The build schedule: how do you guys do it?

This year ours was a nightmare. We met at most every other day for 3 hours (longer on weekends), with our sole programmer being grounded for a week, spent 3.5 weeks in the design phase, etc. With that in mind, I’m planning a timeline for next year with a few goals and checkpoints.

Phase 1: Abstract design - 1 week

  • What will it do, how will it do it
  • Which drivetrain
  • How will it perform game tasks

Phase 2: Narrow design - 2 weeks

  • Design specific subsystems
  • CAD everything
  • Kinematic analysis and revision
  • Decide what parts are needed, and order them
  • Export for CNC machining
  • Begin programming

Phase 3: Build - 2 weeks

  • Build as able, cut and assemble whatever is at hand
  • Test, fix, iterate
  • Have drivable before end of week 4

Phase 4: Train - 1 week

  • Driver training
  • Control system experimentation
  • Finish programming
  • Hone any algorithms


  • Meet no less than every other day in some capacity, even if it’s just a few people
  • Parallelism. While the design team is designing, the set build team and pit design team can still operate. Have scouts dedicated to browsing for information from previous similar games to see what worked and what didn’t.
  • Redundancy. Have at least two people capable of each task.
  • Decide on a design and run with it. Do not spend 3.5 weeks on abstracts. Get things into CAD and onto paper as quickly as possible, to avoid finding major issues late into design.

Are there any improvements I can make to this timeline? I’m a Junior in HS and this is my first year, on a 2nd year team, so I’m not well versed on how long it takes to CAD and test things, or what is practical.

I also have a few questions:

  • How many people do you have on your teams?
  • What is your subteam breakdown like? How many programmers, how many designers.
  • When do you start building in some capacity? When do you have something drivable?
  • How many people participate in the nitty-gritty of turning concepts into blueprints?
  • How much time do you spend training?
  • At what point in the 6 weeks is your robot “complete?” (in the context of fully-functional)

Thank you from Team 3737 “Rotoraptors”

Every other day? If you want to keep a schedule like that, you’ll need to meet every day, if not 5/7 days a week.

As for your questions:

  1. We like to keep a good 25 to 30 people on the team. There may be moments when you only need 4 people, but it’s better to find yourself with too many people than to find yourself understaffed when you need it.

  2. Subteam breakdown:
    -Drive train, manipulator(s)

It’s good to have electrical and programming work together, since many of them have parts that interact with each other

3)We start building around the second week, though in the event we can get something obvious for the drivetrain, we start working on it day 1. If we get a drivebase done, we strap on Hal 2000 (our test electronics board) and start asap.

  1. That depends who you have on your team. Everyone can contribute, but sometimes it’s harder for some people to take an idea and create a functioning design from it. The best way (that I’ve seen) is to get the people who can make designs out of ideas, and teach them CAD.

  2. Training. Spend as much time training as you do breathing, if not more. We have our drivers practice as much as possible, and our potential human players practice from the start. Day 1.

  3. Our robot is fully functional (bugs fixed, etc.) in the beginning/middle of week 5. A robot is never “complete” :P.

Hope this helps! I’m glad to see you’re taking charge of changing your team, and learning the best ways to do it.

This is a great start. Having a schedule is an awesome way of making build season run more smoothly, and in the end getting more out of it.

We are a team of about 30 students (with a core group of about 10-15) and meet about 5-7 days a week for 3 hours (more on weekends). We have a CNC mill, a manual lathe, a band saw, and a drill press. We do not use sponsor to machine parts for us, for reasons involved with the culture and mission of the team. We CAD the robot extensively before building in Autodesk Inventor.

This year, the leaders put out a schedule which the mechanics team managed to keep very on top of. We finished conceptual design by mid week one, had a fully CADed robot Monday of week two, finished the practice bot Sunday of week three, and had a fully functioning competition and practice robot about Saturday of week six. Certain elements of the robot (especially the shooter) were delayed and suffered in performance because of it, but the vast majority of the robot was finished on this schedule.

