Pit Design

Our team has started planning out what we want our pit to look like this year. How to organize tools, what to buy, and how to decorate it. What are some tips or trick that has helped your team have an efficient pit?

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Make sure it fits in your trailer or plan on how it gets to competition. Too heavy and it can go through the bottom of the trailer. Too big and it might not fit in the trailer

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Our team aims for complete setup and teardown in less than 15 minutes with two to three people. We often spend more time waiting for the trailer to get to the door than anything else.

The hard part is including everything you want in your pit, too. We keep essentials: a computer, a vise, band saw, drill press, heat bender, outlets, and storage on the work bench. Plus a battery cart and a tool box for the rest.

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Last year we got a hanging shoe organizer like the pic below, and used it for water bottles as I was not happy with them being left all over and set on every flat surface. We had a nice place to hang it on the side of some shelving, worked out great! We actually saw some other teams doing this at comp, and one of our mentors ran out right then and bought one for us!

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For tools you can make a pretty comprehensive tool list that will let you fix any issue at a competition.

F.e 10-32 bolts you should know what wrenches and allen keys you need. For organization of allen keys, mcmaster sells differnet colors for allen keys and you can get different colored painters tape to help you identify them quickly. Even for clearance hoels for liek 1/4-20 you know that you should need like an F drill bit of a 1/4" drill bit (up to you)

For power tools, stock up on batteries, different bit sets (like milwaukee drivers). I’d recommend keeping a power tool ecosystem, for us this means milwaukee everything. This is nice so you don’t buy multiple battery types.

Most of all,i’d consult the actual people working on the pits for essential items, then from there depending on your budget you can get those nice to have items(rivet removal tools etc), and then the super nice to haves(benches minifridges etc.)

Decor really depends from team to team. Things like LED lights help a lot, banners etc that really show off your team a lot.

Organization also depends from team to team, a lot of people like kaizen foam but once again consult the actual people that are going to be in your pit before approving anything.

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Our team made many upgrades to our pit this offseason. We wanted similar functionality as full super-pit designs that teams like 4414, 1323, and 1678 use, but needed it to be smaller and lighter, and didn’t have a large budget. Feel free to look at our pit writeup here if it would help. We are able to setup/teardown in less than 5 minutes with just two people.

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Maximize space while still have things within like 7 seconds of working.

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I suggest that whenever your team figures out your pit stuff, you guys also should test it.

Basically, set up your pit in your workshop outside of a competition and practice only working on the bot there. If anyone needs to leave to get anything make a note of that. Also note down any potential issues that would slow the team down at comps.

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Decorating wise, there are a ton of options!

Usually, the starting pit structure (decoration wise) is made of PVC pipes that are easy to put together and apart. You can:

  • Hang decorations made out of lighter materials such as painted cardboard or foam.
  • Anchor wood decorations, if they mostly rest on the floor.

Outside of pit structure, you can also use collapsible plastic shelves to hold up a monitor + laptop to display videos and information.

Determining what all will be used for the pit structure and storage will decide what is best for decorations and pit imagery. So, plan decorations after deciding on what are “need to haves” in your pit and pit structure.

Pit storage wise, my team enjoys t-staks a ton. They are modular storage units that can be put on wheels. Example here of a t-stak.

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Is this based off of Harbor Freight Yukon tool boxes? If so could I please get more information on the battery bank please.

My views on pits have evolved over the years. These are my recommendations:

  • Don’t put heavy things high up
  • Store things in the same locations in the pit and the home shop, when possible
  • Keep the mass and volume of the pit objects modest (e.g., heaviest object is liftable by 3 people, everything fits in a 5x8 U-Haul trailer, along with robot and cart)
  • Avoid containers that take lots of extra space to access (e.g., totes)
  • Bring enough decoration for people can find you (e.g., a banner), but <10 minutes to set up
  • Minimize the amount you have to pack/unpack

We have a toolbox and a workbench that also normally live in the shop. 90% of the hand tools we use live in the same places within those drawers in both the shop and the pit, so everyone knows where they are when we get to competition. The toolbox is maybe 5’ tall when closed up, which keeps the aspect ratio (narrow dimension vs. height) modest.

