SDC: Student Design Competition

Global, January 01 – August 12, 2019

2020 Student Design Competition Q&A

Select your local event to learn more about E-Fests Competitions

2020 Challenge Statement: Building To The Sky

Download 2020 Rules

If you have questions about the 2020 SDC competition, please send them to

  1. Questions should ONLY pertain to the 2020 rules, or answers to previous questions.
  2. All answers below supersede the original competition statements as well as any earlier answers shown where there may be a contradiction.
  3. All questions and answers shown below are sorted with the most recent ones listed first.
  4. Official responses will become part of the competition rules.

General information about ASME E-Fests such as: dates & locations, registration procedures, other competitions, program outline etc… can be found at:

Questions & Answers


Please scan the entire list of questions.  In some cases updates to previous 'answers' may have been made.  Those updates will be shown in "red" font.


Question 35

Coming Soon


Coming Soon


Question 34

Prior to the device gaining control of the paper, the paper would be rolled into a cylindrical shape. When released, the paper does return flat to its initial state, but the edges of the paper are sometimes a bit defected due to the rolling process. Is this allowed?


Yes. The paper must not be creased.


Question 33

In rule #16, it says that the papers must be released before connecting to prior sheets. What classified as being connected? Can the papers be touching as long as they are not physically connected together?


Yes, see Answer #30.


Question 32

  1. For Q16-1 it is stated that the color of the paper doesn't have to be white. Does the entire paper have to be a uniform color or can we print designs onto a white 20lb printer paper?
  2. Are we allowed to preload all 100 sheets of paper into the machine instead of feeding 1 at a time?
  3. Do all the pieces of paper in the tower have to be connected or can you have multiple disconnected paper structures to compete in one competition?


  1. The paper should come in the original sealed ream of paper for the judges to ensure it meets the specifications. Feel free to buy colored paper (see Answer #21 re: paper density).  If you are looking for flair, please incorporate into your machine’s design(s).
  2. No. Paper must be fed 1 sheet at a time by a human.
  3. Multiple sheets/components/towers are not required to be connected.  Judging would be based on the lowest tower or position of weight.


Question 31

  1. Does the paper need to be loaded from the outside of the device? Or can it be loaded from the inside of the device? In other words, what are the rules for hand placement for the paper loader team member? Is there an imaginary plane, from either the 50x50x50 cm mark or the actual outside of the robot, that the hands must not cross when loading the paper? Or is there no such limitation?
  2. Can the paper-feeder team member use a solid cylinder before the paper has been loaded into the device to create a rolled paper of an exact size, keeping in mind answer 29 (that the paper must snap back to its original state at any time before feeding)? Or are no tools outside of the device like this allowed before the paper has been fed?


  1. A team member may load sheets of paper (one at a time) into your device. Please see Answer #30. There is no imaginary cube boundary to remain outside.
  2. No tools (e.g. a cylinder) may be used that are not part of (outside) the device.


Question 30

The rules state that "the person loading paper must release the paper before it has been connected to prior sheets".  Can the next sheet of paper come in contact with the tower before it is released, as long as it is not permanently attached to the tower until after released?  In this case, the machine will gain control of the paper before it is mechanically joined, and the tower will not be moved or affected in any when the paper briefly comes in contact with it as it is being loaded.


As you are feeding in the next sheet of paper, you may allow it to contact the tower being built. You must release it before any joining operation is performed by your machine.


Question 29

Can the paper be loosely rolled before the robot gains control of it, assuming the paper can easily return to its original state?


Yes, that is the intent of the response to Question 12-3.  If you let go of your “loosely rolled” sheet before your robot controls it, the page must lie flat.


Question 28

It is seen from your rulebook that no solid/liquid material be added to the paper before/after feeding it to the device. Does that mean that the device also cannot do it or we are not supposed to use any of those materials, implying no adhesives?  If adhesives are allowed, is there any limitation on the kind of adhesive used?


As per Competition Rule #10 and Q&A response 24-2, no adhesives or binding agents may be used in any way to construct the tower.


