Things being made too well & the exit nozzle with no exit

Some of the changes in UK manufacturing and difficult to track, Peter Mandelson would have us believe that manufacturing is a growing sector in the UK , where as the figures seem clear there is less work – how so. Well it all seems to come down to automation. Yes manufacturing is growing, we are making more things again, but the fact is this making is done more and more by automation (see previous entry about CNC milling machines in engineering which after loading and setting can be left to make the part).

From makers to machine minders

Output increased and human input decreased

Derek was suggesting that the changes in manufacturing are also because we make things too well here in the UK that manufacturing suffered as the durability outlasts the possible replacement demand. The traditional lathe in the workshop was made in Colchester– we know this because the name is blazoned on the front, the same was found on all the older machinery in the workshop (not so on the newer CNC machines). When Derek and I were discussing the workshop machinery a week or so back he said that in the UK we used to make a lot of engineering machinery. That production moved to Taiwan in the late 1970’s. Don’t know where production is focused now.

Talking of things being too well made, my CAD skills are developing. Working with a set of existing drawings I added surfaces to an ‘exit nozzle’. Up to now we have been working with solid forms and then removing/cutting areas to make the desired shapes. In the exit nozzle approach the sketch is created and then a surface is wrapped over the form. The only thing was when I got to the end of the instructions the exit nozzle had no place for liquid to exit (someone forgot about their design intention there!). So I added one. We are going back to solid modelling next week when the no pointed needle moves on.


Find being in this engineering environment is influencing my working language, as I asked a Foundation student what her ‘design intention’ was for her final show,. It’s not such bizarre terminology for an art and design course but I never used it before starting this residency. Its possibly going to be more difficult to drop a ‘boss exude’ or ‘lofted surface’ into the conversation.

I’m starting to record the many warning notices I get as I instruct SolidWorks to do things it thinks are unreasonable or under/over engineered perhaps.

“The features could not be created because it would produce self intersecting geometry”

What would self intersecting geometry look like anyway?


Vocation or Profession

We had an interesting conversation on Tuesday about if being an artist is a vocation or a profession. I said for me it was a profession and it was suggested ‘was I only in it for the money?’ If someone is a professional are they really only in it for the money? Lets cross disciplines again to for example a surgeon, they love what they do but also want to paid appropriately for their investment in learning and developing a high level of knowledge and skills and their contribution to the subject.

See Emily Speed’s highly illuminating blog – Getting Paid


Emily offers insight into the investment and returns shifting equilibrium.

So yes we were discussing the professional and the vocational, and the conversation went all over the place including ‘passion’ and that it is passion that drives artists and engineers (deduced from our small sample group) the drive to explore, learn, progress ideas and approaches within the discipline. Wonder if I should call the exhibition (at Hethel) at the end of this residency work ‘passion’ would perhaps be intriguing to potential audiences.

I was trying to explain the differences between the hobby artist (the fun & enjoyment model – vocation?) and the professional artist (the advancement of the subject – profession). I was saying that being a professional artist doesn’t reduce my passion for the subject it’s just I have (as many others artists have) invested both time and money to get my work to where it is today and it is about an exchange and not doing things for free. I wonder if the expectation to work for free extends to the engineering sector, I am thinking probably not but will ask next week. The performance artist Joshua Sofaer said in AN years back (and I have remembered it several times) ‘ I decided I would no longer work for free’ and it doesn’t seem to have done him any harm. When I worked with my mentor Richard Layzell we discussed ‘earning a living’ quite extensively.

I was intrigued to look at vocation and profession in the online dictionary – see image.

In terms of vocation I never felt a ‘calling’ to be an artist, but I have always been interested in ideas and thinking about things thoroughly and extensively beyond normal definitions and i found early on that art practice allowed me to do that. In terms of profession I have always loved learning and specialised learning, developing new knowledge (hence this residency project), I have been thinking about PhD study for a while now but as for a topic I can’t decide.

Oh and then the conversation moved into selling mugs (or not) and integrity – more about that some other time i think.


Don’t call them Vernier’s

Today we are part way through Paul’s story about fish food (no engineering reference in case there was any doubt) when we are joined by Ben. He is another engineer interested and exploring the intersection between engineering and art, here to discuss ideas and what I am trying to do.

We watch my video where the no pointed needle appears and I have a number of stills printed out. I say it will be easier to work from the stills as I’ll be able to make measurements on the paper and I even have my own ruler. There is a burst of laughter as my green plastic, rather short ruler makes an appearance. I thought it would be good to make a visual comparison to the digital callipers that Derek uses. Lots of people still refer to these are Vernier’s (an older measuring system) which annoys Derek greatly unbeknown to Ben who immediate refers to them as said Vernier’s. I suggest that Derek have a ‘Vernier’s swear box’ for such occasions. Old habits (and terminology) die hard I imagine.

So many subjects, cross discipline dialogues and questions of ‘vocation and profession’ from today (and some CAD also), will blog them over the coming days as I unpick my thoughts.

Lastly for now, Derek did point out leading on from my last post about ‘finishing’, that engineering is another profession that doesn’t finish either. Each job or brief is the best one can do with the knowledge and resources available, which in turn presents new ideas to be further explored and tested. It’s the passion for the subject and exploration that means it’s never finished only periodic concluding points before progressing again.


If I hadn’t been an artist….

I have been sorting through my slide collection. I have a small number of slides, beautiful glass ones as well as ones with cardboard surrounds from my grandparents collection. In early retirement they were enthusiastic travellers and in amongst the images are bridges, not so many as to indicate a specific interest but enough to make a small selection. It seems there is perhaps a universal interest in things that bridge.

We appreciate the bridge’s appearance, achievement and construction and if we think further or have a professional interest, the engineering qualities also. I have with my interest in architecture made a needle bridge suggestion. Its an exploration of a process and idea, how things cross over in terms of professions and disciplines. If I hadn’t been an artist I would quite likely have been an architect, but i was put off by the 7 years training as it was then. So I was pleased when I studies my MA a few years back now I explored ideas of conceptual architecture through the vehicle of a white shirt. I was able to explore my interest in structure and space but from a conceptual viewpoint rather than working to a brief. I was not concerned with the engineering of the structures I was proposing then or now with needle bridge – its so obviously under engineered. In terms of cutting edge architects Lebbeus Woods is well worth a look ( http://lebbeuswoods.net/ ).

I hope I’m not over extending the metaphor but see the whole project in this light – the bridge between art and engineering. The language and approaches of the two professions is really engaging and I’m continuing to work on my workpages as a record of this. Am starting to think about the exhibition of the outputs of this project which will be on show from September.


All that structure is reduced to surface and slices

Once the CAD image is complete it needs to be translated into a STL (Stereolithography) file so the RP software and machines can understand it. All the work with planes, parallels and midpoints recorded in the Feature Manager Design Tree is disregarded and the object / idea is reduced to surface. The surface is made up of a matrix of triangles. A larger scale example of this would be Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome http://www.bfi.org/about-bucky/buckys-big-ideas/geodesic-domes. In terms of my needle, there were 11704 triangles, the more triangles the smoother the surface. In addition to mapping the surface with triangles it also separates the object into slices. All RP processes are ‘sliced based’ which you can see most clearly on the plastics RP objects. It’s how the object is made, using layers of material be that plastic or plaster.