The Minds Behind the Machines

I came into this first meeting with intentions of locating the compromise that I was sure would be necessary between our aspirations and the realistic limits that we needed to recognize based on Dan and Dave’s expertise and the facilities limitations. We were met however, with open minds and a “we’ll try anything once” mentality, effectively eliminating the potential framework I anticipated having to work within.

While meandering the facility with Dave, my quickly spoken thoughts about what may and what may not work were met with a cautious responses that told me everything I needed to know about the coming months; there is no need to jump to conclusions when we have the capability to prove it through testing. This research and testing laboratory that has become such an important addition to Rigidized Metals will provide the platform to make or break an idea’s viability depending on how well it performs in precise testing. Of the most interest to me was one machines ability to recreate the solar energy that a potential envelope system would encounter.

Dan’s expertise in the area of all things lamination became a focus of discussion as the questions about glue and material needed to be resolved before moving onto bigger ideas. It was at this point that I wished I had met Dan many months ago as he gave us a detailed explanation of what a DYNE was. A dyne is a unit of measurement associate with surface tension, more precisely the amount of force to accelerate a mass of one gram at a rate of one centimeter per second squared. After showing us some simple yet remarkable tests I was left regretting the unconscious choice to work harder, not smarter when it came to the arduous manual lamination process I completed so many times. Dan taught me in a matter of minutes that simply exposing the surface to a small amount of heat causes a molecular redistribution, effectively making the surface more “porous” and able to accept glue during lamination; a technique that would have saved me endless hours if not days of scoring and sanding each surface to make the over 240 bi-material panels of my thesis installation.

Following this demonstration, Dan told a fascinating anecdote that continued to strengthen my belief in the concept we are pursuing. He spoke of encountering some railroad cars whose roofs were made of the same style rigid panels that he is continuing to develop at Rigidized Metals. These panels consist of a hollow core hex-comb extrusion that is laminated between two sheet materials; and in the case of the rail road cars, the manufacturers made the “mistake” of using two different materials, metal for the surface exposed to the exterior and a vinyl plastic for the interior surface. When the employees peered into the railroad cars that were sitting in the sun, they were shocked to see the roof panels warped and wavy. While deformation beyond the moment of elasticity (permanent deformation) is not of much use to this research, Dan continued the story in which one of the railroad cars was then pulled into the garage, cooled down with forced air and the roof panels receded back to their original flat position.

 To hear of such a transformation happen to a panel specifically developed for its rigidity based purely on its material composition is fascinating, and certainly adds momentum to the viability of this research. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dan and Dave, and after leaving some sample thesis materials to be patterned we have begun the process of developing specific strategies for moving forward.

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Stepping Inside…

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Rigidized Metals as part of a large group of nearly 30 students and faculty from the University at Buffalo interested in prospective projects as part of this new collaborative relationship. This introductory walk through the spotless facility was merely a teaser. We walked passed gigantic presses, rolling out shiny  60” wide sheets of patterned stainless steel. Adapted CNC machines produced a variety of results from ephemeral surface patterns created by an abrasive disk to pressed designs and stamped geometries. Thick green glue flowed through a suspended tube onto 4’x8’ sheets of stainless steel to be adhered to an interesting expanded hexi-comb material to create stiff, light weight laminated panels (used in marine and aerospace applications as well as high quality partitions for bathroom stalls). Meticulously crafted and partially fabricated projects hinted towards future ideas and current artistic applications. All of this complimented by an amazing overhead crane system, painted yellow, that kept the facility moving and the floor plan ever changing

However, once I looked passed the surface of these machines, and the shiny beautiful item that they produced, it became clear that the lifeblood of Rigidized Metals, was the intelligent people who ran and manipulated them rather than the relatively low tech process that these machines carry out.

Thursday mornings visit was about just that, meeting some of the intelligence behind this massive operation. David J, Kukulka, Ph.D., P.E. (“Dr. Dave”) is the Director of Engineering and Development and Dan Hellwig (might as well be called Dr. Dan, or the “Glue Doctor”) is the Product Development Manager. These are the people creating innovative applications for the tried and true rigidizing process.

A perfect example of this was Dave’s recognition that a rigidized tube would dramatically (400%+) improve the heat transfer coefficient by increasing the heat transfer area, increasing fluid turbulence and disturbing the thermal boundary layer; a product being tested under the name Vipertex.

More to come about our sit down with these two gentlemen…

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Pushing What?

“Pushing the envelope” was a term popular in the days of homeroom and homework. Outside of middle school my friends and I spent our time skateboarding, which certainly taught me to look at the built environment around me a bit differently than most. To “push the envelope” was to try something that had not been done, thus leading to the progression of the sport. Following suit, I hope that this research will not only positively contribute to the growing movement of responsive architecture, but will focus on the envelope, or boundary condition of buildings, and how thermally responsive bi-material systems can redefine how we design and experience this crucial negotiation between body, architecture and the environment.

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