For butterfingered woodworkers, dropping a project on the shop floor can be bad. But just imagine if your materials of choice were crystal and glass.
Since 2004, California-based artist Jack Storms has been producing these rare "optic sculptures." Created by precision-machining lead crystal and dichroic glass, a single piece can take up to 18 weeks to produce.
While Storms has advanced the art by inventing a lathe that allows him to turn glass like wood, he first learned the "cold-glass" process of joining lead crystal and dichroic glass from a glass artist in New Hampshire. "Working side by side with the artisan for over a year, Jack learned every component and facet of this incredibly challenging and rare art form and eventually was a strong enough sculptor to branch out on his own in 2004 and open StormWorks Studio," reads the bio on his website.
Photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester
Hitting metals with a laser to make the metals turn black doesn't sound very sexy. But for Dr. Chunlei Guo, a professor of optics at the University of Rochester, it's normal research. The ability to turn something dead black, which will thus absorb all light, is of optical interest.
However, Guo discovered something else could be done with these tools. By using a laser to etch microscopic patterns into the surface of the metal, he found that water was super-attracted to the surface—it just gets sucked onto it, as you'll see in the video below. Curious to see if he could create an opposite effect, Guo then managed to laser-etch the metal such that water could not stick to it. "The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off. Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface," Guo explains.
Unlike a Teflon coating, Guo's technique means the metal itself is actually rendered super-hydrophobic, no coating required. This means Guo's treatment cannot be rubbed or worn off. And while dust and dirt can still stick to the surface, a droplet of water rolling across it will pick it all up, like the ball in Katamari Damacy. The result is super-easy-to-clean surfaces.
Our entries on the types of wood used for boardwalks might have you wondering: What types of wood are more durable than others?
You may recall that in our wood series, we went over the Janka hardness ratings of wood. But when it comes to durability, Janka numbers only tell part of the tale; the hardness rating of a wood has to do with its ability to resist nicks and scratches, and gives you a heads-up on what types of blades you'll need to machine it.
Outdoor durability, on the other hand, has a slightly different scope. Even though wood used in building boardwalks or houses is almost always elevated off of wet soil on concrete pilings, there are other environmental factors the material has to deal with. For one thing, moisture—whether from rain or in the case of boardwalks, sea spray—and the fungi this can bring. On top of that you've got UV rays, temperature changes and pesky insects. Working in concert, this group of difficulties can impact how long a piece of wood can last and continue to serve its function.
While you can find tons of Janka breakdowns online, we couldn't find many charts that specifically linked wood types with durability. So here's one from Woodworkers UK, a Welsh outfit that makes wooden gates and garage doors—items that are meant to withstand the elements for as long as possible. (Graphically speaking, the layout of the chart is a bit confusing, particularly since we had to edit the image to fit our format, but at least all of the info's there.)
Having witnessed a few of my nearest and dearest succumb to the mediative delights of knitting, I'm beginning to cultivate an appreciation—for the materiality and intricate skills of the art—that I might have normally reserved for wood or metal work. As with any craft, there are whole supporting industries attached that often remain hidden to the unindoctrinated—and any number of innovators tinkering on the peripheries—that can often be fascinating upon first exposure.
One such novelty that an education in needle work has revealed is the remarkable (if incredibly simple) textile innovation that is Woolfiller—the invention of Netherlands product designer Heleen Klopper, who was inspired after developing a fascination for wool and felt. In a similar vein to Sugru in the world of hard materials, Woolfiller is a product dedicated to fixing and repairing in the world of knitting and woolwear.
We know that both Coney Island and Atlantic City used valuable Ipe (and in AC's case, later, Ipe-like Cumaru) to make their boardwalks, starting in the 1960s. With a 25-year lifespan, the lumber in those boardwalks was completely replaced once or possibly even twice. So what happened to all of the old wood? Just because it was no longer suitable as decking didn't mean the wood was completely rotted through, as the planks could always be machined down and cut into smaller pieces to be reworked.
