It is hard to believe that it was almost ten years ago I witnessed a CNC router in action for the very first time. I was fascinated with what I saw and simply had to have one! Although I had been in the creative end of the three dimensional sign business for most of my life I didn't really know what I would do with one - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Through extensive research and LOTS of hands-on practice I quickly found out that my MultiCam router was capable of just about anything imaginable.This journal will chronicle that journey to date and continue each week with two or three entries as I continue to explore just what is possible with this wonderful tool... -dan

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

EnRoute Summit 2016

Join us September 21st -23rd
We are planning a special 3-day workshop in Denver this fall.  The 
EnRoute Summit 2016 will provide the opportunity for EnRoute users to work with Thad Staples, Dan and Peter Sawatzky, and Jeff Hartman to become more productive and more comfortable using EnRoute.  It’s easy to go to a workshop to learn a bunch of individual features in your software and then get back to the shop and realize you don’t actually understand how to put those features to use on your projects.  At the EnRoute Summit, we plan to present several real-life projects and then work through them from concept to finished output.  As part of the design process we will discuss materials, tool selection, feeds and speeds, and even finishing techniques. Our projects will present a full range of 2D, 2.5D, and 3D projects that will have something for everyone - from new users to seasoned EnRoute pros. For information go to EnRoute Summit 2016

As one of the creators of EnRoute, Jeff Hartman offers unique perspectives about how EnRoute really works.  His unique combination of experiences as both an engineer and a former sign shop owner have helped EnRoute’s development as both a creative tool and as precision production software. Jeff is a great guy and teacher too!

Thad Staples owns and operates Madera Arts in Atlanta, a company that creates custom millwork and also provides job shop capabilities specializing in out-of-the-ordinary requests.  He is both practical and very creative in how he uses EnRoute, and on top of that he is a great teacher. 

Dan and Peter Sawatzky have Imagination Corporation in western Canada, specializing in fantastical themed environments.  They are two of the most creative guys you will meet, and at the same time they are experts at the nuts and bolts of designing and building their creations using EnRoute.  With their new plasma CNC machine, they are exploring the world of incorporating custom cut steel parts both to expand their creativity and to provide structural support for their designs.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Defining a vision

I spent this past week with owners, engineers and workers on the worksite of Skallywag Bay Adventure Park in Trinidad.  We trudged back and forth across the site many times, me with spray bomb and tape measure in hand and the small group in tow. My task was to lay out the locations of the foundations of the rides, fences and features on the uneven ground and then explain my vision to them as clearly as I could articulate it to them. Behind us a team of surveyors recorded the marks I made in the dirt for they will quickly disappear as construction proceeds. Over the next four weeks they will translate these rough marks into concrete walls, feature footings and a newly imagined hilly terrain. Then I will make a whole new set of marks to build the next features.
There has been a large workforce labouring on the site building the building frames and infrastructure. They worked from blue prints on these works but now we are building the parts which are not easily translated into drawings. 
My vision is the same plan for the site I've described and drawn for more than four years. Only now it is finally becoming real. One tiny piece of this giant complex puzzle is the cave that will become the hole twelve of the adventure golf. Above, on the mountain top guests will start their golf game by putting into the back of a giant cannon affectionately named Joe Blow. The difficulty is that no one on site has seen the cannon for it is tucked safely into one of the sealed shipping containers. None of the workers have seen the sketches and drawings, only plans from the architect which are little more than plain lines. The drawings from the architect are constantly being adjusted by the needs of the mechanical and plumbing engineers and myself as I translate my vision into spray marks on the ground. The form builders will simply follow the lines, not knowing what they are building. It takes a little faith on all sides that it will all turn out just fine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

400 feet of dimensional fun

We signed a very exciting new project today that will keep both our MultiCam plasma and routers busy along with plenty of fun hand work as well. We have been contracted to add a theme to a fifty-two lane bowling alley. The work will include the side walls as well.

To withstand the force of stray bowling balls the bottom sections are plasma cut steel. The rockwork, brick, plaster and faux wood will all be hand sculpted fibreglass-reinforced-concrete over a plywood and steel frame. The shields and number plates will be routed from 30 lb Precision Board. The tree and hill cutouts will be router cut from MDF and layered to allow indirect LED lighting between them. The ceiling panels will be router cut from a porous dona-cona to absorb sound.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

90 days and counting

We've attended many trade hows through the years and actively participated in various shows as well. The biggest one to date is the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions EXPO which is held in Orlando, Florida. The event boasts more than a thousand exhibitors and thirty thousand attendees from the amusement park industry around the world.

After attending the show since the 1990's we finally pushed the go button to be a vendor there this year. We built our display booth this past winter while things were a little slow. In the next couple of weeks we'll bring it back into the shop, clean it and tweak it with our latest stuff before sending it down the road to Florida. We've booked our travel arrangements, bought the required insurance, and let our theme park industry clients know we'll be there. We've submitted our booth plan and even entered it into the Brass Ring Awards for prize consideration. We're ready.

Now we count down the last ninety days in anticipation...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Special delivery

We build many very big projects in our shop. Building them in the shop makes good sense. Our tools are all handy there. Building in the shop means we can be efficient. The climate is always perfect and our materials are always in stock and handy. Best of all we can work regular hours and be home with our families in the off hours.

But once the projects are done we have to get them to our clients - wherever in the world they might be. Handling large pieces safely means it all has to be planned in from the very start. Our first questions to any client is how big can we build and how do we access the site. How will it be moved onsite. The answers effect the design in a big way!

We engineer lift points and sturdy frames into all of our projects to help us get the project around our shop but also to allow us to put it on a truck, secure it and allow it to be handled and eventually fastened down in it's final location.

