Pit Problems

#1

Hey all, I’m looking to optimize our team’s pit, particularly transporting it to and from competitions, and I thought I’d use the opportunity to build empathy with other teams and fin common problems regarding pits in general. If you could take a bit of time to answer these questions, it would be a big help to me.

  1. How do you currently transport your pit to and from competitions?
  2. What are some problems you’ve faced with transporting your pits to and from competitions?
  3. What are some problems you have with setting up your pits at competitions?
  4. What is a horror story about pit transportation or setup?

Definitely feel free to add any suggestions for me, and if there is any other info you think could be useful, feel free to include it. I look forward to hearing from you all!

#2

How do you currently transport your pit to and from competitions?
We have a Trailer that was donated by a sponsor to carry our pit equipment as well as our bagged robot. It fits everything adequately.

What are some problems you’ve faced with transporting your pits to and from competitions?
Generally the biggest issue is figuring out who is going to pull the trailer, though since we live in a fairly rural community and almost everyone owns a truck, we can usually manage to find someone. Beyond that, snow can be an inhibitor, though it hasn’t stopped us yet.

What are some problems you have with setting up your pits at competitions?
A few points here. Firstly, one of the problems we ran into early on was inadequate caster wheels on the bottom of our tool cart and table; when encountering things like cable tracks that you have to traverse, it can be quite a pain move things without adequate wheels (we’ve since changed them).
Second, our setup process requires a lot of space because we have to remove the venue-provided table and hang our decorations before any of the equipment can be placed in the pits, meaning until it’s done, all our stuff is just in the isle-way. We try to be courteous to other teams and keep things out of their way during this process but it’s definitely not the best way we could be doing things.
Finally, we hang a set of TVs in our pit that require someone to stand on top of our workbench to mount them. We’re always careful and have someone spot them while they’re doing this, but it’s far from an optimal solution.

What is a horror story about pit transportation or setup?
Nothing comes to mind at the moment. There’s always some stress when it comes to transport and load-in, but nothing I could think of would rise to the level of “horror story”.

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#3
  1. Not too bad but This year the castor wheels on our workbench bent 45 degrees during transportation and we had to replace them at the pit
#4

transportation (#1 and #2) team trailer, similar to @cbale2000’s post above. Pickups in Slidell aren’t as ubiquitous as his case, but we have always found someone with a hefty truck. The first three years, we managed to borrow a closed trailer. Note that smaller trailers don’t require as big a vehicle to tow; something 8’ can likely be towed by an SUV.

Problems:
Loadin-out: Have enough wheels. If you can have most or all of your pit “furniture” (tool chests, shelves, maybe the robot stand) on wheels, load-in and load-out is much easier. If you don’t have wheels on most of your stuff, have a second or third dolly/cart handy, even if you put it back in the trailer or truck to store during the event. Make sure you have the right boxes and/or load straps so you can just roll your loads in without worrying about stuff shifting/falling off in route. This includes tool chest drawers and doors! Also, remember to secure all your stuff in the trailer or truck, especially anything on wheels!
Assembly: The biggest real problems I’ve seen. main thing is to make it something easy to assemble/disassemble with everything in the pit, using little or no space outside the pit while doing it. Assembling a PVC frame isn’t too difficult, but opening a popup canopy (leave off the canvas unless you have lots of lighting inside!) is even easier to do around your tool chests and such. Not having anything overhead is even easier. If possible, practice your setup at your shop. It’s a lot easier to work through at least some of the unforeseen issues in advance.

Robot: related but not quite what you asked: Don’t overdo the robot cart. You need to be able to store it in your pit while working on the robot, unless it doubles as your work stand. An oversized robot cart is also more difficult to navigate around the venue and particularly in the queue. If you strap the robot to the cart for transport from the shop to the event, it makes robot load-in trivial.

#5

Last year our modules, which held our sorting boxes were made of plywood, and were pretty heavy when filled (even if they we’re sheet metal, the amount of weight per module would still be pretty heavy.) We used one 2" harbor freight caster in each corner, I want to say we busted off at least 2 at Champs alone. The 2" wheels don’t handle bumps well at all, and we have exploded the bearings, ripped out the screws that hold the plate to the module, bent the plate, and separated the wheels from the plate.

Lesson learned: go for bigger and higher quality casters. It’s worth trying to bolt the mounting plates too the module.

