Large CAD Team?

Hi everyone, our team is growing this season, and we found ourselves with 14 students that want to be on the CAD team. As a mentor, its great to see but thinking about managing such a large group in ghe season gives me a headache :slight_smile: . are there teams out there with such large CAD subteams? I would love to hear from your experience.
Thanks in Advance!


I might recommend having 5-7 being full-time while the rest can work as auxiliary, while helping with other tasks. Not too sure about that though not a big fan of voluntelling people what to do

Thats exactly my problem here, Im not a fan of telling kids to do things they dont enjoy, at least not as much as cadding. And I dont want to create a super competitive atomsphere in the team. I’m wondering if the really big teams (100+students) face the same problem…

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Our CAD and build are combined, and it’s a 20-member department that I run with two other students. I find it… manageable. I usually break the subteam down into groups doing each subsystem’s CAD, and I oversee and combine them all myself. It frequently involves standing in front of a room telling everyone “your mechanism will not go in Fullbot until I see it has zero errors,” and then resolving the mate errors for them anyway.

I don’t know what software your team currently uses, but we’ve found that at that scale, using a cloud-based software (rather than a local file software with a sharing system like GrabCAD) is essential to smooth operation. We’ve tried Fusion, Solidworks, and OnShape, and are settling into OnShape for at least the next few years.


This is a great problem to have! What fraction does this represent of your team as a whole? If this represents a large fraction of the team you might consider reorganizing how your team is structured. One potential solution is to dissolve the CAD subteam and incorporate them into each subsystem. It might allow for faster iteration. We break our team into subteams by subsystem (ie chassis/ launcher/ turret etc). They own the system cradle to final operation on the robot: prototyping, CAD, CAM, Machining, assembly etc.


An important factor to consider is what CAD software your team plans to use. On my team, in order to allow a lot students to participate in CAD, we prioritized:

  • Ease of collaboration (where to store files, how to share them in a timely manner, etc.)
  • Ease of getting started for new students (i.e. no big program installations, availability of training resources, etc.)
  • Ease of file organization (descriptive file naming, subfolders for subsystems, etc.)

We used to use SolidWorks & GrabCAD, but wanted something that didn’t require as much time/effort to share files with the rest of the design team. Also something that doesn’t crash all the time.

We use OnShape now because it eliminates the need to transfer files completely (since it’s cloud-based), and becuase it allows new students to get started very quickly, from any device, since OnShape runs in-browser. It’s also super easy to organize the CAD into folders for different subsystems, within the same workspace (i.e. each robot has its own workspace). And you never lose your work because OnShape automatically “saves” after every edit.

One of the under-rated but life-saving features of OnShape is the version control and searchable history - this comes in handy when students accidentally change something they shouldn’t or even delete something completely. You can just go back in the history, find when they made that edit, and either revert the workspace back to that state, or copy that past state into a new temporary workspace to retrieve the pre-edited file without losing all of the other work that has been done since that change. With a large CAD team that consists of many novice designers, this is a big deal.


I think your solution makes most sense… I try to have 2-3 students on each subteam by mechanism work on cad this year and i found they iterated faster and kids who fabricated worked more closely with the design and prototyping for that mechanism. I’ve moved away from a ‘cad team’ because it ended up only a few students ended up doing most of the work and it slowed down iteration time since they ended up doing the whole robot. And the communication started lacking with other parts of the team.

By having 2-3 cad on a mechanism, it allowed them to be next to each other working together, and when one couldn’t make it to a build day due to being sick, or other commitments, the work continued in an upward trajectory. As each mechanism reached its integration point there would be a main full robot assembly they would insert into. The mechanism that finished first (usually drivetrain), would then take over on full robot to ensure interferences and such were resolved.

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We have a Mechanical Design subteam that encompasses prototyping, CAD, and assembly. This year we created the formal structure of having a mechanical design captain responsible for overseeing the whole thing, and three mechanism leads (responsible for leading the prototyping and CAD of the intake, shooter, and climber respectively). The rest of the mechanical design team members self-organized into: four newer students who divided themselves among those three mechanism groups, one new student who did misc CAD tasks such as the battery holder but also did work for other subteams, one student who didn’t CAD but helped all 3 mechanism teams with prototyping and assembly, and 3-4 students who helped with assembly but also did work for other subteams. We found this a pretty effective structure.

We use Onshape for collaboration, and set the expectation that all the students CADing a particular mechanism sit together and work under the instruction and close supervision of the mechanism lead. We found this structure pretty effective - we’ve been wanting to move in this direction for a while but this was the first year we’ve had enough experienced CADers to have a captain + 3 mechanism leads.

I’ve been facing a similar issue, primarily regarding how to include a large quantity of enthusiastic CAD and design students into a project where you really want 5-7 people doing the the bulk of the work.

In my experience, having more than 1 to 2 people per subsystem starts getting into a “too many cooks” situation. Generally I find that a CAD team of 5-7 people fits this perfectly. What do other people do to engage more students in CAD and design in a meaningful way without overcrowding each subsystem?


I’m looking into limiting CAD to veteran members – people who CAD as rookies are making a picture, not a robot, since they just don’t know how a real robot comes together. This installs a natural barrier to entry for CAD, and, ideally, ends in better designs.