Question 27

Is the device able to expand after it has been taken out of the box?  If yes, does the device have to be able to expand on its own power?


Yes, as long as it never exceeds a height of 50 cm (rule #13) and never touches the ground outside the testing area, and as long as it expands under its own power.


Question 26

In regards to the strength challenge: If the paper tower can hold an excessive amount of weight, will a press be allowed? If so, will one be provided or should each team bring their own?


Teams must provide their own weights and these weights must be suspended from the tower.  Height of the weight above the ground will be used for the scoring formula.


Question 25

Is it allowed to use mechanical switches, because it saves a lot of energy?


You are building a device to raise a paper tower using energy supplied by rechargeable batteries (rule #5).  The combination of electrical and mechanical components that you decide to use is completely up to your team.  Mechanical components will be part of electro-mechanical devices. You may use purely mechanical switches as a part of your control panel as long as they are only providing information (start or stop something), not providing energy (to move paper or to alter the paper in some way).


Question 24

  1. Is there any specific predefined shape for the tower, that is of the tower is aesthetically simple (not having the exact shape like a pyramidal) will it affect the judging. Or we are flexible to use any tower design simple or complex.
  2. Does term mechanical joint simply means to have a joint made from some paper. Or are we allowed to use any of the binding agent like tape which will be loaded in to the machine no papers will be modified before or after loading it to the loader.
  3. For the strength round is there any minimum height required also is there a specific minimum weight that will be put on the tower by the judges.
  4. Will the height of the tower effect the judging of strength round or will it be on purely weight carrying capacity?


  1. No, you may be as flexible as you can.
  2. Paper sheets must be joined without any type of binding agent.
  3. No minimums, you are trying to maximize these two variables according to the scoring formula, so both height and weight matter as you see fit.  Teams will provide their weights and will place their weights on their tower.


Question 23

  1. Are the weights allowed to make contact with the device at any point during the construction of the tower?
  2. May the weights extend beyond the 50x50 testing area??


For the Stronger competition, teams may apply (and remove and reapply) weights at any time during the tower construction.  If weights touch the device during construction this is OK. However, at the end of the competition teams must place their desired weight(s) on the tower and leave them for judging.  Weights may not be touching the device at this point or the height score will be less than 50 cm. Weights can extend beyond the testing area, but the height used for scoring will be the lowest vertical height of the weight (see rule #24).


Question 22

Let's say for example that your robot experiences a paper jam while building the paper tower. Is the paper loader person allowed to unjam the robot and then restart the robot to continue building the paper tower? Or are they allowed to unjam the robot only if they sacrifice the current progress the robot has made with the tower and start over from the beginning? Or is the paper loader person not allowed to unjam the robot in any way during the composition and the team must accept the current results of the tower else fear expulsion from the competition?


If the paper jams and the device is no longer able to continue to raise the tower then the round in question ends for the team.  The judges will evaluate the team’s score based on that height. Review rule #29 for the judging that will take place on Day 2. Efforts by team members to unjam paper will result in a last place finish for the Day 1 event where this activity occurred, and it will result in the team losing the Day 2 competition round.


Question 21

As per the ASME SDC rules, it is given that the A4 paper specifications are 20lb.  Can you specify it for how many sheets (eg: 500 sheets) and 20 lb in kilograms (kg)?  Because it is difficult to buy paper in lb in our region.


For paper manufacturers, a standard weight for 500 sheets of 17” x 22” size paper is 20 lb.  This translates to a paper density (mass per area) of 75 grams per square meter (75 gsm). All teams must use paper of this density, and either size 8 ½” x 11” (216 x 279 mm), or A4 (210 mm x 297 mm).  US teams will probably find it most convenient to get the 8 ½ x 11 size, international teams will probably find A4 paper more convenient. Either size is acceptable as long as the packaging of the paper used indicates the correct density.


Question 20

Do the weights that teams provide need to fit in the 50x50x50cm sizing box with the robot, batteries and tools?