Well, it seems the traditional thing to do with that still-valuable wood...was to throw it out. According to an article in an Atlantic City local paper from 2013,
In the past, all of the wood removed from the Boardwalk through repairs and maintenance by the city's internal carpentry division was thrown out, [said Atlantic City Public Works Director Paul Jerkins.]
Thankfully, that same article points out that the latest batch of wood to be removed was auctioned off. "Designers...turned [the old planks] into custom-built tabletops, theater floorboards and outdoor benches." As people have gotten hip to the fact that huge lots of Ipe and Cumaru are becoming available, the city now expects construction companies bidding on Boardwalk renovation projects to adjust their bids accordingly; the thinking goes that construction crews can make extra money by saving the wood that they remove from the structure and re-selling it.
Choosing the material to build a boardwalk out of can be tricky. Never mind the amount of people traipsing over the thing; being located on the shore, it is subject to salt spray. And in a place with four seasons, the wood is subjected to brutally humid summers and freezing cold winters.
So what did people make boardwalks out of, in the days before pressure-treated lumber? In the late 1800s Atlantic City put up the first large-scale public boardwalk in the United States. For material they used Atlantic White Cedar, conveniently harvested from New Jersey's nearby forests. Technically not a cedar at all, but a cypress, the tree grew well in wet areas and was naturally rot-resistant.
Ironically, these excellent properties are what made the wood an unsustainable choice. In a 1934 book called "Trees You Want to Know," American botanist Donald Culross Peattie wrote that Atlantic White Cedar would "endure moisture indefinitely," and wood that weathered well was in demand; lots of folks began using it for fencing and roof shingles. As it became popular, we started overlogging it, and soon it became both expensive and scarce.
Atlantic City thus had to find a different wood to maintain, repair and update their boardwalk, and they switched over to Western Red Cedar. The stuff was also pricey because it had to be shipped in from the Pacific Northwest, but it was easier to get than Atlantic White Cedar; and being a rainforest wood, it dealt well with moisture.
The rise of pesticides changed the wood game after World War II. By the 1950s Atlantic City had switched materials once again, this time going with chemically-treated Southern Yellow Pine. Relatively affordable, this is the same stuff that wooden roller coasters, like Coney Island's famous Cyclone, were made of.
I hold a special hatred for glitter, because people sometimes use it in my photo studio and it takes me forever to clean it up. So I find this new business, ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com, deviously brilliant.
Yes, this company is for those of you willing to spend money to irritate an enemy. They've stocked up on glitter—which they call "the herpes of the craft world"—and they intend to use it:
There's someone in your life right now who you fucking hate.... So pay us money, provide an address anywhere in the world & we'll send them so much glitter in an envelope that they'll be finding that shit everywhere for weeks. We'll also include a note telling the person exactly why they're receiving this terrible gift. Hint: the glitter will be mixed in with the note thus increasing maximum spillage.
You've gotta love a company with a question in their FAQ section that reads: "My recipient got glitter in both eyeballs, is now blind & would like to file charges. Help?"
This week history nerds, metallurgists and conspiracy theorists all got some fun news. Divers discovered a cache of ingots made from the previously mysterious metal Orichalcum in an ancient shipwreck just 1,000 feet off the coast of Sicily. The ship, dated at 2,600 years old, was destined to make port at the city of Gela before being caught in a storm and wrecked just feet from the harbor. It likely came from Greece or South Asia and carried a load of precious metal to be used by Sicilian craftspeople. The story was shared with Discovery News by Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily's Superintendent of the Sea Office. This is particularly noteworthy because the idea of having a state Sea Office is about as awesome as learning that Marco Polo was real.
Before now, orichalcum was primarily known from ancient Greek texts about its mythological creator and uses. Orichalcum was supposedly second only to gold in preciousness, and Plato himself described it being mined in Atlantis and used to cover the god Neptune's gleaming temples. The way the Lost City shone with the "red light of orichalcum" has stumped historians and metal scientists who have had very few remaining examples to work with. It has also excited the curiosity and creativity of authors from Indiana Jones to Skyrim.