#6

Team Tators travels heavy to our events. 1. Several years ago, TrailersPlus kindly donated a 7x16 tandem axle cargo trailer to the team. Several mentors have trucks suitable for towing. 2. Given the distances we typically travel to events, the most common problem encountered seems to be ensuring at least two drivers to share transport responsibilities. Driving to/from Houston takes a minimum of two long days each way. 3. We typically assemble our pit upper structures (plywood open front cabinets with shelving for fastener drawers) to the lower rolling tool box cabinets in the venue parking lot. For venues without over height loading areas, we must assemble the uppers after clearing doorways. 4. Not really a horror story but after years of service, our Home Depot rolling tool cabinets suffered structural failures at the welds near the casters. Not surprising given the shock loads we put on them. Borrowing ideas from DIYroadcases we attached 4 swivel and two fixed casters to a caster plate, clad the cabinets in 3/4" abs covered plywood, riveted aluminum angle to the corners and covered the tops with stainless steel sheet. Expect many more years of service from them…

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#7

Your team might be better off thinking about what you do need in your pit first. This will be affected by how your team operates and the environment it operates in. The following are some questions to start with:

  • How large are the typical pits in your District?
  • How reliable are you aiming to make your robot?
  • Do you (intend) to do a lot of repair work or make a lot of modifications at the competitions?
  • In your District, how much repair work or modification work can your team do between matches?
  • What materials and tools do you use that no other teams at your events use?
  • What materials and tools can you borrow from other teams at your events?
  • What are the event venues like for loading and unloading?
  • Will your team have to pay to transport your robot and pit to the events i.e. rent a truck or trailer?

From the answers to questions like these, you can determine what you need to have in your pit.

In answer to your questions:

  • How do you currently transport your pit to and from competitions?
    • rented a small moving van this year, this required more time to pick up the truck the day before then return it
    • Last year, this cost the team around $600 for 3 local events, it would be more if we went to District Champs out of town
  • What are some problems you’ve faced with transporting your pits to and from competitions?
    • large, heavy cabinets that require trucks/trailers with load loading deck and cannot go up steep ramps at venues
  • What are some problems you have with setting up your pits at competitions?
    • large cabinets on 3 sides of pits took up so much room that there was no space to actually work on the robot
    • got smaller pits this year with change to District model and smaller venues
    • height of cabinets (over 4 ft) blocked natural light when robot was on the cart
    • many/most items contained in the cabinets were not relevant to this years robot, this also wasted time to sort through useless parts/tools to find the ones we really needed
    • banner at back of pit was sized for 10 ft pits, got 8 foot pits this year
  • What is a horror story about pit transportation or setup?
    • working in the pit was pretty miserable
#8
  1. We co-own a trailer with the band of one of our schools. Most things roll into the trailer now that we have our pit cart set up.
  2. No real problems. We know how we’re getting there, and we plan accordingly.
  3. In 2018, our setup relied heavily on plastic shelving and unpacking things from multiple KoP totes. It took us over an hour to get up and running on Thursday at Smoky Mountains, and even then we kept losing time trying to figure out where something is for that 72-hour stretch. We also lost space, because the empty totes (even stacked out of the way) were still occupying space in the pit.
  4. The two major pain points for us this year were our battery tote (it’s heavy) and forgetting a few things at our second event. We plan to address both with a second pit cart much like the first, just shorter so it fits in an 8x8 pit alongside the first one. With that much extra storage, there’s no ancillary packing–if it didn’t get a home on one of them, it clearly wasn’t important enough to travel.
#9
  1. We transport our pit in a trailer donated by a sponsor.
  2. The various toolchests and carts can be pretty heavy, but that’s pretty minor.
  3. Our coatrack’s vertical supports and the rod we hang our blue banners from can be hazardous during load-in, plus our backdrop is too large to set up in the pit so we spill out into the aisle.
  4. At one regional this year, we forgot to bring our backdrop to load in, somebody dropped a sewing kit and the contents went everywhere in the middle of pit setup, and we forgot all our blue banners at the venue once the competition was over.
#10

We just use our school’s athletics trailer. Load the tool chest, robot, and pit in, screw some blocks down to the floor prevent too much bouncing around, and pack luggage in the cracks.

Since all of our stuff fits in an athletics trailer, transporting our pit isn’t the hard part, we have had more of an issue loading and unloading. Use ramps, save backs!

