Using diagrams helps me to record my thoughts, and then order then in someway. As a meticulous documenter of process i find i amass large collections which feed my process as practice approach. I showed Derek my inception to completion diagram from 2006 (from an architecture practice residency) and asked him to draw an equivalent. His diagram helps me to understand a practice based approach to engineering (as apposed to a theoretical one).
I met up with Ben again another engineer and we discussed both diagrams. He talked about APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning) which is a very extensive procedural working system used within the automotive industry. As teams of designers / engineers / manufacturers are often in different locations, possibly on different sides of the world, it manages the work flow from design through to supply chain to manufacture to customer. I need to try and locate a diagram of this APQP.
Ben also spoke about when he was employed as an engineer there would a blue book in the office. This book held all the ideas the engineers/designers had when at work, which would then belong to the company. If the idea gained a patent the engineer /designer would get $500 and I assume the company gets to exploit the patent. I know very little about patents, but think they operate to protect ideas and inventions for specific periods of time and cross all kinds of disciplines, from engineering to pharmaceuticals. Our art world equivalent is obviously Copyright. My own ‘blue book’ is actually, currently a black book (with an obligatory post it note stuck to the front) in which I record all sorts of ideas and reflections. I have a whole load of these books in all shapes and sizes, all of which feel very valuable as i image they do to the many artists that use them.
Oh yes and The Man in the White Suit (1951) is an Ealing Comedy which explores the fear of technological change within the textile industry.
Images of engineering
I haven’t been at Hethel for a few weeks however Thursday brought a full day of a variety of tasks. It started with Derek delivering some RP parts to Scion-Sprays at the other end of the corridor who focus on engine management systems for small engines. My first question of course was what is a small engine – the answer anything under 250 cc like some motorbikes, scooters lawnmowers etc. Gavin the Managing Director showed me round their workshop and it was here that he explained what we were looking at that I managed to make a link to my two stroke lawnmower (small) engine ‘knowledge’ from horticultural college in the mid 1990’s. It is sometimes difficult to follow the explanations simply because I don’t have the vocabulary or working knowledge, but it is very intriguing.
My image of engineering prior to coming to Hethel was based on my experience of seeing the workshops at Eminox http://www.eminox.com/home/when my mum worked there some years back where the workshop contained lathes, welding equipment and steel cutters. I had never seen a CNC machine before I visited Hethel. When I was thinking about doing this project I watched Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (based on Alan Sillitoe’s novel) from 1960, set in a factory where the protagonist Arthur Seaton (played by Albert Finney) works a lathe having to make a thousand (identical) parts per day. Seaton works in a busy, crowded, dirty and noisy environment a far cry from the modern clean Hethel environment.
After the tour of the workshop Derek and I had a coffee and I was asking him about ‘Planned Obsolesce’ that I have been reading about in Made to Break (by Giles Slade). It’s a concept where objects are designed with obsolesce within a specific time frame. Promoted in America in 1932 as a way of ending the depression (1), which can be related to the current economic downturn and the promotion of ‘spending our way out of recession’.
Back to my RP objects. The terminology Rapid Prototyping is being replaced. Its original context is one where the technology did in fact offer a rapid process when compared with the historical alternative of making a prototype by hand at a lathe for example. And the terms prototype is being challenged as the processes can also be actual manufacturing. In the US they call it ‘digital manufacturing’, here in the UK its ‘additive layer manufacture’. This is because the process consists of adding a layer to a base material to build the object (or part), as apposed to subtractive engineering/manufacturing where a block of metal is reduced to the part. So with my second set of no pointed needles whichwere made of the plaster based material they needed to be strengthened so we used two methods. Some were slowly lowered into hot wax, then others were painted with epoxy resin, both were left to dry. The plaster based objects have a very different quality to the plastic objects they have a finer finish and feel more fragile. With both methods the process of production is apparent the layering is evident from the side of the object. I have to take some time to reflect on these objects and if the form is the one I really want. I imagine drawing and macro photography will help me to consider what changes I will need to make.
And finally, Derek and I, in the sprit of cross discipline working have been exchanging literature from our respective fields. Discussing these publications has been interesting and varied, with some exchanges being more engaging that others (from both our perspectives). I quite liked reading TCT (Time Compression Technologies – although nothing can actually compress time can it –isn’t that some kind of impossibility in terms of physics) as it offered a trade perspective on some of the subjects I am exploring on the residency. Perhaps I should lend Derek an Artist Newsletter?