Team-supplied weights for the Stronger test do not have to fit in the sizing box.  Also, paper that teams will supply for all rounds of the competition do not have to fit in the sizing box.  Everything else needed to compete must fit in the sizing box (see rule 2).


Question 19

How do you define whether or not sheets of paper are ‘connected’ in reference to rule 16 as quoted in question 12-2?


The team member who is feeding the new sheet of paper into the device may continue to adjust the feeding as the device begins to control and move the new sheet of paper.  However the team must release the new sheet when the device performs some operation on that new sheet as it becomes connected to (a part of) the paper tower being raised. Team members may not touch any sheets of paper on the tower after they have been fed in and released.  For the Stronger competition teams must place (and possibly remove) weights onto the top of the tower -- this must be done carefully to avoid contact with the tower itself.  This answer is a more complete than ANSWERS 17-3 or 12-2 below and it supersedes those responses.


Question 18

Can a pre-made device that mechanically joins pieces of paper be used on the robot?


The use of engineered solutions is allowed as long as competition rules are met.


Question 17

  1. What is the quality of the papers to be used? We are unable to understand what is 20 lbs A4 size paper.
  2. Can we use a joystick to control certain operations of the device?
  3. Can we manually handle the paper between different operations as long as it is not being connected to prior sheets?


  1. Teams should build their towers using typical paper for copy machines – that is either 8 ½ x 11 inch (most common in US) or A4 (more common for outside the US); 500 sheets of this type of paper will weigh 20 lbs.  Teams will be expected to have the paper they will use in the wrapping paper that the paper was purchased, this should identify the weight and size.
  2. Not if the joystick is going to be used for the operator to make decisions about the building of the tower during construction.  You may have one or more control panels, and the panel(s) may be mounted to your device or hand-held, but the only control operation that should be selected will be to begin an electric powered operation.  When that operation has ended you can then select a subsequent operation to begin.
  3. No, once your device has gained control of each sheet of paper you may no longer touch it


Question 16

  1. Will students be required to provide their own 20lb paper? If so, does it have to be white?
  2. May the sizing box overlay the device as the tower is being built, given that there is an opening for the tower to ascend through, does not interfere with supporting the tower,  and it has been demonstrated that the internal dimensions are less than 50x50x50cm? I ask this as a means of protecting our devices from impact when our towers inevitably fail during the Strength test.
  3. Are there limits to the external dimensions of the sizing box as needed to house tools and extra supplies that we may need?
  4. May we use weights for Taller, Faster, and Stronger categories?
  5. For the Day 2 competition, will we be able to add/remove weights to the tower in the same manner as on Day 1 before the tower connects with the 0.5 kg disc?
  6. Scoring the Higher and Faster rounds seems self-evident, but how exactly will the Stronger category be tabulated? It was mentioned before that because all competing teams will be graded using the same units. If we are building one machine that builds one kind of tower, we need to know if there is a tradeoff between building a taller tower versus a stronger tower because that will directly influence our tower design. With both the Taller and Faster categories, there is only one variable at play, respectively. With the Stronger category, there are two variables at play. Because one variable may have more value than the other, you cannot simply state that the units are irrelevant because they are not equitable scalars; one may have more proportional value. For example, would it be in our interest to focus on adding ten more centimeters or supporting one more kilogram? This is why it’s important for us to know exactly how this category is tabulated, namely, the units will be used for both height and weight.


  1. Yes, teams will provide their own, un-modified paper, but it does not have to be white.
  2. Devices must be removed from the sizing box during competition.  Teams will be adding their own weight(s) during the Stronger competition, and team members will be allowed to “catch” their weights if the tower collapses so that no damage is done to the device.  If the tower collapses the team will score based on where the weight(s) are supported by the tower after the collapse – this must be above 50 cm to receive a non-zero score.
  3. No, the sizing box will be measured based on inside dimensions
  4. Teams will provide their own weight(s) in whatever configuration is desired to attach to the top of their tower at the conclusion of the Stronger competition.  There are no weights for the Taller or Faster events.
  5. On day two, the judges will provide the 0.5 kg mass disk on a stand located 1.5 meters above the floor.  Teams will build a tower that pushes their disk stand.  The first team to move the disk is the winner of that round.  There are no other weights involved.
  6. See response #15.  Centimeters and kilograms.


