Forget about robots for a second, the engineering notebook is hands down the most important material any team will produce in FIRST Tech Challenge UK. No team can be assessed for an award without one, however, teams have won awards without a working robot — it’s true! So, what’s an engineering notebook and how can your team produce an award-winning one? Francis, one of our HQ intern alumni, shares his expert advice for developing a notebook set to wow the judges.
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In industry, a huge part of the engineering process is documentation. Documenting ideas, designs, prototypes, experiments and processes provides a trail of rich information that can be followed now and in the future.
Without documentation the valuable work an engineer develops would be wasted, as others would fail to repeat their work and build upon it, stifling innovation. In a competitive industry, poor documentation could cause a business to make serious mistakes. Here are five key principles teams can follow to help them produce award-winning engineering notebooks.
1 Give enough info and make no assumptions
Assume the person reading the notebook has no prior info about your team and very little understanding of the processes taken. You need to present enough info for someone else to understand the progress and replicate or improve on it. This helps the judges assess your development and is especially useful for new teams that come after you who want to begin where you left off.
2 Be clear, concise and add personality
It’s very tempting to waffle when informing and explaining, but text has to be engaging as well as informative — the last thing you want to do is bore your reader. Make them excited about your work, afterall, you’ve worked hard so make it show! Concise sentences which use correct terminology where appropriate will make it better for the reader. While information is important, also think about how you can allow your team to shine too.
3 Take pride in your presentation
Engineering notebooks are now online so you don’t have to worry about dog ears. However, think about how you can include diagrams — full views and detailed smaller sections — with appropriate labels and links so they can be referenced in various sections in your digital notebook. Clearly section the text so that it’s easier to follow and reference later.
4 Don’t hide problems that arise
If you change something or an error crops up that you need to address, include this in your notebook. It’s an extremely valuable skill to be able to explain where errors come from and how you plan to overcome it. No project is perfect and you could potentially help other teams who face the same issues in future. Everyone loves a problem-solver!
5 Include future goals and further development
There are always ways to improve your work, even in a successful project such as design improvements and more efficient processes. Get into the habit of stating what could be done next time, whether it’s for the next meeting or a future season. Critiquing your work demonstrates you have a progressive mindset.
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Those are Francis’ tips to help your team produce award-winning notebooks this season. Francis graduated in Mechanical Engineering at Leicester University and worked on events and societies in his free time. In September he began his MSc at Leeds University and plans to mentor teams this season.
For more engineering notebook guidance, head over to the Engineering Notebook section in Makerspace (requires login details) where you’ll find an Engineering Notebook guide, videos to get started with the digital notebook tool, example notebooks and additional resources from the community.