Managing Inventory Suggestions

I am doing this for another student on our team who asked me to post this since he felt not very good at his position.

So, I am usually the kid who manages our inventory (Wheel, Motors, Individual Bolts). And while at the beginning of the season I did a decent job in my position, later threw the season it went downhill with me forgetting where stuff was and struggling to make each individual group (mechanical, electrical, programming) life easier. I mean heck I forgot one of our most needed tool for one of our most important off-season event. Besides making my team life difficult (needing to go around and ask for tools) and basically embarrassing myself.

Currently I am just managing the Inventory with my mind, and since our former Quartermaster didn’t actually leave anything for me to go on (since he was better at the job then me) I’m not sure really where to start. Preferably before our next off-season event I would like to improve how I manage our Inventory of what we take to events as well as what in our Shop.

So I’m asking is what suggestions can you recommend to me in order to manage the teams inventory better. If it to make a organization spread sheet then please give a example. If it to make a map to where everything is so even when I’m not there/available they can fine what they need easily, then do you have a example.

Thank you,

Work from your pit, even during the build season. I don’t mean a defined 10’x10’ area… but there will be a set of tool chests and such that you bring to your event. Those are what you should be working from. You’ll have additional storage or tools in your shop, of course. As the season progresses and things go on the robot, get spare parts moved from that additional storage into the stuff you bring to events with you. Essentially, you create two piles - “this is what we need for the robot” and “everything else”. Get the entire team into the habit of moving things from the second pile to the first as they go.

Finally, before packing the trailer have a meeting with your build leads. Everyone that lead a mechanism design or construction should be there. Move everything you’re bringing with you into one area in your shop, and have everyone go through everything else to make sure it’s not needed. After all, the people that designed and built the robot are the ones that really know whats needed - you can’t expect one person to know everything.

For what it’s worth, my team doesn’t have a “quartermaster” position. We spread this responsibility across all of the team leadership positions, making those positions responsible for ensuring their groups have what they need to be successful.

Hello anon Virginia student! I recommend having your mentors join and participate in the “CHS Mentors” facebook group. A couple of us were discussing related topics earlier this summer… click to embiggen.](

Looking at a pile of stuff and identifying what is missing is a skill you can learn! Triple Helix uses this packing checklist every time we do an outing. The packing checklist continues to evolve over time as we make mistakes and learn.

Well on my team we don’t have a quartermaster. The entire team is responsible for packing what we need for all of our events. We usually start with the items and tool in our own sub-teams. For example I am a programmer so I got the laptop, charger, joysticks, Ethernet cables etc. Then I would help with whatever else the team needs.

I do not see a need for your position. I think the team as a whole should be responsible for packing everything, primarily the sub-teams that it belongs to.

So it looks like you have two separate issues here: Managing stock levels and Equipment Organization.

There are a number of approaches for both of these, and if you have any mentors or sponsors that work in an industry that utilizes inventory management I would definitely recommend talking to them to see how their workplace does it. That said, I can give you a few recommendations based on my own experience:

In regards to the first issue, managing stock levels, there are two ways to do this depending on the type of item. For more expensive/important items (Motors, Motor Controllers, Electronics, Pneumatic Components, etc.) the best thing to do is label each one with a unique identifier (a label printer is your friend here, even better if it has a bar-code function on it) and keep track of them on a spreadsheet or similar method (this can also be useful for keeping track of where parts are, when and where they’ve been used in the past, and if they’re bad or not). With some creative spreadsheet “coding” you could write a simple script that track the # of available units of a particular item and warn you when stock levels get too low and you need to order more. I’d also recommend making whatever you use cloud accessible (like a google sheet) so you can share it with whoever does the ordering on your team.

As far as tracking smaller items (bolts and such), this one is quite a bit trickier because it’s basically impossible to track individual fasteners (and even if there was, no one would take the time to do it). What I would recommend would be to get a matching set of clear-top bolt organizers (my team uses THESE, if you decide to get something like this, avoid organizers with removable trays, you never get all the trays back) use one organizer for a particular type of fastener (for example, one organizer is only 8-32s, one only 10-32s, etc.) and label each compartment by fastener size. You should then be able to keep track of fastener stock levels visually by doing periodic inspections of the organizers.

Now, as for shop organization the best way I’ve found to keep things organized is to make your shop as similar to your pit area as possible. Don’t pack a traveling tool case for events and then unpack it into a different storage solution when you get back to your shop, use the same tool case all the time and bring it with you (depending on what you have, this may require investing in a larger tool case or other portable organization solutions). One team I spoke with this year built their own version of the 973 “Super Pit” and told me that they use it almost exclusively both in their pit and at their shop and they swore by it. The major benefits to this is that everyone always knows where everything is (since it’s always in the same place), and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to bring something because it’s always kept in something you’re definitely going to bring with you. Another, simpler way to keep track of things is to create a “packing checklist”, so that you know what to look for when going to an event. This list may change season to season (and can even be specific to a particular robot or even a particular event) so be sure to review the list frequently and change it as needed. Generally I recommend such lists in addition to permanent portable storage for items that don’t fit in your portable storage solution, but an extensive checklist can also be used in place of an adequate portable storage solution if you can’t afford one (though I do not recommend this as it’s still possible to miss things).

Hope that helps! :wink:

Essentially this. We work from the toolbox and bins that we compete with. We move extra essential pieces into a tote for that year’s robot. Mechanical lead mentor manages a lot of the tools and mechanical parts. Electrical lead mentor likewise handles those bins/tools that are used for that. Media, programming, scouting, spirit, and Chairman’s all manage themselves.