We used to use a lot of individual containers and totes, then (coincidentally the year I graduated) we moved to a rolling tools workbenches. It is move expensive, but it makes transport, loading, and unloading much faster.

Our pit has a cart that all the pieces fit into for easy transport from the unload point to our pit location. The pit is really heavy, but it is broken into several manageable pieces that, once tipped up, lock together using what are called Panel Fastening Draw Latches.

Since we moved to our new pit design, we haven’t had any. But our old pit… Well it was made of mahogany, and all together weighed in right around 250lbs. Sadly, I have no pictures of this glorious monstrosity, but I found this image that you can kind of see it in the upper right corner. It was huge, somewhat illegal (internal wiring, had to get rid of it), awkward, heavy, cumbersome, required at least 4 people to set up, prone to stains, and my all time favorite.

A couple extras:

  • castor wheel all the things!
  • appliance carts can haul totes
  • bring plastic bags for when it rains
#11

As I am affiliated with mor than one team I will answer for just team 171.
How do you currently transport your pit to and from competitions?

  • Since we are based out of a university we use the university vehicles for transport which typically ends up being mini-vans. In the past we have used a pickup truck If a mentor has one with a topper available.

What are some problems you’ve faced with transporting your pits to and from competitions?

  • Since we don’t have a trailer we are unable to have any sort of rolling cabinetry or large tool boxes.

What are some problems you have with setting up your pits at competitions?

  • We haven’t had many issues. Since we pack fairly light and have a minimal pit setup takes minimal effort.

What is a horror story about pit transportation or setup?

  • Can’t really say we have any horror stories… The biggest issue year over year is that we pack all our spare parts in totes which becomes a mess by Saturday when you need the parts the quickest. This is also the case for our larger tools which do not fit in the table top tool box.

Suggestions

  • Design a pit setup that you can adapt to working out of during your build season. That way students will know the layout and wont waste time searching for tools and parts.
  • Have a trailer
  • If you have anything rolling, get good quality, large, locking, NON PNEUMATIC wheels.
  • Anything not rolling, have a cart for load in and out.
  • Incorporate a power distribution system, even if it’s just one large power strip.
#12

Ive got a pit horror story for yall.
Background: Our pit consists of a bunch of totes, our robot on our cart, and a stand up toolbox. We transport using a trailer and have a pit setup with walls with our team logo on it
Anyways, we show up to DCMP and its raining pretty bad, we rush to unload and when we get everything inside and start to unpack, we realize our spare parts box, electronics lock box, and tool box all had 2" of standing water in it. We quickly get inspected and started the process of flushing out our totes of water. The only reason our robot was functional was because the bag saved it. On our way out we inspected the trailer to see what the problem was, and we noticed the roof of our trailer had a crack running down the middle. Next morning, went to lowes, and used flex tape so save us.
tl;dr found water in everything, flex tape saved the day.

#13
  1. We have a mentor who drives a trailer to the competition. In the past we used a 4x6 trailer but this year we used a 5x7 iirc. The 5x7 was a lot nicer because it had a built in ramp instead of us needing to make a super sketchy ramp with some wood
  2. Honestly not too many. It’s always gone pretty smoothly
  3. We have these weird copper poles that are a pain to put together but other than that pit setup is almost always smooth
  4. There was that 1 time our trailer got stolen after a competition. There was also a time where a caster off a craftsman toolbox broke and the toolbox landed on somebody’s foot.
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#14
  1. In the fall of 2018 our team purchased a trailer. 7x12 + 2ft vnose with an extra 6" of interior height. Before then, transportation was a mix of minivans or larger vans depending on what mentors or sponsors had available. Our team has plenty of vehicles to transport locally to events within an hour or two: suvs, small trucks, etc. We rented a truck for the ride out to Detroit.

  2. No major issues with transport just start conversations early about who is going to carry large items in their vehicle or tow something. When it doubt email parents and sponsors.

  3. Time. In a district the longer it takes to go from the parking lot to a working space is less time you have for unbagging the robot. Same when you go to leave, but then its delaying when you can get home. I’ve seen it take 1hour + at times to get fully setup.

  4. No horror stories, but it always stinks to arrive at an event and have 2-4 large items that require two people to move & 10+ smaller items to move and only have two hands to do it all. Its not “horrific”, but those make item #2 above 3x longer and to me show huge areas a team can improve in.