We have a rolling toolbox (e.g., something like this stacked on top of something like this), plus one of these. There’s a bench vise on the corner of the workbench. We have a separate battery cart that holds 6 batteries and 2x 3-battery chargers. We also use the event-provided table.

I recommend against totes. Totes are tempting because there are probably several around from the KoP. However, they stack, so the floor or bench area occupied increases by the area of at least 1 tote while a lower tote is being accessed. Even if it’s only a single tote tall, you need extra height and width for the lid halves to swing open. Also, they don’t make good seats.

A 2-pole banner hanger and banner is my preferred decoration amount. Less than that, and other teams have trouble finding your pit. More than that, and you lose floor space and add setup time. I don’t like PVC pipe for tall structures; it is not very stiff for its weight and tends to become brittle as it ages, plus, the fittings are not very long compared to the length of the lever arm. We have one of these (telescoping steel tubes).

I like when a pit doesn’t require much setup. Ideally, roll some objects in, lock the casters, and unlock the drawers. The banner hanger is usually the exception.

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The tool carts are linked in our writeup, they are from Home Depot. The battery insert is custom made and the CAD is in the post as well. Feel free to move to our writeup thread if you have more questions specific to our pit!

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Going to add in that foam floor tiles are a pretty nice thing to add. I just linked one as an example, you may be able to find a better option elsewhere. They really help if you’re standing in the pit all day and provide some additional protection to the venue floor.

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Spend a couple competitions with cheap wire racks before spending a bunch of money on a pit. Wire racks can be pretty easily adjusted to organize everything, then when you have a good idea what you actually want in the pit and where you want it, build a custom pit structure or buy whatever toolboxes you need to make it work well. Every team has slightly different needs in a pit, so figure it out before you dump a bunch of money.

Also custom printed banners are pretty cheap and easy for pit decoration, we make new ones every year.

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Our pit is currently on its third iteration, and is made of steel boltless shelving (sort of like this ) made into 1.5 foot square pillars with wood shelves inside. The pillars are attached with steel beams holding up one overhead shelf on each side. The entire back wall is taken up by an attached workbench, which has the battery cart underneath. One side has a toolbox, chair, and mini desk underneath the overhead shelf. Hopefully there will be a detailed pit write up coming on our OA build thread soon.

As the person who both helped to design our first pit and spends a lot of time in the pit staying out of the way at competitions, here are my thoughts. (TL;DR at the end)

  1. Use vertical space.
    The main limitation on pit design is the 10’ square floor area. This becomes a problem if lots of things are stored on the floor, such as containers and especially backpacks. Overhead shelves are great for getting things off of the floor. Of course, there are some risks inherent with having objects above head height. Our overhead shelves are only used for bins of light parts on one side (polycarbonate, zip ties, wire, etc.) and backpacks on the other side. The back shelf doesn’t have specific contents, so it’s used for generally keeping things off of the floor and work surface. One very helpful benefit of using boltless shelving is that it’s possible to turn the beams upside down and use them as guardrails to prevent items from slipping off the shelves. The overhead shelf design allows us to keep tools, parts, and other items all within the 1.5 foot wall area on each side.

  2. Prioritize cleanliness and organization.
    Most of the time, the pit will either be empty or have someone casually fixing something on the robot. However, it’s the 20 minute turnarounds to fix a nonfunctional robot before the next match that the pit is really needed for. Design your pit around having everything needed at hand during those times, without needing to move things around to get to an important piece. The most important asset to your emergency pit is the floor space, so keep everything possible off of the floor, both to prevent trip hazards and to leave room for working on the drivebase. The second most important asset is the organization. Those fixing the robot have to be able to get what they need when they need it, without wasting precious seconds digging around in unlabeled bins. While the pit is empty is a great time to clear the floor and workspace, throw away trash, and make sure everything is back where it needs to be.