In your schedule , you budgeted about a week for “conceptual design.” Would this include prototyping? Talking to many “elite” teams, I learned that many spend several weeks making good, useful prototypes, that allow them to learn about the ins and outs of various designs before building a full up mechanism. Just deciding on a drivetrain and strategy probably should not take a week. Getting good effective prototypes might take much longer.

In your schedule, you mentioned that you want to CAD the robot. Awesome! CAD is one of the tools that separates the professional looking teams from those that look hacked together. Used correctly, it will streamline your design process, and make you more efficient during the whole build season. However, CAD is very hard (and boring) to learn, and even harder to use correctly during build season. If no one on your team knows how to CAD, I recommend that you and several other highly committed members start learning immediately. Design something over the summer. The experience will allow CAD to be a help, not a hindrance, during build season.

It looks like your detailed design phase could be accelerated a bit, depending on how detailed you plan to make the CAD and how much experience your team has. Also, you should order parts as soon as you might think you might need them. Suppliers like AndyMark and BaneBots tend to get inundated during build season, and ship relativity slowly. Even suppliers like SDP-SI and McMaster might take more than a week to ship. Even if you don’t have the drive train fully CADed, but you know you will need 6 inch performance wheels and Toughboxes, you can order them day three in order to receive them by week three. Don’t wait to order if you don’t have to.

Your build phase seems surprisingly short. Although it depends on your resources and how heavily you rely on sponsors, I think build deserves at least a week more. Especially because you are a second-year team, there will be some nasty surprises when you try to build the robot. You will probably be required to re-machine or even re-design systems. I would strongly advise against machining too late.

Finally, you have a week of programming and driver practice at the end. This is not only a good thing to have in and of itself, but a good amount of time to budget for running over on some other part of the process. We learned the hard way this year that programmers need to keep it simple. Yes, everyone always hears that, but there’s a tendency, especially in programmers, to be overly ambitious. I would recommend enforcing a fair amount of time dedicated solely to driver practice. Time practicing with the robot always improves performance, time programming the robot can be wasted on overly ambitious projects.

Good luck next build season. Having a well thought out schedule that everyone commits to will give you a huge advantage.

I see one thing to add to that schedule. Prototyping. Mostly through weeks 1-2.

  1. >10
  2. Everyone designs it. mechanical/electrical/programming. we let people pick what they want to do.
  3. day one/two we decided on the general layout of the robot and start building a base( usually make some small changes later)
  4. unfortunately we can only us cads on students personal laptops. so only 1 person the last two years. Hopefully the entire mechanical team( and whoever else wants to learn to CAD) will be doing it next year.
  5. when i was a driver i would get excused from class to go drive the robot if i wasn’t taking a test…

about 20 total

What is your subteam breakdown like? How many programmers, how many designers.

We haven’t been too good about having specific subteams, since not all students are there every day. We divide up more along the lines of what work can be done that day.

When do you start building in some capacity? When do you have something drivable?

Prototyping starts right away, and keeps going until we get a workable design…if we’re lucky we can use our prototype mechanisms/robot (if it’s that complete) to work on programming most of build season. We like to have something driving and playing with game pieces by week 3 or 4 at the latest,

How many people participate in the nitty-gritty of turning concepts into blueprints?

As many as I can cajole into doing it

How much time do you spend training?

Not enough, if by training you mean learning how to operate the robot.

At what point in the 6 weeks is your robot “complete?” (in the context of fully-functional)

We try really hard to have it mostly done (fully functional) a week before it needs to be put away in it’s bag/crate.

Of course the really good teams do it all quite differently…they are prototyping and improving stuff all 4 months of robot season. They get their practice robot built by week 3 or so, and build the competition robot as late as possible (week 5 or 6) to incorporate as many design improvements as possible. And they keep “training” and improving the design using the practice robot, right up to Championships.

3 hours every other day? Sorry, not enough time in there.

