Teaching Manufacturing in the Covid-19 era?

We have successfully moved some of our usual summer “camps” online (Design/CAD, Control/Programming, Graphics/Web, etc).

Where we are struggling is Manufacturing/Assembly.

One idea we had was loading up our trailer with the robot, some parts and tools and then dropping it off at team members’ houses for 5-6 days (w/time in between to clean) with a “Kanban Board” of tasks to be chosen from. And then having senior members and/or mentors available for “Zoom Training/Assistance”. [obviously with parent’s approval]

Is this nuts? Is anyone else thinking of/doing anything similar? Or anything different that’s working?


We’re considering doing something like this but on a subsystem level – have the students design, CAD, and CAM the parts for something smallish, then have mentors run the CNC router, assemble a parts/tools kit, and have students pick up kits to assemble.

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I can see this may work if the objective is to give students who already know how to use the tools and know how stuff is supposed to go together to get some practice. The difficulty would be in training the new students who don’t know how to properly use the tools yet.

It may be necessary to drop off black/grey totes of parts and tools since not all students will live in places where a trailer can be parked.

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That is a really, really creative a neat idea. I applaud your ingenuity. It brought a huge smile to my face to read that, super clever.

However, despite just how cool it is, it has a lot of practical issues. First would be liability, depending on who owns the equipment (maybe your school or a sponsor) you’d be looking at huge equipment liability. Even if it is all your own, you’ll have to accept that a stunt like this would nearly guarantee tools breaking (because of lack of supervision), and leave you exposed to a relatively massive chance of theft.

Another form of liability you’ll be exposed to would be health liability. Mistakes happen, and without a trained adult there watching the student all the time, the risk of a student cutting their finger off by accident is too high. I mean, simple things like forgetting the Chuck in a drill press could be catastrophic, and a decently probable occurrence when training new students without supervision.

I would also worry about equity issues between students. Some families just won’t be able to host a trailer full of tools at their house for a week, will these students just be out of luck?

Finally ,what if a student doesn’t have the innovative to get these tasks done on their own? As most mentors probably know, getting kids enthusiastic about mechanical training/safety training can be cumbersome as all get out. Now I need to get them to do it on their own accord? Yikes.

I really hate to be a party pooper because this idea because it is really cool, but when your talking about a program like robotics, with expensive and dangerous equipment, it’s just not super practical in this specific application. Though I must admit, this idea has already gotton me thinking about other similar applications during this pandemic era (but that’s the entrepreneur in me :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:).

Why does your team chose to do these trainings over the summer? Is it possible you replace them with other trainings/projects in the meantime, and move them till when school eventually starts?

Beyond that, I’d say a better bet would be to just set up a central location with all the tools necessary, and have kids sign up to come and learn one on one with a mentor. For most places in the country, that would be well within safety guidelines, and would be exposing the students and mentors alike to very minimal amounts of risk (given proper cleaning and PPE). If you need to do these trainings now, this is how I would do it.


Small nitpick, it would have to be one on two (or two on one) for YPP compliance. But that said I think this could be a good solution.

Also, it’s not a given that teams will be able to reconvene in their usual spaces when school “starts”. Our school district hasn’t announced yet what the fall will look like (maybe 100% virtual, maybe partially on campus) but it’s almost certain that extracurriculars will not be allowed on campus until second semester at the earliest. Hopefully many teams will be able to do normal-ish training in the fall, but for many others this is not just a summer problem.


I just started a materials and manufacturing course in college. Campus is closed, obviously, so the coursework has pivoted to fixing/improving stuff around the house using cheap tools/stuff we have around the house. Far from ideal, but a solid creative solution for folks all around the world with little overlap of access.

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Good catch! You’d absolutely be right! Probably better to go the two mentor option, to avoid exposing two students to covid-risks at the same time, but either would definitely work.

Thanks for some great advice. Lots to think about.

Some more details: we are a community (4H) team who normally works out of space at the local university (one of our sponsors).

Right now it is not looking like we will be able to use that space for the summer or fall.

4H is preferring virtual meetings but ok with small groups in person with suitable precautions.

Personally speaking, I would only be good with this with a responsible adult present — either a mentor or parent. And, if needed, a third person for YP. I’m not sure a virtual person would be YP-adequate, but a virtual mentor could guide a parent& child I think. And even then, lots You there? I think about.

I have next to 0 experience with 4H, so I can’t give too much advice with that specifically.

What constitutes small groups? How big is your team? If those numbers don’t line up, I’d start planning now of how your going to split up your students to give everyone shop time, while following guidelines.

The next questions of feasibility is the number of kids you would need to do this training for. Is this just incoming freshman? Or the whole team? I come from a 60+ person team so doing this for all of them is basically impossible.

I would, personally, not even trust parents to work though this, even with a mentor present over video call. There are too many variables to keep the students and equipment safe, reliably. Maybe your team is different, but it’s not something I would recommend for any team.

I would question heavily if these trainings really need to happen right now, then look at alternatives if the answer anything other than “definitely.”

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Could the parent of the student serve as the third person? I don’t believe that the third person needs to be actively involved in the activity to satisfy the YPP requirements. They really serve as a witness to increase accountability.

This may reduce the number of people exposed to Covid-19 (the second mentor). This assumes that the parent already lives with the student and would become exposed even if the student was exposed somewhere else.


A little more clarification:
We are planning on exclusively assembly being done at the kid’s houses. Two of our students’ family has access to pretty comprehensive machine shops, and we also have access to a CNC in another family’s home. The main goal that we are seeking to accomplish at the moment is getting a system down for assembly and testing, (a little less dangerous than manufacturing) both for teaching purposes and to improve our robot.

Ah yes, I definitely use “manufacturing” too generally.

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