Students should be packing the pit supplies and at least a couple (pit crew chief and assistant) should be pretty knowledgeable about where things are and other students can go through them for things past the basics. Anyone working on the robot should gain a pretty good knowledge about where most things are by the end of the season. Good labels on the drawers and bins helps. Straightening things out helps. Color-coding, etc.

There are likely reasonable inventorying systems and location mapping for the more ambitious, though I don’t have suggestions. I talked with the neighbor to our shop recently and he was telling me about their inventory system that involved bins and scanning items in and out. That might work combined with some scanners and computers/tablets, but may be above what most team need. I had the opportunity to grab a discarded scanner, but foolishly let it go. It would have been useful for this or other projects. It would be nice to have a more clear picture of what high dollar items (>$15) we have in the shop, like cylinders shown in the CHS facebook group.

edit: We have pull-out bins for bolts and nuts, which can be visually inspected and re-stocked as need. Luckily, we haven’t lost any of the drawers yet (in several years of use). They are spray painted with a gradient on the front which helps make placing them back in the right spot pretty easy.

First of all, it’s great that you’ve identified you’re having issues with your role and are asking the community for help! Way to take initiative to improve your contributions to your team.

Seconded! Mentors and sponsors are great resources for this kind of thing.

I highly recommend this! We finally fully labeled nearly all of our hardware organizers with component sizes (length, diameter, whatever’s applicable) last year and it was incredibly helpful for inventory management, and made build season go more smoothly for everyone. One glance and you should know what you’re missing or low on. Be vigilant and enforce that each piece of hardware must be put back in the correct place - it might help to put a hardware gauge (thisis a simple one) or a ruler right next to where you store your hardware…and tie it to a string so it doesn’t wander off.

It might help you to start the year with a full inventory of your team’s belongings, before parts start to be taken from stock for new projects. Use Google Sheets or Excel to list every item, and a quantity next to it. Go over this list with your mentors and team leaders and determine what, if anything, needs to be ordered to meet your current needs. You probably don’t need to count every single 1/4" washer and list it, but if you use the organization method above (clear-top small parts bins), I would list the type/size of hardware and instead of having a quantity, use “in stock”, “low stock”, “out of stock”. You should re-order when you’re low, not out. Re-inventory at a frequency that makes sense to you - maybe before build season, halfway through build season, end of build season, end of competition season. There are some teams out there that have a more in-depth system for tracking real-time inventories, which I’m sure work great, but they ARE more complex to implement and not all teams have the resources and team support to do that. Work within your means (both with $ and team support for the system) and start with what you feel will address your immediate problems, whether it’s re-organizing your supplies to make things easier to find, or just getting team members to put items back in the correct spot.

For general organization, I’m a huge proponent of color-coding as an additional means of organization. I’ve found that when I’m in a rush, visual aids like color are incredibly helpful and save me time.

Having a map of where tools/parts are is a great idea! I think that that would be an incredibly useful took for new members who are still learning the names of tools and parts. We started mapping out our storage cabinets last year but didn’t finish it before build season, so it’s about halfway completed and I don’t have anything to use as an example currently. One thing we also were/are going to create is an A-Z index that lists items by name, and gives the location by cabinet and shelf number (if you don’t know what an item even is, how are you going to know where to look for it? a map is only useful if you have a general idea of what you’re looking for!).

Make a packing list for events. Relying on memory (yours or someone else’s) is a great way to forget things. I did some human performance training at work a few years ago and one of the things they taught us was along the lines of “if there are more than seven steps, there must be a written procedure and you should have that procedure in front of you”, because your ability to recall tasks from memory is more difficult and more likely to fail when under pressure.

Have a physical/digital checklist that has EVERYTHING you need to pack, from electrical tape to motors. This list should be made *before *you pack, and boxes should be checked *as *you pack. Some items should be consistent from year to year - you’ll always need tape, scissors, zip ties, most tools, etc - and you should have the rest of the team contribute to this list with year-specific items. The best people to make that part of the packing list are the leaders for each subgroup and/or subsystem, because they will know their needs best. The entire team can (and, IMO, should) help with packing, but you will have the best results if there is organization and control to it.

We pack tools by sub-team as well. Electrical gets a toolbox, mechanical has a toolbox, programming/controls has a tote, spirit, scouting, safety, and we also pack tools and parts according to sub-systems on the robot.

To add to this, while we don’t do color coding of everything, we do have what I call our “red drawer” (better known as the “common tools” drawer) in our tool case that is home to any “common tools” we use frequently on the robot for easy accessibility. We label each individual tool that goes in it with a piece of red electrical tape so we always know it goes back in that drawer (which also has a red piece of tape on the handle).

This is helpful because, for example, while you might have a full set of Allen wrenches, you don’t want to always be rummaging through it if you only ever use one or two sizes. Plus if you have to ask someone who’s new in the pit to get you a tool, you can just say “it’s in the red drawer”.

Adding further to this also, color coding by size is extremely helpful. We have a set of colored tool bags I bought for the team two years ago and only put tools for a specific nut and bolt size in each. Black is 1/4", red 10-32, gray 8-32. There are allen wrenches, ratchet wrenches, nut drivers, and clearance sized drill bits for standard sized SHCS and nuts in each. Makes it really convenient to clean up quickly and when you are working on the kit frame someone can just say “I need a red wrench” rather than specifying size to someone who may not know where to look for the writing.