A week for conceptual design is too long. 3 days
2 weeks for narrow design is too long. 1 week. But you are including part fabrication time in there, so maybe 2 weeks, if at the end you have almost all the bits and mostly need to assemble it all.

  1. 80-ish
  2. Programming has 4-6, electrical 6-8, pneumatics 4, mechanical 18, plus integration & testing (5). The rest are CAD, non-technical, construction (e.g., the field elements), and a few are just consuming oxygen.
    2a. Everyone has input to the design, but I’d guess maybe 16 are actively designing parts.
  3. Day 4 (Wednesday) the drivetrain team goes off and does their thing. It’s driveable week 2.
  4. Blueprints? What’s that? :stuck_out_tongue: Our prototypes are our blueprints. Unfortunately our CAD team follows later.
  5. 8 sessions x 4 hours each in the fall, really aimed at new team members (taught by existing team members).
  6. Never, but almost there in week 5.

We meet Monday thru Thursday from 2:30 to 7:00 (later if needed), and on Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00 (we can’t officially meet on Friday afternoon or Saturday because we go to a Jewish school).

In the past, we’ve spent the first two weeks designing & prototyping, and only started building in week 3 and just barely finish before ship/bag day. However, we’ve noticed that there is this period between the end of week 1 and the start of week 3 where not much happens, and we’re just waiting around for ideas. What we’ve decided to do this time around is to get a design in the first few days and stick with it, then spend the middle 4 weeks building & troubleshooting, which theoretically leaves about a week of drive practice.

It is required that everyone on the build team be there at all meetings; the simple reason behind this is that by not attending, not only does that person not help the team, but he/she hurts the team because they don’t know what’s going on, and whatever they were working on grinds to a halt.

The most important piece of advice that I can offer is to always stay focused; if you notice that your team is getting a bit off track in that you are focusing on little details when some of the bigger things haven’t been decided, do your best to steer the boat in the right direction (for instance, something that really hurt us this year was that we didn’t decide on six or eight wheel until week two, which really delayed our CADers. Those kinds of decisions, as well as basic concept for manipulator, should be made on day one based on the game itself, team experience, and a study on past games to see what was successful).

Other than that, it really depends on the team, some teams are more compatible with certain kinds of build schedules than others. Do your best to find what works for your team, and I’m sure you’ll do fine.

Team 20 has around 85 team members, and we’re expecting more freshmen next year. Generally, we do 2 hour nights on Mon, Tues, Wed, and Thurs. We put in as much time as we can on Sat and Sun.

“Elite” and “Powerhouse” teams such as 1114, 118, and the like have one ingredient that everyone seems to be overlooking. According to their schedules on their websites, they work long and they work hard. One such team spends 3 hours on weekdays and then similarly long work hours on the weekends.

More time = more time to fall and then pick yourself up, as we have discovered the hard way.

The bottom line? I’m a firm believe that it really comes down to how dedicated you and your team are, as well as the commitment you and your team has.

Last season I worked Monday through Friday from 4:30 until minimally 9:30 and more often 10:30 or 11:00. Then on Saturday I would come in at 7:30AM and work until 10:00ish at night. If you want to be good you have to put in the work-- no exceptions.

Regards, Bryan

We work from 2:30 to around 8:00, Monday through Thursday. Then we go from around 9:00 to 4:00 on Sundays. We don’t work on friday/saturday because we are a Jewish School.

Thanks for all the feedback guys. To address a few things:

As a 2nd year team, we still have very little funding. Hopefully this should change this year as we have a few prospective companies that we’re talking with, but this year we had absolutely no money for prototypes. Our entire robot was built on $400, and after that and a single regional we were in the hole $700. Like I said, we’re working on that.

I’ll be taking a solidworks class this summer, and trying to convince other team members to do the same. The only others on our team who are proficient with CAD are mentors, so this will definitely be a good thing.

Thank you.

