When I lent my services to a collegue who was working on a film about 12 years ago, I was introduced to the world of cnc. I remember watching this huge machining centre milling out a slab of mdf and turning it into a fantastic set of gears. I knew that it would have taken me hours to achieve the same thing with traditional power tools. I decided then that I would invest in a cnc router for my own business Oxenham Design. At that time I could turn on a computer, but even to check email seemed like a crazy set of operations. I persevered and learned every piece of relevant software I could get my hands on. I am now fortunate enough to be using Vectric's ASPIRE software, and Techno cnc routers, which has helped us to create some amazing projects, both in part, or in full. I thought that this blog would be a great place to share "behind the scenes" adventures with the software, materials and equipment we use, as well as the projects we build.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The beer's been flowing all week!

This last week was crazy busy! I mean stupid crazy, 80 hours in 5 days. We tired! But life goes on. The current project responsible for our tiredness is a run of bars and benches for Molson breweries. The company that called us was a little short on time. We worked with this company last year on the LG tradeshow booth. Normally we don't build a lot of cabinet stuff, but our Techno cnc doesn't care what it chewing through. The bars are 30" X 60" with rough hewn pine cladding on them. I think it's part of a mobile entertainment event that rides on a tractor trailer and the walls fold out to become a bar. Kinda neat!
There was miles of particle board to cut out with the Techno cnc. It's all 3/4" melamine for the most part.
I was smart enough to add as many rabbets into the sheets to speed up the assembly, as well as add strength to the joints.

The front of the bars spec'd the Molson logo to be pocketed into the front of the bar, in the rough pine. I thought it would look a little better if I added a wood-grain texture to the logo. I figured our Techno cnc was carving it all out, so it may as well be interesting. And as our machine is pretty fast, adding the texture didn't slow down the file run at all.
Jody was very busy getting the semi-transparent stain on all the boards. Because we never really did a "good clean-up" before we started, there was still all the off-cuts from the time machine job kicking around, as well as other projects all over the place. This made for the above cramped conditions! But we hung in there.
Theses are the benches that they kind of added 'last minute'. They'll get upholstered seat cushions from another company added to the tops. There's 8 of these in total.
These are pretty much the finished 'rustic' bar. I would've liked the leaf to have been a bit bigger, as well as being done in Molson red, like their bottles are, but this was the design.
We were almost like a GM assembly line during the assembly of all the parts! It's hard to tell from the photos, but the top of the bar has a 3/4" PVC tray that will house some moss. Part of the eco-green look the designers wanted. On the top of the tray sides are some 1" brushed aluminum stand-offs. The stand-offs hold up a thick slab of Acrylic. It will be pretty cool to have a clear bar top, with moss growing underneath!
They picked up the order at 5 pm on Thursday. I spent most of Friday getting a jump on the next order of these bars and benches that are due the end of this week coming. Tomorrow I have to cut a pile of camera brackets. These were spec'd as 3/4" maple plywood. I also have to cast the beer tap handles we made the mold for, and last but not least, I have to cut inlay'ed floor tiles with a logo for a school up north.
Looks like this week will be another repeat of last week.
I guess I'll sleep when I'm dead!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Crashin for the camera!

We had to re-mold the beer tap handle as there were 2 small air bubbles in the small text. The worst place for air! So we had to scrap the mold and re-make it today. Sometimes things just work out that way!
We started the machining on the crash test dummy head this morning while we were waiting for the truck to pick up the last portion of the cruiser tables.

The model was imported into Aspire, where the toolpaths were quickly assigned. I decided to cut it with a 1/4" ballnose with a 4% stepover. This was a good combo of finish and machine time.

The machining didn't take very long, as usual, with our Techno cnc.
The neck pieces were pretty quick to fire together. I cut a series of disks from 3/8" rigid pvc, as well as the 1/2" black sintra from the cruiser table leftovers.