Question 15

In Question 6 #3, the answer states that units do not matter. However, the units for weight will vary the strategy of our design. If the weight is in kilograms, it will have a much different effect on the final answer than grams or pounds. For example, if our tower is 75 cm tall, the difference between using grams and kilograms can be seen below:

Stronger Score = (Final Weight Height – 50cm)*(Final Weight Amount)

  • a.  (75cm-50cm)*(1000 grams) = 25,000 cm*grams
  • b.  (75cm-50cm)*(1 kilogram) = 25 cm*kilograms

In (a), the weight is the driving factor in the equation. In (b), the height is the driving factor. Because of this, we would like further clarification of the units that the weight will be measured in. We are trying to determine if it is better to have a shorter tower with a lot of weight, or a taller tower with a little weight.


You are correct, the Stronger competition is a tradeoff between designing for height and for weight.  However, the competition results do not depend on units.  Taking your example as a short/strong design, suppose another team builds a tall/weak design that is 150 cm tall but only holds 500 grams.  They score either a) 50,000 cm*grams or b) 50 cm*kilograms.  In both cases this is the better scoring design and they will get a lower place score than your design.  The competition scoring is based on adding the place scores from each of the Higher/Faster/Stronger rounds.  The tie-breaker is Stronger score but again units don’t matter.  Since this seems to cause anxiety, we will measure height in cm, and mass in kg.


Question 14

In #22 it says "paper tower height [is] measured from the floor." Can the paper tower be built on top of the device? In other words, the paper tower does not have to be built on the floor.


See response #9


Question 13

Will the tower competition be held in an open space or closed space. If open how much wind speed is expected?


See #8 question 3.  The competition will be held either in a large room, or if outside in a protected area.  It will be shielded from direct sunlight, rain, and wind.


Question 12

  1. Do you measure the height of the tower from the lowest point of the tower or from the floor?
  2. Rule 16 states, "The person loading paper may hold the sheet while the device is gaining control of the sheet, but must release the paper before it has been connected to prior sheets. Manually controlling a sheet as it is being fabricated into the tower will immediately end the round."  Once the machine has gained control of a piece of paper, but before the paper has been connected to prior sheets, can the paper loader still move the paper?
  3. Rule 10 states, "The paper must not be modified before manual loading, and the device may only fold, cut or mechanically join individual sheets of paper -- no additional materials (solid or liquid) may be added to the sheet of paper before or after it has been loaded into your device."  What constitutes modifying a piece of paper? Does any plastic deformation count as a modification?


  1. From the floor.
  2. Yes.
  3. The team member who is manually loading the paper into the device may bend it to fit into a paper feeder, but the sheet may not be torn or folded in any permanent way before the device begins to modify the paper.  At any time during manual feeding, if the person was asked to stop and release the paper, it should return to a flat sheet of paper just as it came from the package of paper.


Question 11

  1. How long does the tower have to stand? For example, Rule 22 states, "Towers that collapse before they can be measured..." Is there a set time for this?
  2. Is there a better definition of stored energy? (Can you have initially uncompressed/un-stretched springs?)
  3. Can the paper tower (not the device) go past the play area?


  1. You should expect that judges will measure tower height within a few minutes at the longest.  During the competition teams may signal that they are done and ready for the tower to be measured, the judges might be unable to complete this task immediately if they are examining other towers.
  2. Yes your device can have springs that you compress and uncompress during the operation of the device, it must not start with a compressed spring that cannot be recompressed.
  3. Paper towers may not touch the ground outside of the 2m x 2m testing area.  As towers extend into the air they may lean beyond the vertical lines extending from the floor.


Question 10

Are we allowed to build three separate robots to compete in the three different competitions as long as they remain within the sizing parameters?


Yes, as long as all of the devices you will use throughout the competition fit within the one team sizing box.