Ah, I’m trying to get more students engineering experience, not less. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. :slight_smile:


I’ve been trying to build up to that point in numbers! Congrats. One think that people often don’t think of is “Jobs outside Modeling.” Design calculations for belt centers, gear centers, various ratios, the basic stuff who’s doing that? Who’s double checking that? Who is naming all these parts or better yet numbering them?

Also with a large group split into sub-groups by major subsystem, I’d consider assigning the task of making 2d drawings for Subsystem A to the Subsystem B modeling team and vice versa … for checking.

Sound like fun!

This season, we had a lot of rookies who were enthusiastic about design, but didn’t have the mechanical knowledge to really design any manufacturable parts yet at the start of the season.
And since the veteran CAD students were usually preoccupied with CAD, design discussions, or prototyping, there was a need for more CAM/CNC work to be done by others.

So, those enthusiastic rookies stepped up to fill that gap and were our primary CAM people. They also ended up running the CNC router for the vast majority of our in-season production (after being trained). The veteran CADers would tell the rookie CAMers/CNCers which parts they needed made, and the rookies took over from there.

This hands-on experience not only gave the rookies something to do, but it gave them a productive way to learn how our team designs for manufacturing (DFM).
By the end of the season, those rookies were designing manufacturable, competition-ready parts too!

This all happened very organically this season, but I think in the future we will actually plan for rookies to lead up CAM/CNC from the get-go. Great way for them to contribute and learn fast!


Make sure you have proper data merging (i reccomend usibg a shared library in windows - it works better than grab cad)
Create work - Make a dedicated subteams to all subsystems of the robot: eveb electronic wire routings can be modeled - you will have very detailed cad you will be proud of the students


I had coworkers who never helped to build the prototypes. Often, they designed products that were much harder and more expensive to build and maintain than the engineers who would get their hands dirty.


This topic sparked a pretty big discussion between @ShaneBeres @NustinJewton and I this post is a accumulation of all our recommendations. Feel free to PM any of us for further questions.

Just going off the post seeing that “14 students that want to be on the CAD team” , In my experience there is commonly a falloff between the students that WANT to design and the students who learn to have the patience, time, and skills to learn and use CAD effectively. It might be likely that out of the 14 students only 4 will want to do it through the season, because of this I would primarily worry about training for now. Finding or making the students online resources for your given CAD program that they can follow along with at their speed will be a huge help and will assist you with teaching a large team.

I’m also not sure where your team’s manufacturing capabilities are, however having 14 skilled designers doing the CAD for an amazing robot will be drastically effected if your fabrication team can’t catch up with the pace of your designers. It may be worth it to bulk up your fabrication team as there are many applicable positions for the students’ interests for designers if CAM and CNC machining is a possibility. More to this, the designers need to be educated on your team’s manufacturing practices, requiring the designers to know what designs are and aren’t manufacturable from a fabrication standpoint.

Now if by the time you make it to build season and you have 14 skilled designers, awesome! But It’s challenging to have more than 1 designer on a single mechanism design due to the handoff of unfinished designs being problematic and can result in communication issues. What is possible, however, is handing off a developed and finished prototype to be tested and an accompanying CAD model. Because of this, Instead of multiple students on the same mechanism I would attempt to use any excess CAD students to develop iterative mechanisms from a existing design with changed variables or a different competing design to continue to attempt to maximize the effectiveness of the robot.

If that was our team we would try to split up the team a little further by putting a bunch of your more experienced designers on an actual “Design” team that does more in depth CAD work related to the subsystems that aren’t worth doing fast prototypes for, such as: shooters, lifts, arms, chassis/superstructure, or gearboxes.

As mentioned before, then the other capable designers can become “Mechanism/Prototyping” leads in charge of rapidly designing and iterating prototypes and mechanisms that can be quickly manufactured, assembled and tested. This process can give designers valuable experience in learning what can and cannot be made easily, and the physical prototypes that they produce can be tested and validated for their functions, eventually being able to be implemented onto the actual robot. This can be done either through their design being developed enough or by passing the effective prototype CAD onto the robot design team.

Any additional or completely new people interested in design I would have shadowing either the prototyping design team or the robot design team, as this can teach them valuable knowledge on FRC mechanisms and can allow them to find interest in specific aspects of the design process.


That would certainly be an interesting problem to have. I think we ran with ~17% of our school on the team this year… Ok that still is only 12-14 kids total…

This is a big one. I’d estimate that my team gets around a 1:2 dedicated:hanging-around member ratio—it varies by subteam, but it holds season-to-season that initial numbers are usually much higher than week six numbers.

I have still yet to see an actual solution to getting 10+ students involved in CAD that doesn’t just boil down to “have them do something else”.


I guess I didn’t tally up the numbers in my post but we had 9 CADers this year. I think our structure could have supported 11 or 12 if we’d had that many students interested. It did rely on having 4 very experienced CAD students to take high responsibility/leadership roles, but that’s something we’ve been consciously working towards for a while, and I think other teams could replicate it (depending of course on their level of available mentor time & effort).

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