When we throw things into the recycling bin, we know they'll be trucked off and re-processed at some magical, unseen facility. But a handful of people are getting a bit more involved in the process by re-purposing the material themselves. Last year we saw this guy turning plastic bottles into string, and now Grant Thompson, a/k/a "The King of Random," shows you how to turn spent cans into aluminum ingots.
"For as long as I can remember, I've been intrigued by the idea of melting metal and making things with it," Thompson writes. "The problem has always been that it was out of reach or required really expensive equipment."
To solve this, Thompson began creating multiple versions of a DIY foundry using commonly available materials. By his tenth prototype--made from a galvanized steel pail, Plaster of Paris and sand--he had a winner. Watch as he walks you through the process of self-producing ingots:
Crazy, no? And yes, Thompson's fully aware of the inefficiencies in the process:
Aluminum cans are one of the worst sources for aluminum to cast with, and some soda cans in the UK are actually made of steel. The alloy was meant for extrusion, so is not the best for casting. They also produce more dross (slag) because the thin walls oxidize quickly and the plastic coatings on the cans add impurities. A better source of aluminum for casting would be cast aluminum items from thrift stores, like electric skillets or small engine blocks from lawnmower shops.
For those of you thinking of trying this, it will of course require certain safety precautions. Hit the jump to read Thompson's list of the potential hazards and how to avoid them.
Today ends, successfully, the Kickstarter run of the Plug & Feather watches we wrote about earlier, which have unique stone faces. Now another watch made from an elemental material--wood--is also nearing the end of its crowdfunding run. And interestingly enough, these latter watches were designed by two teenage brothers.
Reed and Riley Stephens are 18 and 16 years old, respectively, and come from a line of woodworkers, following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather. Their Ambici watches come in ebony, koa, maple and sandalwood, and were carefully designed to avoid a potential materials conflict: Wood movement.
[With other wooden watches] the shrinking of the wood over time...often leads to a cracked crystal that is challenging to replace simply because the opening of the watch is now smaller. So essentially, there's an expiration date on the watch because of its wooden case....
Ambici watches [feature an] internal metal casing [that] prevents the wood from shrinking over time and cracking the crystal. It also adds weight to the watch [and offers] additional water resistance that typical wooden watches don't.
The pledging period ends five days from today, and the chosen date isn't arbitrary: It's the birthday of the Stephens brothers' departed grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer's. Their goal is to start a watch company not just for profit, but to help fund Alzheimer's research.
At press time they were quite close, at $11,450 of a $12,500 goal. You can get in on it here.
Plastic is convenient to produce, though not the most durable stuff in the world. To get around this, San-Francisco-based industrial designer Mark Kelley created a line of desktop organizers made from polystone.
Polystone--a blend of polyurethane resin and powdered stone--is more substantial than plastic, featuring a smooth, almost porcelain-like finish, yet is lighter than stone (not to mention easier to work).
Produced under Kelley and partner Richard Liu's BASE brand, the clean-looking, minimalist line currently consists of three (really, four) products: Object 001, a desk cup; Object 002, a tall desk cup; and the combination Object 003, a small cup that nests in a tray. Check 'em all out here.
Understanding how materials work, and how they can be worked, is part and parcel of being an industrial designer. Whether it's old materials being worked in old ways, old materials worked in new ways or new materials worked in new ways, we need all of that stuff rattling around in our heads to inform our decisions. So here's a recap of our most popular materials stories from 2014.
The first one actually comes from...the 13th Century! In our "A Brief History of Unusual Objects Designed to Kill People From Far Away" series, we saw how the Mongols used horn, wood, bamboo, animal glue and waterproof lacquer to create "the carbon fiber of that era." This early example of materials mastery yielded a militarily devastating weapon, enabling them to conquer the largest contiguous land empire in all of human history.