Focus on condensing, organizing, and getting everything on wheels. Some of the best simple pits I’ve seen or used involved using Rolling Wire Rack shelving, battery stations on wheels, or Workbench Tool Chests. Keeping your pit contained two just two walls will make a huge difference, especially when pits are in the 8’x8’ range.

Last fall when I came back to 3467 the first project we tackled was designing Super Pit carts inspired by 973 and 5460. We took most of our inspiration from them and added our own tweaks. We still aren’t done and since we got them back from painting two weeks before our second district event we threw them together for basic functionality and still need to add more details like individual slots for hardware bins. One cart is still waiting for the upper shelf to get connected and actuators installed.

We love that the two carts contain all of our essential pit items and use the same storage bins that we use daily in our shop. Only the travel toolbox is unique to our pit, the rest is what we use in the shop. Highly recommend buying high quality casters. The metal, paint, and welding was donated so we invested in some high quality caster wheels and even with the large bench loaded up, its very easy to move. Good casters really apply to anything you are transporting. Many tool chests come with cheaper caster wheels, was really impressed by the quality of the Milwaukee ones vs. Husky when 1058 bought our red tool chest in 2018.

When we finish the project this offseason we will post an update with more pictures and documentation.

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#15

Yow, had that happen too, but it was at the school, not at load-in/out. I fortunately noticed it happening it in time and was able to keep the (tall format ~3 year old, having been to several events) toolbox from falling onto a student. (IIRC, it was also a Craftsman.) Then people started pulling the drawers out so two of us could lay it down without having it fall on us. It turned out that the wheels were mounted with simple nuts and bolts that had come loose over the years. Lesson learned: check the caster mounts! If they’re held on with nuts and bolts, at least replace the nuts with nylocks before loading the toolbox.

#16

1.) We have wire racks with casters on them that we load everything on. We make it so that they’re useful both in the shop and for the pit, so that when it’s time for competitions we don’t need to do any reshuffling or anything; we just load them into the trailer and move on out. We also set up a team banner and a sponsor banner.

2.) No major issues thus far. For worlds we disassembled the racks and wrapped them in ceram wrap, then reassembled them when we arrived. We did the same during loadout as well. Worked well for us.

3.) Not any huge problems. A thing forgotten here and there but nothing major.

4.) Again, no major bad things. However, on occasion we would accidentally place things on other peoples pits or vice versa because people next to us set up similar looking wire racks.

My top suggestion would be to get and use wire racks, and set them up so that, when it comes time to load the trailer for competition, you barely need to spend any time at all, just load it in and go.

#17

Note that if you do this, you need some way to keep everything in the shelves for transport. After some unsuccessful attempts with bungees and straps and bars, 3946 wound up making some Masonite panels with holes for zip ties to cover each side.

#18

Students load the stuff into the back of MrForbes’ vehicle, and he drives to the competition.

It’s a long drive for MrForbes, some times.

MrForbes sometimes gets there and there aren’t any of his team’s students around, so he has to unload and haul the stuff in himself, or bum help from students from other teams.

Don’t really have any. It always seems to work out. We travel light, because MrForbes is lazy.

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#19
  1. How do you currently transport your pit to and from competitions? Trailer we bummed off the Boy Scouts.
  2. What are some problems you’ve faced with transporting your pits to and from competitions? The coach has to borrow his wife’s Tahoe because his camaro can’t pull it.
  3. What are some problems you have with setting up your pits at competitions? Weak students.
  4. What is a horror story about pit transportation or setup? The pig. Poor Chris P. He didn’t end well.
#20
  1. We put everything in a trailer or van and drive it up with the rest of the team.
  2. We haven’t really had many issues transporting yet. We almost had a problem at Great Northern due to the snowstorm, but we got in before it got real bad and the volunteers were good about letting us get loaded in quickly, even going as far as waiving the 5 person limit.
  3. Space is a little tight at some regionals and getting set up can be an issue with several other teams doing the same thing at the same time.
  4. This year, we decided to put up a 3D printed team logo sign on our pit. At our first regional, it was right in the center of our pit and it was really easy to hit one’s head on it. In addition, our robot and cart were too tall to get out of the pit, so we had to leave our cart outside of the pits and carry our robot on every time we left for a match. An important lesson to learn from this is to always physically set up your pit and ensure that the people in said pit will be comfortable, no matter how well plans have worked in the past.