In the case of the Viking ships for Dubai everything had to fit into a standard size shipping container.

Today was shipping day for the first Viking ship plus a few other pieces for the targets. Load days are always exciting! About ten days ago we made arrangements with our client to have six containers on trucks delivered to our shop on this day. We also booked a sixty ton crane plus all necessary rigging to do the heavy lifting. The crane we booked has a small twenty by twenty foot footprint for its outboard legs plus the truck base protruding out from this. The space we had arranged the ship pieces was exactly that size plus a space for the trucks to back up to the crane for loading. Features were arranged all around filling every square foot of the driveway in front of the shop. Nothing was left for chance. Our big challenge of the day - load and send off six containers of features - weighing in at a total of 45,000 lbs.

As each truck (spaced out one hour apart) arrived some of our team would unfasten and strip off the canvas top and hoops before backing it up the driveway. I with a helper and the crane would load the large pieces into the container. Then another group of our crew would put the hoops back in place and re-secure the canvas top in place. This was repeated six times in six and a half hours.

The plan was carried out flawlessly and all of the pieces went in without a scratch thanks to the awesome teamwork of our entire crew plus helpful drivers and a very skilled and smooth crane operator.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Clear as a bell

In the last weeks whenever we've had young visitors to our property I've taken them into the shop to look at the train. The visit includes climbing into the train engine cab and trying out the whistle and bell - much to the delight of the kids. While I also took delight in the loud noises I was watching how the kids used the equipment, taking mental notes on how to improve things. The kids couldn't resist twisting the various taps (as intended). With the operating controls of the train on the right side the bell cord was on wrong side for the kids to pull. Back when I installed the bell I decided to create a fixed mount with the pull cord on the clanger. I noticed the younger kids pulled hard on the rope but didn't instinctively let go. The resulting CLANK wasn't right. Since I was gong to remount the bell to the other side of the train I decided to make a swing mount instead. While the old mount was made by hand we would have some high tech help this go around.

Using the brass bell as reference I drew it up roughly to scale, then using the drawing tools in EnRoute created the fancy shaped bracket. It would weld to the side of the steam dome of the locomotive as there wan't room on top. I combined the crescent shape of the bracket to the mounting flange. 

The bell bracket was a fun little project taking about two hours from start to finish. It's a whole lot easier to ring now and is a lot louder than previously. Kids are going to love it!

The pull arm was as simple as creating the arm shape and a donut on top and bottom. Once again the combine tool

I decided to add a few more holes in the bracket to be a little more decorative. The shaped would be welded into some 1" flatcar to create I-beams.  The top piece (with the hole in the centre is to be welded at right angles to the shape just below it. The bell will bolt to this piece and it will pivot to ring.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Each day another piece

As I work on the train project a little each day I find the modern tools make it so much easier than when I started the project more than a decade ago. Back then I was happy to use the hand held plasma cutter - a huge step up from the acetylene torch we had used up to that point. But the curves were always a little shaky and there was still lots of grinding to do - especially when I was making multiples of a piece.

Now it is as simple as designing a file in EnRoute on the computer and then sending it off the the MultiCam CNC plasma cutter. In seconds the part is cut perfectly, needing little more than a touch with a sanding disk before I weld things up. 

Over the last weeks I've been spending a little time each day, designing, cutting and fabbing up the needed brackets, bits and pieces needed to mount the electric motor, transmission and cable brackets. We are getting close to getting this thing running!

Back when I designed the train I was planning on using four eight volt batteries to power it. After much research I discovered that six - six volt batteries would power the train longer and last longer too. We took delivery of the batteries yesterday. As I suspected six batteries won't fit into the battery box I had previously built. An easy fix was to design a steel box and weld it to the back of the cab for the sixth battery. I'll make it look like a toolbox and it will be just fine.

Making the box was dead easy... as it was only four rectangular pieces of steel. I decided that to make the box look intentional a couple fancy brackets were in order. Creating the file in EnRoute was quick and easy.  I started with a seven inch by five inch rectangle to establish the needed scale. Then, using the drawing tools I created a curved line. 

The jigsaw tool was used to cut this shape out. I then deleted to original rectangle and curved line.

Lastly I used the offset tool to create the hole in the bracket. 

The file was then ready to send off to the MultiCam plasma cutter. In a couple of minutes the brackets were cut from a sheet of 1/8" steel. While they were cutting I had welded up the box and the brackets were added to it in a hurry.

I then measured, centered and tacked the box onto the back of the train engine. It took a few minuted more to run a welding bead up each side to make it permanent. In the next session I'll fab up a hinged lid to keep the battery out of the weather but also allow easy access for servicing.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Next load ready to go

It was a holiday week which meant we only had only four workdays to complete our long list of things we needed to accomplish. The shipping date for the first ship and related pieces is set for next Tuesday. That morning, bright and early a giant crane and six 40' container trucks will be waiting.  That's enough to hold one complete Viking ship, two masts, the keels and the balance of the target feature pieces. A few weeks later the final five containers will begin their journey to Dubai. The pressure was on.

We assembled the two halves (back from the galvanizers) of the last ship this week and managed to lath and sculpt one of them. The other half of the final ship is fully assembled and ready to lath. The first ship is now painted and ready to go.

On Monday we will arrange all of the pieces and make room for the giant sixty ton crane. The trucks will arrive in one hour intervals to allow us time to remove the tops and load the heavy pieces into the  open top containers with the crane. Then we'll put the tops back on before sending the truck on it's way across the Pacific Ocean. It's going to be a very busy day!