In our series on Beetle Kill Pine, we showed you how some designers are trying to find useful functions for undesireable, fungus-damaged wood. Another tree with fungal woes is Pecky Cypress, whose innards are scarred by rotted-out voids, making its gap-laden boards unsuitable for say, smooth tabletops.
Instructables Community Manager Mike Warren, a/k/a/ Michaelsaurus, has a workaround: He fills the voids with resins, a technique you've probably seen before. But Warren doesn't use any old resin—he adds photoluminescent powder to the mix, producing a filler that "charges up in sunlight and emits a cool blue glow when in partial or complete darkness."
The full Instructable is here, but peep Warren's cool video first:
Imagine you're a Formula One driver doing 240 m.p.h. when a bug slams into your helmet's visor. By chance the smear is directly in front of the pupil of your dominant eye, and this obstruction of your vision is enough to cost you the race (and maybe much more). That's why F1 helmets have four layers of transparent tear-off strips over their visors. The drivers rip them off and let the wind take them, their act of littering forgiven in the name of chasing millions of dollars worth of glory.
In addition to the pull-off strips, there is an impressive investment of design and materials science in the modern-day F1 helmet. First off they're freakishly light, weighing just 1250 grams (under three pounds). This is to avoid burdening the driver with an extra-heavy head as they can experience as much as five G's while cornering and braking.
Despite the low weight, there's an insane amount of material in them—according to F1 Technical and Formula1.com, some 17 layers that can include carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum, magnesium, epoxy resin, polyethylene, polycarbonate, Kevlar, Nomex for fire resistance, and a secret blend of herbs and spices that manufacturers are secretive about.
Small vents are designed to allow airflow into the helmet. As it's the driver's only source of fresh air, there are filters in place to keep out brake dust, splashes of motor oil and the like.
The rest of the helmet, though, is designed to channel air around it, making it as aerodynamic as possible. F1 cars are traveling at such speeds that an overly wind-resistant design would snap the driver's head backwards.
Alongside the chin-mounted comms microphone you'd expect is something more surprising: An in-helmet drinking straw that leads to the driver's beverage of choice. A handy button on the steering wheel lets the liquid start flowing.
On top of all this the helmet is of course designed to provide protection, and this functionality is updated as the designers learn more. For example, at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, Brazil's Felipe Massa was knocked out by a suspension spring that flew off of another driver's car. Watch it in CG:
Photos courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (via Hyperallergic)
As a website and resource for industrial designers, we're always curious to learn about new materials and methods that may be of interest to our audience; it so happens that a lot of those same techniques can be applied to art conservation as well.
Sculpted by Tullio Lombardo in 1490–5 as a canonical classical nude, a life-size sculpture of Adam spent the subsequent four and a half centuries in Venice before it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1936. Immortalized in marble, the biblical progenitor stoically occupied the Velez Blanco Patio for decades before a tragic turn of events following a 2000 renovation of the space, when its pedestal was replaced. Just two years later, the 770-pound, 6’3” Adam shattered upon falling from his four-foot-high, medium-density plywood pedestal—reportedly constructed in layers but hollow—when it gave way on the evening of October 6, 2002.
The allegorical irony of Adam's precipitous descent is duly noted, though the proverbial rib was not among the 28 large fragments as the torso remained largely intact. The damage, of course, was done, and after nearly twelve years, the conservation team at the Met has successfully restored the masterpiece and (better yet) documented the entire process:
Washi is a type of old-school paper made in Japan. Plant pulp and water are mixed and collected on screens, and after drying, fresh sheets of the stuff are pulled off. Though tissue-like in appearance, washi is reasonably tough, making its long production time worth the wait.
It's typically made in sheets, which can subsequently be pasted together to make three-dimensional shapes; you've undoubtedly seen it rendered into lampshades. But a company in western Japan called Taniguchi Aoya Washi has figured out how to make the stuff 3D from the get-go, right out of the bath. This "Seamless Three-Dimensional Washi" eliminates the exposed edges that come from connecting multiple sheets, and TAW is the only company in Japan that knows how to make the stuff.
