Friday, May 6, 2011

A CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) Castle

This is a break from the usual construction photos to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart.  There is a lot of interest in prefabrication these days in the field of architecture but, for the most part, the capability of the computer to model interesting shapes is way ahead of the industry's ability to fabricate those shapes economically and/or practically.  This is true despite the presence of "3D printers"and the like.

In college design schools there is a lot of dreaming about this potential and at Studio Ecesis there is a "tip of the iceberg"sense about our recent Agriboard projects.  It's fun to panelize a house, but the SIP panel manufacturers and the structural engineering industry aren't really capable of easily generating many of the forms that seem readily possible on the computer.

Spring is here and elementary schools and preschools are starting to call parents with requests to help out with end of the year projects.  It recalls an effort from a few years back.  When fundraising projects for my elementary and preschools boys come up, it always seems like a good opportunity to stimulate their interest in burgeoning technology while doing a little whimsical discovery as a designer.  

It can get a little out of hand sometimes.  Dad sometimes gets a little lost in front of the computer or out in the shop.

These two images are a summary of a preschool fundraising project done with the help of a couple fellow Dads (Tim Nordvedt and Mark Jankowski) a few years ago.  After doing several design sketches and some computer modeling, we went down to Santa Rosa to have the dirty work done.  I picked up some calibrated MDF down at Higgins Lumber and then went to Econoline Signs at the north end of town.  We put the MDF on their milling table and let the CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) milling machine do the cutting.  There was a lot of cutting.

If memory serves, this piece auctioned for $900.  We spent about $300 on materials so we breathed a sigh of relief when the bidding climbed past that.  Nereo Woodturning in Windsor was kind  enough to turn enough wood "people" for each kid in the class to draw a face on each piece.  The whole thing was a lot of fun to assemble and witness the kids discover.  I'd encourage anybody else looking for a cool fundraising angle for their school to check out this technology.  If you can model it with planes of a consistent thickness, chances are it can be built pretty economically and assembled practically.  

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