I wrapped the rigid pvc in brushed aluminum vinyl for the metal look the neck seems to have in the reference images. The neck is a little long, but this should give them some compositing room after they shoot him.  I had our Techno cnc make two small divots where the approximate eye locations will be.  These will insure that when we put the eyes in, that they will be accurately placed in relation to the nose and brow. I still have to drill out the holes in the back of the head for the two bolts that "hold" the rear head plate on. The crash head will get primed and painted tomorrow, then he'll be off to the studio for his acting debut!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Workin for the weekend

It seems the work just keeps rolling in! This is good though, summer is usually our busiest time of year. It affords us to be able to escape for a week in the winter months.
The Sleeping Giant beer taps seem to keep flowing. There are more of these things to do. Machining them out of wood is no longer an option, so we're going to move towards resin cast versions. This is for 2 reasons, 1 is that the wood doesn't consistently hold the resolution at this small size, and 2 is the run times are too long for this to make any sense.
This morning I headed into the shop to cut one more tap handle. This one is a little different in the fact that we're milling it from 70lb tooling board. This will definitely hold the detail of the text portion.
I sliced up a block of the stuff and screwed it down to our Techno cnc. The model was the same model I did in Aspire for the other runs.
It milled away while Jody and I worked on assembling the last of the Molson cruiser tables. In my haste to get out of the shop before midnight, I didn't get any images of the final piece. I'll post them tomorrow when we pull the part from the silicone mold we made. These handles we will cast in a tinted resin, then apply a gel stain. From 2 feet away, you wont see any difference over real wood. The difference will be in the fabrication time. If these are given a final approval, the time will go from 12 pcs every 4 hours, to 10 pcs every ten minutes! Now were cookin with gas!

Friday evening we got a call from our favourite producer Tom to fabricate a kids sized crash test dummy head. It's deadline is Thursday. I don't know if it shoots on Thursday, or pre-light is on Thursday. I'll find out on Monday.
The reason I started 3D modeling in the first place was to give clients a render of the actual geometry we would fabricate. I have worked in shops over the years that didn't do it this way, and the final piece was always different than the concept. This way, everyone wins!
 Based on a couple of images I was sent, this is the head I came up with in Hexagon. It also needed to be a kid sized head. So that meant they wanted the head a little 'chubby-er' than normal.
These will be the parts that will get exported to Aspire for toolpathing on Sunday. We're going to go with HDU for this as the budget allows it for a change! I really didn't want to have to coat styrofoam, etc.
It should go painlessly with our Techno cnc doing all the hard work!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

600 beer cans gets tiring

It was another 'over night' build. The deadline was soooooo short on this job. I did ask myself a few times "what was I thinking?", mostly that got asked of myself around 4:30 am! The pvc shelves that our Techno cnc was rabbeting went pretty quick, I barely had time to clean the finished ones up before the next part needed flipping. It was a total production job.
I cut the rabbet with a 1/16" end mill to a depth of .170". I probably could have done it in one pass, but I didn't want to be tracking down a replacement cutter at 3 am! So I did it in 2, but cranked up the feed rate, so it was all good. Aggressive little cutter that guy is.

Jody was tasked (or forced, depending on who you ask!) with mounting the six cans to the shelves. This was pretty simple. She punched a small centre hole in the cans, then used a 1.75" # 10 screw to hold them down. The bottoms of these cans are quite thick, so they locked down pretty hard.
This was the mountain Jody had created around 11:20 pm last night. She was on fire! In fact, she kept saying "I'm on fire!"
This was the sight at 6:30 am. They look really good. The clear PETG tubed covers were a huge pain in the butt to do. In the end, we bent a 90 degree, .160" tab on each end of the strip, made a jig to wrap the strip into a tube, then heat welded the join together. The seam was then covered with a strip of brushed aluminum vinyl. All of the components were then stack assembled using the rabbets to hold the Petg, and the aluminum spacers. The threaded rod that came with the tables was employed to lock it all together. We didn't glue any of it, incase any cans need to replaced, or swapped at a later date for a different style.
By noon, we had them done! By noon, it was also hard to take a straight picture!
I had my friend Joe, man the vinyl cutter and apply all the graphics to the table tops. Joe runs Christoff Creations, a small shop that specializes in vinyl work, so he was up to the task.
They came to pick them up at around 2, then I went home and crashed till 9 pm.
We've got more of these to make, with french graphics, but they're not due until Monday. The good news is we knew about it, and made enough parts for this run as well, so it will really only be an assembly job. I don't think I'm gonna start work till 10 tomorrow, cause I'm the boss!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Were cruiser tablin' now!

