Universal Constants: A New Foundation of Measurement    >   Standardize - Achieve Precision

Team Engineering

You and your fellow students take on the roles of teams of engineers who must coordinate to create a final product that fits together.

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Title of Activity: Team Engineering

Brief Description: In this activity, students assume the roles of subcontractors trying to achieve precision making a product in multiple sites.

Target Grade Level: Grades 8-12

Discipline or Course: Physical Science

Estimated Time Required: One 45-minute session

Individual / Partner / Group Work: Teams of 3-4

Key Vocabulary:

  • precision
  • process control
  • systems engineer

Teacher Prep:

  • A student can be assigned the role of coordinating systems engineer, or the teacher might assume that role.
  • Provide safety goggles if sharp cutting knives are used.
  • A main point of this activity is that if different tools and methods are used, the results will not be reproducible. So don't hesitate to vary the equipment.

Taking It Further:

If you can bring into class an engineer or owner of a small company that uses parts from a variety of sources, student interviews are ideal here.

Suggestions for Remote Learning:

This activity can be conducted remotely. Ask students to save cardboard from a shipping box or cereal box for their part of the assignment. Email each student a description of what they are to manufacture and ask them to send it back to you or to each other. Email Supporting Material - Component Parts Directions and Images to one student or group, who acts as chief systems engineer(s).

Background Knowledge and Extensions:

Web Link - How iPhone Is Made - The Global Assembly Line clearly describes the challenges of international manufacturing. Students might be challenged to trace the origins of other familiar products.


In today's world, the component parts of many of the things we use are made in many countries. A systems engineer coordinates the various sites and processes. They all rely on the same standards. There are often great advantages in that sort of coordination, such as employment of local resources, expertise, and access to equipment.

To achieve a functional final product, everyone must begin with accurate standards based on unchanging constants. Each site must also have parallel measurement instruments and use the same procedures.

Try this simulation: Can you coordinate your team's measurement process with others' to achieve a good product?

Materials (per group):

  • Supporting Material - Component Parts Directions and Images for only one student or group, who acts as chief systems engineer
  • Manufacturing specifications for each of six groups who represent subcontractors
  • Thick cardboard, thick paper, or foam core
  • Cutting instruments
  • Different measuring tools for each group
  • Eye protection (for cutting)

Safety Precautions:

Use eye protection when cutting.


  1. Each subcontracting group gets written directions for manufacturing one piece of a two-dimensional model of a train.
  2. The systems engineer gets a picture of the final product but does not show anyone. They then distribute the specifications for one of the component parts and one of the measurement tools to each group.
  3. The subcontractors use their assigned measurement tool to create their component part.
  4. When everyone is finished, each subcontractor group turns in their part and the systems engineer puts the parts together.
  5. The systems engineer decides if the product is functional and if the measurements were sufficiently precise.


  1. Did your final product fit together? If it does, great! But it is not likely, which is the point of the lesson.
  2. How do the various measuring instruments differ in precision? Ask students to answer this question by recording the smallest measurement on each instrument.
  3. What other factors in addition to the measuring instrument contribute to precision? How careful the workers are, and perhaps the thickness of the material.
  4. How can international manufacturing be made more efficient through measurement? Having standards based on constants rather than artifacts, and having carefully defined and reproducible procedures.


What did you learn? Measurement tools must be standardized in order for a process to be precise.

What else would you like to know?