Most of our team members are homeschooled, as we are a 4H team unattached to a high school. As such while you would think it would be easier to get together, it’s much more difficult because we’re from all across the county. We’re also a small team (~15 students). Hopefully we can do some heavy recruiting to make this less of an issue.

how do you have time for homework? (any APs) that is one thing many on our team struggle with, I know that I was there almost every day of the week, and we have full team meetings on mondays and wednesdays (4:30-8:30), and saturdays (9am-5pm) minimally, but i and many teammates struggled to be there so much with homework. just curious how many teams find a balance.

During build season, we have afternoon work sessions immediately after school. Many of the students spend much of the time at the shop doing homework. This is not discouraged. :cool:

The evening sessions are typically much more robotically productive, but the afternoons are not wasted at all.

The official team schedual is less much less of a time commitment then what I put in. That said, I have 4 AP classes often stayed up until 1:00 in the morning and never went to bed before 12:00. Lets just say I’m glad the build season is only 6 weeks.:]

Everyone else is more knowledgeable than me, and they have already answered your questions well. I want to add a few points, however:

Let strategy dictate design, not the other way around. Know your priorities for the most important things to make the robot do, and incorporate them into the design first. You can add other cool features later.

CAD everything IN A TIMELY MANNER. This means lots of communication between CAD and Build. We wasted time while each group waited for dimensions for parts from the other. They need to figure it out. That will cut out probably three to five days of doing nothing for many people.

Think about making Electrical and Programming one, and definitely have collaboration at least. On a team of 25, we had seven people between those two groups. At no point did we ever need more than three (maybe four) working on wiring or programming something. A small group may mesh better, anyway.

We have an hour long class period all school year, which flips from training time during the fall to homework (for other classes) time during build. The hours from 3:30 to 4:30 or 5:30 are generally unproductive due to sports and such, but after that, everyone is generally expected to stay until 9.

There were a lot of long nights (mornings?) doing homework during build.

We’ve done the ‘too few’ hours season, and the ‘too many meetings’ seasons – this year we struck a balance, and merged some of our departments to be more collaborative. Much of our process has been learned through our own trial and error and from learning from Skunkworks 1983, Xbot 488, and others. This is after 4 years of refinement and of course I will tweak some more as I am changing schools in the area and the team is going with me as it will be and has been a multi-school team - and I’m the only school related coach/mentor so there’s no one to leave it to!

Our Schedule: Team Attends Kickoff, goes back to the building to brainstorm game and review rules and details.
**Week 1 **- 4-5 sub teams are formed, each team responsible for having their ‘game winning’ concept with at least partial CAD by Friday. Each team assigned a separate mentor/parent/alumni (as available). As coach this year I floated and tried not to cross pollinate, just encourage, coach, and question as I floated between groups. They work in silos to keep ideas original and avoid ‘groupthink.’ Prototypes and proof of concept models highly encouraged! Friday night the teams meet, invite parents and sponsors, and present their designs/concepts. Saturday - with a prioritized selection criteria - each of the designs is picked through, discussed, and then a ‘solution’ is selected - we then shift into high gear working on this selection.
Week 2-3
Build Team - Saturday of Kit 'bot chasis is assembled with electronics to give the programming team something to work with. Then they start prototyping the real deal.
Controls - wires up the kit 'bot for programming to begin - plans out what the competition controls will require - materials ordered ASAP.
Design - CAD work begins, Build/Design group is divided, but collaborative - they intermix and work together throughout the process so one isn’t ‘waiting on the other’ - they are all part of the build process and the CAD is updated as issues come up.
Should have a competition chassis with full running gear - game object manipulator (shooter this year) can still be in process or getting finalized through Week 4 - but the drive chassis should be ready to accept it if at all possible. Secondary/Practice robot parts can be made along side competition parts as doable.
**Week 4 **- finalize parts and assembly, make spares while programmers and drive group put the 'bot though paces and start debugging code and mechanical faults. Build group focuses on finishing practice 'bot at this time.
Week 5 - Practice, fix, practice, fix, practice, fix, etc. Build group making repairs and working up final chassis. Fully detailed CAD updates to permit both chassis to be identical.
Week 6 - We always forget about bumpers until this phase - so a late night or two of wood, pool noodles, tape, glue, cloth, grumbling, frustration, numbering and staples right before bagging it up.