Question 9

Does the tower have to make contact with the ground?




Question 8

  1. Are we supposed to make different kind of towers for each round on day 1 (faster, stronger, higher)? If yes, then are we allowed to make changes in our device between each round?
  2. Can an air compressor or a water pump be used to power certain operations of our device?
  3. What will be the location of the testing area? Is it an open area with wind or an indoor stadium?
  4. For the shoot-out round, it’s written that we can change the position of the disk at 1.5m. Are we allowed to manually changes its position or the device should do it itself?
  5. Can device remain in contact with paper tower during testing of height or applying weights?
  6. Can we use some kind of a slot or extrusion or any support structure in our device to support the base of our tower?
  7. Do we have to automate all the operations or some can be manually done? And if we have to automate all, can we automate different operations separately and then use switches to activate the operations. If manual tasks are allowed then can we use a controller/remote to complete certain operations? For example, can we use a joystick to control a gripper/manipulator?
  8. How exactly the height of the tower is going to be measured? Suppose, the device lifts the tower from the ground after the tower is built, then from where the height will be measured, still from the ground or from the base of the tower?
  9. For the Stronger round, is there a constraint on the minimum height of the tower? The formula for calculating the score subtracts 50 from the height of weight, does that mean minimum height is 50cm from ground or base of the tower?
  10. After the construction of the tower is over, do we have to place the tower on the ground or it can be held on a platform in the device?
  11. The tower cannot exceed the height of 50cm at any time, but can it extend its parts in the horizontal direction during operation and retract after the task is completed?


  1. Teams may not make adjustments to their devices during day 1 events, but may modify devices before day 2 events.
  2. No Compressed air may be used as long as the device starts with no pressure, and uses an air compressor powered by rechargeable batteries.  Water may not be used.
  3. The competition will either be held indoors, or will be held outside in a sheltered area without wind or rain.
  4. Judges will provide the target stand that your team will use for the Shoot-Out round.  Team members may move the target stand as the paper tower is being built so that the tower will hit the target stand as soon as it reaches the 1.5 meter height.
  5. Yes
  6. Your device may secure and perform tower building operations on the paper as you see fit.
  7. Please read the competition rules and the previous Q&A responses about manual vs automatic operation
  8. All paper towers will be measured from the floor.
  9. The scoring formula for the Stronger round uses the measured paper tower height from the ground, and then subtracts the 50 cm.
  10. Paper towers will remain secured within the devices, they do not have to be self-supporting on the ground.  Teams will not touch the towers during the competitions.
  11. No, device height must never exceed 50 cm at any time.  Paper towers obviously will.


Question 7

Is the paper tower always measured from the ground, or in some rounds is it measured from the base of the paper tower? Rule 23 mentions that the tower will be measured from the ground, but rules 22 and 24 do not (for the higher and stronger rounds, respectively). In other words, can the tower be placed on a surface within the device that is located above the ground?


All paper towers will be measured from the floor.  For some of the events the scoring uses an adjusted height, for others the final height from the floor is used.  You may build your towers within your device as you wish.


Question 6

  1. As stated in Rule 22, the height measurement begins at the floor. If our robot is 50 cm tall, may we begin building from the top of the robot? So, the base of the paper tower would be 50 cm off the floor. Will these additional 50 cm count towards our height score, or does the paper tower have to begin at the ground?
  2. We have the same question as in question 1, but applied to the speed round. Are we able to begin the bottom of the paper tower at the top of the robot?
  3. The equation in Rule 24 outlines the strength competition scoring. What units will the weight be scored in? Our team is trying to see which piece of the equation will be the driving factor. To clarify, what are the final units used to score strength?
  4. As stated in Rule 15, a team member is manually allowed to load paper one sheet at a time so that the device can connect it to the prior sheets of paper. Can we load all sheets individually at the beginning of the round, before tower building begins? Are we allowed to have an intermediate paper storage system?
  5. Rule 15 & Rule 17: To our understanding the robot may either be controlled manually using a control panel that may or may not be attached to the robot or may be autonomous after paper loading ends – please confirm this is correct.