  3. Make your pit comfortable.
    By this I mean make your pit someplace people don’t mind being. This goes along with the organization point. Competitions are stressful (citation needed), and even more so when the robot needs fixing. If your pit is chaotic, that can add stress. The first way we made our pit comfortable is by laying down our practice field carpet on the floor in the current iteration, and rubber gym flooring mats in the last pit. Foam tiles would also work, but are less optimal for the second way we made our pit comfortable, which is by keeping a consistent color scheme. This is mainly for branding and imagery, but it does help make the entire pit a cohesive unit, and look cleaner and calmer. The third way is by having distinct areas where people can slip into if they need to quickly get out of the way, or just don’t want to be bothered. The hidey-hole under our workbench can fit three people if the totes are moved around, and both sides have corners where people can stand out of the way. Lastly, every corner of the pit is well lit by two shop lights mounted at the top and pointing down at an angle. In the words of several unnamed members of other teams, our pit feels homey and comfortable.

TL;DR
Use vertical space and keep the floor clear, make sure everything is always organized and tidy, and make your pit comfortable. The main problems to be aware of are people and objects being in the way and tools and materials being hard to find. Design around those problems and your team will appreciate it. Good luck!

(P.S. At one point I counted 12 people and a robot stuffed into our pit semi-comfortably with only minimal spilling out of the front. Obviously, nothing was wrong with the robot. If something was broken most of us would have cleared out immediately.)

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This just triggered another thought for me. Not all pits are a 10 ft square. You may need to fit your set up in a smaller area so have a plan for how to do that.

I would plan on your pit being 8’x8’. Most of our events here in Chesapeake have never been the 10’x10’ size stated in the manual.

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I made this graphic awhile ago but we are starting to use Packout style boxes for our comp supplies this year. Should be much better than packing in totes and bench drawers as we did in the past

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Without double checking, I believe pits are 10x10 where possible but allowed to be as small as 8x8. We have 2 large pit carts one is roughly 2’x8’, the other is 2’x6’ in an 8x8 we can place the shorter cart partially in front of the large cart, but usually we spread out in 10x10s creating a void in the corner.

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As someone who’s been redesigning our pit, the highest priority should be the experience it provides to the students staffing the pit. For me, the single most important thing is that the pit doesn’t feel cramped or cluttered, which can add to the stress of the competition. Having a system to make sure everything is in its right place can go a long way, as can a meeting that makes sure the people using the pit know where everything is. @AS_6995 has brought up some excellent points about making the pit more comfortable, and what I’d add to that is backpacking chairs can go a long way for very little space and weight and comfort.

Also, something that hasn’t been pointed out yet is the importance of horizontal space and lots of bins for robot repair. Giving students this flexibility is very helpful, and can be as simple as making sure that the table which is usually provided stays mostly clear, and bringing some plastic bins for this express purpose.

I would also design your pit to be somewhat flexible, both across seasons and across competitions. As has been brought up by other members of this thread, the 10’x10’ ideal footprint is not a guarantee. Ours is designed to be able to shrink down to 9’x9’, as that’s the smallest space we’ve ever had to fit into, but we should probably design it to be go smaller. Also, make sure that your pit structure is flexible enough to allow for space for any potential upgrades/changes you want to make within a season or between seasons.

And what is equally important for creating as the physical makeup of an efficient, stress-free pit is the policies that your team implements surrounding the pit. Make sure that people don’t crowd the pits, especially when they’re fixing the robot. A lot of members of our team have had a habit of paying the pit a visit whenever the robot breaks, either to ask questions or to simply observe. While some people are fine with this, it can be unnecessarily stressful, and having policies to prevent these kinds of situations can be extremely effective.

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