The folks at Cambridge, MA-based Formlabs recently announced the introduction of two new materials that mark their first major release since they launched on Kickstarter with the Form 1 3D printer, which made nearly 30 times its funding goal in October 2012. The first-generation SLA machine shipped starting in May 2013 and this June saw the release of the Form 1+, an all-around upgraded iteration of their flagship product, but their growing team has also been developing complementary products on both the software and materials sides. Check it out:
"Castable" is available now for $149 per 500mL; "Flexible" will be available in December.
When trying to "lightweight" something made out of steel, the designer's natural inclination is to turn to aluminum. But the R&D guys over at Mercedes-Benz recently did the opposite of that, and scooped up a Materialica Design and Technology Award for their trouble.
The MDT Awards are part of recently-held trade fair Materialica, which is dedicated to "Materials applications, surface technology and product engineering," and were intended to highlight lightweight design in transportation. To that end Mercedes took an aluminum piston design for a diesel passenger car and replaced it with a redesigned steel one.
Design theory is all fine and good, but one of the better things that will happen during an industrial design education is when schools connect with real companies that make real things. The company gets an opportunity to see what fresh minds would do with their product line-up, and design students get real-world feedback on creating something that's actually doable.
Case in point: The annual Zinc Challenge sponsored by InterZinc, a Michigan-based company that unsurprisingly specializes in zinc—the fourth most commonly used metal worldwide, they're quick to point out—and asks ID students to come up with product-based uses for the stuff. "Our challenge [is] a two part zinc casting design competition," the company writes. "The first part based on knowledge, the second on practical design."
"Everything can be a lamp with LumiLor," writes Darskide Scientific, the company that developed it. LumiLor is a patented coating that glows when a current is applied to it. (And yes, it's safe to touch, as it's sealed and insulated.) The brilliance of the system is that since it's water-based, you can load it up into any paintspraying system or airbrush and you're off to the races. Here's how the process is applied:
Created some two generations ago, in the heady pre-hyperlapse days, the Eames' Powers of Ten remains as relevant today as ever before. While the short film makes for an unlikely (or at least hyperbolic) comparison to the work of snow artist Simon Beck, the very concept of scale is precisely why both the film and the large-scale drawings are compelling and accessible to a broad audience.
Having previously seen Beck's work when it made rounds last year, I was interested to have the opportunity to interview him on the occasion of the launch of Icebreaker's inaugural artist collaboration, for which a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Protect Our Winters (a non-profit organization for climate change awareness). Commissioned by the apparel company, Beck's interpretation of a ram's horn—a reference to merino wool—features prominently among the geometric artwork that has been printed on the pieces in the new collection.
Over the past decade, Beck has all but perfected his technique of 'drawing' on snow and has recently expanded his enterprise to include works on sand as well; he employs snowshoes to achieve a kind of stippling effect on the former surface and a rake to etch lines in the latter. His only other tools are an orienteering compass and a string-and-anchor to demarcate the 'skeleton' of the piece relative to the center point or vertices. As for the content itself—canonical fractals and patterns of his own design, but sometimes cartoons by request—Beck goes by a thumbnail sketch and gut instinct, rarely drawing out the entire piece beforehand, because (as he dryly notes) "it's too time consuming."
It's already amazing that two teenaged brothers, aged just 15 and 18 years old, would start a company together. It's more amazing that that company's goal was to reclaim wool. Most amazing of all was when they started this company: In the year 1878.
In 19th-Century Italy, the brothers Calamai began collecting secondhand wool garments, shredding them into strips, and selling them to factories to be re-spun into yarn. But as the boys became men, they began amassing mechanical equipment that they could use to re-process the wool themselves, and eventually opened their own reprocessing factory. Decades before anyone even knew what environmentalism was, the Calamais were pioneering the art and science of reclaiming materials.