Due to the short timeline on these cruiser tables, we had to head out and get the material ourselves. Our plastic supplier delivers Tuesday's and Thursday's, so we missed the deadline for delivery today. Also, the place we got the actual tables themselves don't deliver, period. It was HOT today, 40deg celcius to be exact, and the air-con in the van quite working. That sucked!
We did make it to the shop in the end, at around 3 pm, and got straight to work. Jody worked on marking, and pre-drilling the holes in the table tops
She's so little, that the drill looks huge!
We went with black pvc in the end. This will really make the shelves look good, especially with the silver cans. Our Techno cnc worked away, while I had the 'awesome' job of cutting all the aluminum tubing on the table saw.
By 9:30, all the tubing and shelves were cut! That was exactly where I wanted to be, so that was good.

I decided not to have the Techno cnc cut the pockets for the tubing and PETG covers, at this point. If the pockets aren't exactly the right depth, and exactly the same, it will spell disaster for the assembly. My sacrificial board on the router is getting a little worn now, and I'm sure it's not dead flat with all the cuts in it.
As both sides of the shelves get pockets in them, I decided to jig them one at a time. I'll run the file, then flip the part. This will make sure they're all the same.
The table tops are also getting a vinyl graphic cut in black, and we'll tackle that tomorrow.
I really kind of like this job now that I'm into it. Usually production style work bores me, but I kinda dig this!

Monday, 18 June 2012

It's a treasure chest........of beer?

All of the beer tap handles got shipped out today. Not gonna be sad that's gone. They were a bit more work than I thought!
It seems we've hit a strange brewery streak at the moment. Tomorrow we hit the next job pretty hard. 20 aluminum cruiser tables for a live event. Oh yeah, they're due Thursday. You heard me, Thursday.
This afternoon a red roadcase showed up at the shop. I helped unload it, and we got it inside. It was fairly big to say the least:

I knew what was inside of it, but sometimes, even though you know, it can be a surprise!
Holy Moly!

600 wide mouth beer cans!

They were all empty though.  We're going to cut shelves that will hold the cans, and mount the assembly to the centre  leg of each table. There will be four shelves per unit, and they'll have clear PETG 'tubes' to protect the cans from damage.
We have to head out first thing in the morning to get the table assemblies, as well as the other materials. Thankfully we have Aspire and Techno cnc in our corner, or I'd have turned down this job due to the timeline.


Friday, 15 June 2012

Soon they will be done!

We finished the pile of message board frames for one of the breweries here in Canada. These were just simple engraving.
I got started on the next set of beer related projects last night. These are 3D machined Tap Handles for Sleeping Giant Brewing Company. We're just machining them from birch, they'll get finished by someone else. In this case, just the way I like it. I had modeled these some time ago in Aspire. The vectors came from the customer, so I just used them to create the various components. The first run is only around 40 pcs, but the time does add up. Even though we're cutting them on our steroid popping Techno cnc, they still take time!
I could only squeeze 12 on each slab of 1" birch, but that's OK.

I thought I'd post a few vids of it cutting:


One thing I love about our Techno cnc, besides it's speed, is it's positional accuracy. The text portion of the beer tap handle was pretty small. The lower case characters are around 1/8" high, so they're pretty tiny. I used a 40 degree Dremmel bit for this to v-carve them. After it had run all 12, I lightly sanded the tops and ran the same file again to clean out the furries. I NEVER would have done this on our older stepper based machine. The chance of a single missed step could have rendered 2 hours of machining wasted. Not our Techno cnc though. Not a single ounce of offset anywhere. Now that's a machine to bank on
And we do, daily!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

After awhile, these all look the same!