  1. All paper towers will be measured from the floor.  You may build your towers within your device as you wish.  Towers do not have to start on the ground or be touching the ground.
  2. Same as 1
  3. Units don’t matter, since they will be the same for all teams you are competing against
  4. Paper will be manually loaded one sheet at a time when the competition starts.  You do not need any paper storage system, your paper-loader will serve that function.
  5. Yes, you may have an autonomous control system, but that is not required.  Manual control panel(s) may be located on the device, or may be hand-held, as long as they all fit within the required storage box at the start.  Either manual or autonomous systems must function with individual sheets of paper being loaded manually by one team member.


Question 5

Can we make such a bot with varying height like to fit in the box it will be compressed to 45 cm but when it is taken out from box its height may be much greater than 50cm??


The device may not be taller than 50 cm at any time during the competition.  Only the paper tower may exceed this height.


Question 4

  1. Are we allowed to use an air compressor, rather than pre-compressed air?
  2. Are multiple sheets of paper allowed to be used for each "layer" meaning can you use multiple pieces of paper folded as one to fortify?
  3. Can you define what a "pre-compressed spring" is as stated in Rule #5? Can we start with an uncompressed spring and compress it during the competition?
  4. For the Day 2 competition, how does the weighted disk get attached to the tower? What is the geometry of the disk? Are we allowed to alter the disk as long as it remains the same weight?
  5. Can our tower be in contact with our device for the maximum 50cm height of the device? i.e. can our tower be supported from the ground to 50cm up?


  1. No See response to Question 8-2.
  2. Yes, but paper must be manually fed into your device one sheet at a time (Rule 15)
  3. If your device starts the competition with a spring in tension/compression, your device must be able to restore this energy to the spring during operation.  You can use an uncompressed spring and (repeatedly) compress it.
  4. For the Day 2 Shoot-out rounds, judges will provide the 1.5 meter tall stand with the 0.5 kg mass and 10 cm disk for each team.  Teams will not alter the stand in any way, however they will be allowed to move the stand so that the paper tower that is being built will lift the weight.  Judges will determine when the weight has moved.
  5. Paper towers can be supported within the device however a team wishes.


Question 3

  1. Are there any restrictions on the way the machine is allowed to be in contact with the tower (other than that no component of the machine can be above 50cm)?
  2. Can the tower be built on top of the machine (in other words, must the tower be in contact with the ground)?
  3. Regarding rule 15, can the control panel operator operate the controls throughout the round, selecting different options if needed?


  1. No, your device can secure the paper tower you are building in any way you wish, as long as you meet the rules for feeding paper and connecting each sheet of paper to the tower.
  2. The paper tower will be secured to the device.  It does not have to be in contact with the ground – although it may touch the ground.
  3. Yes, the device controller may operate different controls throughout the operation of your system.  Only the controls may be touched, not the paper tower.


Question 2

  1. Is it allowed to use components of LEGO Technic (Beams, Gears, Electric motors, sensors, etc…) for designing the device?
  2. As far as we understood from the rules document all assembly of the papers will be done automatically by the device and no manual assembly is allowed. Could you please confirm.
  3. If we are allowed to use Lego, can we start building the paper tower on the Lego surface?


  1. Yes, teams may use any materials they wish to construct a device to build the paper tower as long as it does not violate stated competition rules;
  2. Yes, the only manual interaction between a team member and the device is to load individual sheets of paper – see the stated competition rules 15 through 18;
  3. You may use LEGO components as a base for your device as long as it fits within the required sizing box and can be removed ready to operate – see the stated competition rules 2, 4 and 8.


Question 1

Rule #10 states "Devices must manufacture a single, self-supporting tower..." and #12 states "The paper tower may remain in contact with the device throughout each testing round." Does this allow for a tower to rely on the device remaining in contact with it at its base? In other words, does this mean the tower will not be tested on its ability to stand without being in contact with the device?


Yes, the paper tower is not expected to stand without being in contact with your building device