Vinyl and decals have always been applied in the pit the morning of regionals - so they go on the final, final, design and our sponsors are all on there and didn’t get removed in a modification.

We started training, fundraising, and organizing in June - once a week. Twice a week starting in Sept. Then 4-5 days a week through competition season.

Build Season Meetings: Mon 2:30 - 4:30 - Team Leaders Meeting - planning for the week and cross department/subteam collaboration planning. Online calendar kept, time-clock maintained, team email accounts available. (Communication is big).

Tues,Thurs, Fri - 2:30 - 9PM (Fridays run over). Saturday 9AM - 6PM. Sundays and Wednesdays are held out as non meeting days (unless we see we need the extra time - then those who are able work those days when needed do so.)

Parents arrange care and feeding of the group each meeting night, we sit down to a family style dinner each time for 30-45 minutes and converse - rarely about the robot) rotating set-up/clean-up duty through the sub-teams.

Blurring the lines between sub-teams/departments was very beneficial this year and killed a lot of in-fighting and fault placement.

Post Bag-Up – Still meeting regularly, secondary chassis finished and drive practice 2-5 times a week (as permitted) until regional.

On average our Seniors had over 175 hours each during the 6 weeks, Juniors 160, Sophomores, 140 and Freshman 130 or so. With about 15 regular attendees we had 2800 student man-hours logged in the 6 week period. (we maintain a time-card system). Highest hours in the team were 237 and 236 - both were on the build team (go figure). (all of these hours are for the official build season only - that’s where I drew the data from). Some students only had 50-60 hours, many of them have jobs, some working with our industry partners!

**Homework: ** Sunday and Wednesday are open for the big stuff, some team members sneak it in when they aren’t as critically needed during the shop time/lab time. Passing grades are required to leave school for Regionals, so there is an emphasis to maintain GPAs.

Hope it was informative, dunno if it’s a plan anyone else could follow, but it has worked for us so far. If I could magically have the robot ready by Week 2-3 believe me I would - but we haven’t thus far.

There’s some truth to that. Small groups are better coordinated, know each other better, and are sometimes more effective than larger ones. Knowing what works best for you may be the key to being most efficient. Communication during the build season is key, and sometimes stifles the progress of those large groups.


  1. Understand game…start thinking of possible designs
  2. Debates on design and choose one Split into sub groups
    3.Start CAD and begin teaching everyone about the sub group they chose (ex. welders weld some random things)
  3. Order parts and begin putting it together
  4. (hopefully) finish robot and go to scrimmages
  5. Driver practice in an ideal world…never happens :slight_smile:

but in all 6 weeks… have fun :slight_smile:

Does anyone else have school finals during week 1? We lose most of week 1 because the students have finals Monday to Thursday. So we just show them the game Saturday and let them chew on it a bit before they get back to their studies.

Luckily, they get the friday off so we use that to simulate the game and come up with our design goals.

Losing the essentially the first 6 days (maybe count it as 5.5) is a big blow. Right now we are working hard on coming up with a drivetrain that we can use again and again (like 254 and 25). We really need something like that so the mentors can make sure we have the right parts in stock and ordering ones we need once we know what the game is. Be able to make small adjustment to a proven design can really help us jump ahead in the build season or rather catch up to every other team.

In regards to homework, we sort of did it unofficially this year, but next year we are going to copy team 27 and have homework sessions during the weekday meetings from 3:00 to 5:00 (maybe to 6:00 if a student as a lot or sports). We typically meet tuesday Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Tuesday and Thursday meetings are typically the least effective because of homework. I want these to be more effective by forcing students to finish their studies before working on the robots. It could also allow us to add wednesday and monday meetings without hurting the students’ grades.