Here in 2014 the successful Figli di Michelangelo Calamai is now run by the fourth generation of Calamais, and while factory technology has advanced, they still stick to the old principles: They reclaim the wool from old garments and scraps mechanically, not chemically, and minimize the need to re-dye by carefully sorting colors.
What you see above are the new, no-tools-required connectors Ikea's designers have developed for their new Regissör line of furniture. Rather than using knock-down fasteners, they've created a wooden plug that looks like a cross between a dowel and a honey dipper.
The way that these "honey-dipper dowels" (not what they're officially called, but better than the "wedge dowel" title other blogs are calling it, which makes no sense) work is that the narrower end is pre-installed at the factory, leaving an exposed male end.
The female end of the connection, meanwhile, has been plunge-routed into the surface-to-be-adjoined, keyhole-style:
Because the router bit has the same accordion-like profile of the dowel head, the male end then slides into the routed grooves, maximizing the contact area to create a nice friction fit. You can see this in action in the video below.
Everyone loves to bash corporations, but few talk about how much good they can do in this world. Their immense fortunes and longevity means they can undertake radical, expensive experiments that smaller outfits simply couldn't sustain.
A good case in point is Walmart and their Advanced Vehicle Experience concept truck. Built earlier this year as a testbed for their fleet efficiency program, it features a 53-foot trailer whose roof and sidewalls are made from single-piece 53-foot-long panels of carbon fiber. This confers a weight savings of some 4,000 pounds, meaning it can carry an extra 4,000 in cargo to burn the same amount of fuel, or carry the same weight of cargo as before and save a tremendous amount of fuel.
Creating carbon fiber panels of that length is fiendishly expensive, and a company would have to ship a lot of cargo indeed before they'd make their money back on fuel costs. In other words, you'd need a Walmart to do something like this. With 6,000 trucks crawling our continent and logging millions of miles, the overall, long-term impact would be substantial.
Just over a decade ago came a great innovation in a staple design material. The kind you'll come into contact with during your first year at design school. And that is an air-cured, hand-formed rubber also known as Sugru - which is the Gaellic name for "play." It feels like modeling clay and you can mold it into any shape. We covered it when it first launched. After curing it is what you'd expect from a rubber-like material, flexible, grippy, sticky and waterproof. And it's very practical. It can repair everything from toasters to computer cables. And withstand extremes from the dishwasher to the Arctic ocean (temperature ranges from -50 to 180 degrees Celcius.) Check out all the creative uses featured on the sugru site site. It's pretty endless.
Its sticking power is best shown when it bonds to ABS (see video below.) It's sold in three, five and eight single use packs, in primary colors, or black and white. But it's going to stick to a lot: Aluminum, steel, ceramics, glass, wood, many plastics, leather, silicone, butyl rubber, and sugru itself. It is an electric insulator, so that is why you can safely use it to repair electrical cords under 24 volts. You typically have about 30 minutes to work with sugru once it is removed from its packaging and the cure time is 24 hours (per 3-5mm depth.) The cured material is resistant to UV light, oxidation, fire and water.
When it comes to smartphones, thin is in. But it should be of interest to product designers that as ubiquitous as these skinny devices are becoming—Apple sold 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses over the weekend, for chrissakes—there really are some basic design problems with smartphones that haven't been totally covered.
Here's what's been in the news: Responding to reports that the iPhone 6 Plus can be bent out of shape when carried in a pants pocket—even a front pocket—while sitting, Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy posted a video of his iPhone 6 Plus Bend Test. The results weren't pretty, as the image atop this entry attests, and his video quickly racked up millions of hits.
Cult of Mac, however, was quick to point out that this structural flaw is not new to the iPhone 6 Plus, nor Apple in particular. In CoM's "The Shocking History of Bent Smartphones," they round up examples across manufacturers and models:
So here's the issue: We either want thin phones with large screens, or designers are pushing them on us, yet the slimness combined with broadness (i.e. increased leverage) has a major drawback for a subset of users. In your opinion, where does the fix lie—on the design side, or the user side?