1. Giles Slade Made to Break, Technology and obsolescence in America London, Harvard University Press, 2007 p. 151
“Industry and Arts must walk hand in hand” – Mr Duce (1)
And so to Muriel Spark’s The Ballard of Peckham Rye an absorbing book where the central character Dougal Douglas is engaged as “Arts man” in the factory firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley. He researches his fellow workers and the residents of Peckham gaining their confidence so they revealed things about themselves they didn’t seem to initially want to. With its situation in a factory (although Douglas spends very little time there) there are numerous references in the book which have intrigued me: time and motion studies, pecking orders, human research and feeding the line (the assembly line), industrial relations and trade unions. In the book Douglas describes “Industry as a great tradition”(2) . And I’m wondering about this word ‘industry’ a coverall word for so many different aspects of manufacturing, engineering, trade, business and work contexts and I’m wondering where its stands now. As for ‘tradition’ the idea of handing things down through the generations, ways of doing things, patterns and procedures have now been infiltrated and altered by the digital. During my early Secondary School education I used a computer in maths to ‘draw’ an image of a house using a set of typed commands, these were the days before the graphics interface (mouse) which has since its invention and mass dissemination revolutionised digital use. We are now in a place where the digital is now both tool of work and tool of leisure.
Reading this book coincides with my having to leave my studio in a former shoe factory (Bally) where I have been documenting the manufacturing (trade) marks on the fixtures and fittings (amongst other things) and the communication connections (and disconnections) of this making space. So many of the factories components have makers marks clearly proclaiming county of origin, now so often overlooked, hidden away or completely absent. Of the examples I found I am interested to see one Tamlex http://www.proteusswitchgear.co.uk/about_tamlex.asp is still based and producing in the UK where as the other Matter & Platt has been through many changes (http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/index.php?title=Mather_and_Platt&printable=yes). Set up in 1845, it developed to such an extent that in the 1940’ and 50’s it opened subsidiaries in India with the company eventually transferred its registration there. The company milestones can be seen on the Wilo / Mather & Platt website ( http://www.matherplatt.com/milestones.htm ).
Now the Bally building is almost empty of its current tenants, (as we were all given notice to quit) I’m left reflecting on both the objects made there and the people who made them which reminds me of I’m alight Jack – more of that next time.
1. Muriel Spark The Ballard of Peckham Rye London penguin Books 1999 (first published 1960). P. 15
2. ibid p. 17.
I discover I have been exploring reverse engineering as I am trying to create an object which already exists physically – the needle. However as the needle in the video (the source material for this project) has been altered to become the no pointed needle it for me becomes a new object that doesn’t exist physically. Although the object image can be printed and measured through a video still print. There are technologies which are used in reverse engineering such as 3D scanners (which can create a CAD drawing of an existing object), which in this case wouldn’t work because there isn’t anything 3D to scan, as the object only exists digitally as moving image or a video still.
The no pointed needles came out the machines this week to much excitement. After all this time of thinking and trying to visualise this very particular object I can now hold it in my hand. I have two sets of objects, one from the Plastics RP machine which has two nozzles which dispense liquid plastic according to the design specified. The other set comes from the machine which prints a layer of binder on a plaster type surface again to the specified design. The outcome in both cases are physical objects which can be handled.
Work in progress (WIP)
The days at Hethel start with a conversation exploring questions, approaches, vocabulary, and plans of action. It transpires both artists and engineers have the concept and practice of WIP. In art it can be used to describe well work in progress obviously but can also mask the work we don’t want to finish, can’t finish or the work we never intended to finish. In engineering Derek was explaining WIP is viewed in terms of economical cost, as work in progress means labour, parts and space all being used up and the product hasn’t yet reached the customer. In engineering it seems important to be reducing WIP by reducing the number of operations (or procedures). Economies of scale come to mind, but not sure how that affects WIP or not.
The aim of today was to get a no pointed needle form that could be made longer or shorter to create a series of images/objects. Mirroring proved to be very problematic as identifying planes from objects with mirroring is something I think the software didn’t like. The point of the mirroring was as Derek pointed out to follow the way I had made the original video, by moving a needle in front of a mirror (plane) in a video camera. The first sets of drawings were abandoned due to mirror and plane issues so then we started again with much more success. It was interesting to discover that when they make clay models of car bodywork/shapes they make half up against a mirror – most cars are symmetrical (some notable exceptions the names of which i cant remember now). Symmetry works well in manufacturing – well is more cost efficient it seems.
Much excitement on my part as a series of no pointed needles were achieved and saved as STL files and sent to the RP machine. It was quite difficult to document the process as there is much movement in the machines but see images of work in progress. I was thinking as the machine was making the parts / objects that previously making had been a fully engaging physical process requiring constant attention and dexterity. Now we can set RP machines to produce while we do other things – it’s similar to rendering time in video, I image many a cup of tea has been made as video’s go through the render process.
We swapped more reading matter today, I have left Derek with 3 catalogues, Future Factories – the design work of Lionel Theodore Dean, by Paul Atkinson, Membranes and Edges by Michael Shaw and Gordon Burnett’s exploration of cultural issues through digitally crafted objects from a year in Australia. Each offer a different ‘art and design’ perspective on CAD/RP processes. In return I was offered (and accepted) TCT (Time Compression Technologies) magazine, a HAAS machinist’s CNC reference Guide and a rather chunky and splendid Machinery’s Handbook from 1979 – which includes all sorts of tables and charts including logarithms (both common and natural) I don’t know the difference they had phased the learning of these out before I reached that stage in secondary school.
The RP objects are cooling and setting in the machine and I will go tomorrow to extract.