhile, but the kids wanted to try it. It was a bit of work getting component representations made, but it should be fairly easy to maintain since we can reuse those in years to come.

I definitely second (third? fourth at this point?) the cardboard idea. If you do have access to CAD and know how to use it well, it’s a great tool. Otherwise, cardboard/plywood is the way to go. I especially agree with the cardboard cutouts for new members.

Cardboard; what a concept.

After figuring out what we need on the board, we usually do layout with the components on a piece of plastic pegboard, then start affixing components to the board and wiring them up. More often than not, we will have already cut the boards down to what will fit on the current chassis; the other way often leads to sadness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.

Quite a few people have given good advice on the mechanics of how to create your layout, mainly using two forms of CAD.

The paper I posted several years ago gives some guidance on what you should aim to accomplish when making your layout. It also give you some tips on how to avoid common problems, advice on what tools to use to get good results, some construction tips, techniques for checking the quality of your work (so you don’t sit dead during a match) and examples of good and bad connections. Enable the “Normal” or “Notes Page” view in MS Powerpoint to see extra notes associated with each slide.

The only thing I would change is that I had suggested that the electrical CAD packages could be used to create your layout and document it. We tried it the following year and found it was too cumbersome for FRC applications. They gave more benefit when used to route the numerous large power cables in the electrical equipment we were designing at work.

Hope this helps.

I absolutely love the cardboard method - and we’re going to start doing that for our robot on Saturday now that we’ve pretty well finalized the systems we’ll need. Gets everyone involved, even freshman who know little about the system (yet).

This year I may add ‘wireway’ portions since we’ve neglected to leave enough room for all our wires a couple times in the past.


Having the electronics (and pneumatics) panel construction proceed in parallel with the construction of the chassis is a good way to make better use of your 6 weeks of build time. You should also be able to pre-test much of your electronics (and pneumatics) systems before installing it in the robot chassis. Just check that the empty panel fits into the chassis before installing the parts on it.