Still working on the engraving on the brewery stuff. I did have time between each file run to work a little on our seagull sign. I spent most of the day sanding the styrospray coating that was on the water portion. Not an easy task, as each file only takes about 4 min. Sand-stop and change the part on the Techno cnc-load a new one-start the file-sand for 4 min-stop. That was my day today. I did stay a bit longer to get the primer on the rock portions, and get the first coat of blue on the water.
Not a great photo, but you can see where I'm at. I probably wont do any glazing to the water portion, as I want it very Disney-esque. By that, I mean I really like the smooth clean look they have on a lot of their characters. The rocks will get our usual treatment, which should look killer against the super smooth-texture free water portion.

We soon have to start a small production run of custom cruiser bar tables for a large Canadian brewery event, so I guess our sign will sit for a bit longer.  The next couple of weeks are clogging up our Techno cnc so this should be interesting....................

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Gettin swamped!

Since the sign camp in Indiana, I've been hammered with 3d modelling. That and a ton of engraving in brewery message boards. The board frames came to us assembled and black lacquered. There's HUNIDS of these things! The only finishing we have to do is put white paint into the carved portion. Not terribly exciting I'm afraid, but it certainly keeps our tools working. The logo was in vector format (a nice change) so it didn't take anytime at all to apply the simple toolpaths in Aspire, then let our Techno cnc do the work.

As our Techno cnc is carving these bad boys, I'm hoping to get to work on our sign for out front. I had forgotten how much was still left to do on. We'll get there I'm sure. I'm a little panicked on the next 2 job deadlines, their coming a liitle too fast, but we've never missed a deadline yet!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Finally Taking Flight

A while ago we posted about the "flying Machine" we had built. If you haven't read it yet, do a search for "flying machine" in the search bar. This was a great build to say the least. Getting to work with Davina Rimmer was awesome. Her passion for this project was so amazing. She finally sent us a couple of digital screen shots from the film.

We were invited to the premiere, but we couldn't make it because it fell on the week we were in Indiana. I wish Davina, and everyone else who worked so hard on this, all the best. I hope we get a chance to work together in the very near future!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Back from Indiana!

Our trip south of the border was absolutely amazing! The Sign camp Jody and I were asked to instruct at was set in the very small town of Bridgeton Indiana. 1 general store that served breakfast and closed at 4:30 and a beautiful old mill that still works from waterpower today. Oh yeah, and some houses too! We stayed in our own little 100 year old house that was full of character. The camp was put together by Robert Jones and his wonderful wife Debbie. These guys do it right. They also host a festival each year that see's over 2 million people over the 10 day period come through their small town. So if anyone was qualified to put together a camp for 30 people, it's these guys. I really clicked with Robert over the last year through phone and email, but now I consider him a close personal friend. Apparently I have to go to a whole different country to get people to like me :)
 I met the most wonderful people on this trip, some of them will be friends for life. Even Amanda, who runs the little general store, will be someone we will stay in contact with.
I had the pleasure of being able to meet Joe Crumley, who is an icon in the dimensional sign world.
I also got to meet Melissa Jones, and her husband Jason Jones. I have followed their sign work through the forums, and their website for quite a while. Absolutely amazing people, with TOP NOTCH signs.
Sandy Baird was also there, I had never met Sandy before. His sign shop is in Port Colborne, ON. so he's only a couple of hours away. We will definitely be seeing a lot more of this guy! Great work, and an even better person.
 It was an honour to be able to show people how we go about our 3D computer work, as well as our finishing techniques. I was able to snag some photo's off the Vectric forum that were taken during the camp.

I also found a few pics of some peoples finished pieces that they had worked on during the 3 day event.

Now that I'm back to my reality, there are emails to return, and quotes to send. Looks like there will be some different projects to get started on! I can hardly wait until I head back next year. I never thought I'd like teaching as much as I do!
Whooda thunk?