Organizing a large electrical subteam

In the past 5 years of our team the electrical subteam has remained a small team with only 4 people on it. This has been pretty good for us since it seems like it is the perfect amount where everyone gets to do a little bit of work. However, with out team growing more people want to join the electrical team and I (a student leader) don’t know how to divide the work/create tasks so that everyone has something to do. I was wondering how other people organize large electrical teams where everyone learns and is engaged.

I would recommend splitting the robot up so half of the robot is controlled by one group of people while the other is controlled by another group, that is what we do but we have a fairly small electrical team. You could also split everyone up into different sub teams inside of electrical like drive train so motors and speed controllers, or wire management because if something goes wrong you want good wire management as you probably know, or just basic wiring so going from the PDP to the speed controllers, to the VRM and PCM, and roborio stuff. Hopefully this helps and this is just suggestions based on what my team does.

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Can you clarify what your “electrical team” does? We used to have electrical and programming subteams, but combined them into a “Controls Team” and that seems to work well. The actual wiring/wire management on the competition robot may be done by someone on the Build Team or someone on the Controls Team.

Having a sub-set of your controls team research and start writing code for various sensors is a good use of time. Even if it doesn’t get used on this year’s robot it’s great to have something in your back pocket for when you need it. Having the same students wire the sensors that they are writing code for has a lot of benefits. It should speed up trouble shooting in the future when something gets unplugged or plugged into the wrong IO port.

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This is how we do it. CAD and build/fabrication decide where electrical components go, build/fabrication and controls wire based on who has work that needs to get done at any given time. We have students who are particularly good at electrical work, but it isn’t ever anyone’s dedicated job.

We sort of had this problem one year with my last team, we had 4 or 5 electrical team members and even that felt like too many. Especially since they didn’t have a lot to do most of the season - they did some prep work in week 1, designed a layout and wired it in week 4 or 5, did a little troubleshooting over the rest of the season. We would start each meeting by listing up on the whiteboard what each subteam was working on that day and making everyone choose where they were going. If you were “on the electrical team” but the captain only had work for one or two helpers, some of the time you would have to sign up to help with something else. We tried to be balanced and make sure the same people weren’t always getting booted from electrical, but we didn’t try to invent busy work for anyone just so they could “work on electrical”.

My current team hasn’t had more than 1 or 2 people on electrical in the time I’ve been with them, and doesn’t do the whiteboard agenda thing. But the philosophy is the same, if there’s no electrical work to do today, help with something else.

We have a big electrical team. 10-15 students per year. We never perfectly fully occupy everyone, but we do our best.

The subteam responsibilities include:

  • Control board design
  • Battery and main breaker layout and assembly
  • Control board fabrication, assembly, wiring
  • Sensor planning, assembly, wiring
  • Pneumatics design and assembly
  • System documentation (I/O List, labeling)
  • Battery testing
  • Involvement with prototyping groups

Our elec team is more active with the board design, pneumatics, and we run more extensive battery testing than many. We also build 2 robots and at least one protobot, so that adds work. When we still inevitably have downtime, we try to cross-train the elec students to help with mech part fabrication, or another cross-disciplinary activity, like helping strategy/scouting, CAD, outreach, business, etc.

I’ve seen multiple people here suggest specializing in different parts, but our team choose to do things a little differently. We had 3 people in the ‘electrical team’, and all three knew the entire board top to bottom. That way if something came loose during a competition, any one of them would be capable of fixing it.

During the initial weeks of the build season, the electrical team practiced by quite literally building a fully functional board on a flat piece of wood, testing it and finding flaws in the design, and then scrapping it and building it again trying to improve it each time. While initially they may have needed to reference the Screensteps, by the time they did it 2-3 times on practice boards they already knew all of it by heart. Additionally, our electrical team for the first time teamed up with the CAD people, having the entire electrical board designed in CAD with files from Vex/Andymark/Grabcad, allowing for multiple iterations and printing it out on A3 to see how the parts fit together.

Above is my experience from my time, and I recognized that it worked well for us because our electrical team was 3 (and not 15…) For you I recommend to have at least 3 active people who know everything top-down, and then you could have additional people specializing in just batteries for example, while still trying to understand the entire board. That being said, I don’t know that you do need an electrical team that big - perhaps the people could instead join programming or building where the specialized tasks can require much more effort (as many tasks in electrical, like connecting the power cables and crimping Anderson’s, just don’t require that much effort in comparison).

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