That's a neat build

The main issue and question are in bold if you want a short read.

So we have the same issue every year. From the looks of things, a lot of other teams have the same issue. (no judgment here, looking for ways to improve)

Students are typically not exactly the neatest when it comes to drilling holes, cutting straight lines, layout wire paths, etc.

There are several factors that play into this:
Experience level
Improper tools (I’m looking at you “cordless drill for everything”)
Not understanding why “close enough” isn’t always good enough
Rush jobs

I had a student drill a hole in four plates that needed to line up. After he got done, I said it wouldn’t work. His response was “it’s good enough right?”. To which I replied by holding the plates together and holes would only half aligned, and he went back and tried again.

Electrically, we have 10+ control wires (red/black/white ribbons) wound and bundled together. Given the deadline fast approaching I just told them good luck with troubleshooting.

There are a thousand other examples out there I’m sure.

So to my main question:
What are some ways we can impress upon and help students and particularly new members with applying precision and neatness?

Students mentoring students isn’t a great option for us yet as we are teaching upperclassmen as well.

Don’t include CNC as it does not address the underlying issue (yes it cleans things up a lot, but giving someone a $1000 camera doesn’t make them a great photographer)

At comps, I would give a little leeway since it is a different environment altogether.

For starters, I do plan on taking pictures of clean robots at the competition to use as examples of what can be done.

With respect to precision and neatness:
How do you handle things mechanically or electrically?
How do you set the right expectations?
How do you set the right environment?
What tools are a “must” for your team?
What training have you tried?
Anything else?


This past year is the first year that our team has truely slowed down and done things right. Im not sure what you are able to do, but one of the things we did differently this year is we built two robots side by side. On our “practice robot” things could be thrown together. By doing this, majority of our build team realized the importance of slowing down and taking their time. They saw the mistakes they made and how some of them weren’t as easy to fix as they may have first thought. By the time they got to putting together our “show bot”, things were a lot neater and more planned out.
As for electrical, something i found to be helpful is labeling as well as cutting things to length. Again, I’m not sure what your team has access to, but i had loosely designed our electrical board in CAD first so that i knew where things had to go. When it came to assembling, i was able to cut wires to length and it neatened everything up. Labeling the wires is also important. This could be something as simple as wrapping masking tape around it and writing what motor it goes to.
Not sure if this was the help you were looking for, but i hope i helped.

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I think this is an understated benefit of building two robots. While learning from the failure is a valuable experience, getting a chance to do it from scratch a second time (the proper way) and seeing how much headache it saves is definitely drives home the lesson. Having two robots lets you have that full circle experience while still having a “clean” competition robot.

Lead by example. Mentor’s who say things are “good enough”, or say “do as I say and not how I do” are not mentoring they are setting bad examples.

This year was the first year we used the Bridgeport that has always been in our metal shop. Mainly because Me and another Alumni Mentor came back with knowledge of how to use it properly. I was very impressed with the quality that added, and how particular the student were at making the DRO /Exactly/ right. Fussing over .0001" off the DRO would get when they locked the table or started the machine.


For my team at least, they have to experience the headache before they realize. So having a robot that can give them one is definetly more effective to them than doing it right the first time. They must first fail before they can succeed.

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Any recommendations on how to practice in the off season using hand measurement tools (squares, tape measure etc) assuming low resource team so not enough to build a new robot?

In my experience, it’s all about getting a sense of tolerances. Got a plate that is extremely important structurally? Well those holes should be within 0.005" . However, if you’re drilling holes to zip tie a cable run down, you just eyeball that and hope it’s within 0.5" .

“Good enough” is not a term to be afraid of, you just need to make sure that it actually is good enough for what you’re doing, rather than out of laziness.


For the mechanical side, the key is to have the right tools (thinking drill presses rather than hand drills) then teaching a process which produces consistently acceptable parts. If holes need to be drilled in a specific pattern, make a template with small (1/16" or 1/8") holes, use the template to match drill pilots, then follow up with the real bit. Not good enough for gearboxes, but usually good enough for frames and arms.

For electrical, it’s similar - have the right tools & materials (including labels and either tracking or zip ties and tie down pads), and create a process. For example, wiring has a mnemonic METTLE: Measure Everything, Terminate, Tug, Label, Engage. (In this case, the “everything” includes routing the wire as it will run, not a point-to-point distance.

In the past season, we pieced together parts of old robots together as a rookie exercise. We also took last years elevator (practice bot), chopped it up and made a new drivetrain out of it. We also messed around with custom gearboxes but the drivetrain alone was a good building experience.

I would by no means consider myself an expert on this, my team struggles tremendously with this problem, however a strategy we have taken this year witch has seemed at least somewhat effective is creating a cultural of never saying “good enough.” It’s not perfect, but it seems to be steering us in the correct direction.

Many people will suggest allowing members to screw up so they can see the implications of not doing something correctly, but I find students offten struggle with correlating their inaccuracies to deficiencies in the robot as a whole.

So this year we made it very clear that if we wanted to compete with the big boys we were going to have to act as one. Step one is to understand that taking shortcuts is not something that leads to a successful robot. Even when we were running out of time we made sure that everything we did was up to standard.

Even with our 2 weeks in between bag day, we identified subsystems that could use improvement and we’ve been meeting every day to address those solutions. I have been really proud of how far my team has come this year, as even if they can’t see the direct differences now in doing something up to industry standard, they sure will when they get into the job market.


Another thing our team does is print out templates. Our coach or a team member, depending on who’s available, will create a drawing in CAD of a hole pattern or cut lines. We then spray glue the paper onto the metal where needed so that our fabrication teams has the exact measurements they need on that piece.

It’s a process of the student learning why and when precision is important. The first step is to teach them proper technique to achieve the required precision. They need to see it done properly before they’ll know how to do it themselves. Then you can guide them through the process, correcting them along the way. Finally you let them do it with minimal supervision. You can see how we do this in our video series where we teach all the skills necessary to build a west coast drive train.

One of my rules is that the student who builds the part has earned the privilege of installing it on the robot. They quickly learn that misplaced holes don’t allow for installation. The next question is usually, “What do I do now?” You give them the option of remaking the bracket or making it fit, usually by using a needle file to slot the holes until the part fits properly. They aren’t allowed to move on to something else until that task is done right. It doesn’t take long for them to learn the lesson that “shortcuts” take longer and are more work in the end. They also quickly learn to love locating holes on the milling machine, using the DRO, over hand drilling. From then on, our milling machine gets pretty much 100% utilization. Sometimes you need to talk them into doing things by hand layout, as they would rather wait for the mill to become available than risk messing up the part.


Whats a DRO

This a hundred times over and other things you mentioned.
I’m still mulling over the entire topic as people are giving good responses.

Maybe overall I’m looking into how to set the demeanor in the room of getting good results on a particular build.
@Camren is hitting close to what I’m looking for when he talked about finally using the bridgeport in their lab. The bridgeport isn’t what is making their parts better, but the students using it well.

Templates themselves are not THE answer as I’ve watched a student print one off, tape it down, then proceed to start drilling almost a quarter inch off-center.


Digital Read Out, nice tool on the mill so you don’t have to read dials as much.

Ah cool cool

I am reading all the posts this with great interest. I fight the “house builder” mentality. “Measure with a tape measure and 1/8” is good enough." It is one of the prime reasons the robot in our bag in not complete.

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I struggle with this with our team as well lol.

and the reason I have to bore all bearing holes myself lol

just use versablocks