Recently, I was a guest worker at Radicand in an effort to help my son, Ace, fabricate his Gemini BattleBot for an upcoming Battlebot competition for an ABC summer show. The smaller red robot (at 125 lbs.) (in the video below) is the one I helped make.
Photo above shows some of the Radicand engineers, and Aryn Shelander (guest worker 12:00 midnight to 3:00 a.m: during our all-nighter.
The much larger scale of everything was certainly a challenge but I soon realized that my hand fabrication skills translated well. And among several surprising observations, I soon realized just how important it is that handcrafting skills are still needed.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was witnessing the entire fabrication process beginning with CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacture) and progressing through each of the necessary steps to final assembly and operational testing. Not everything is computerized. A good "eyeball" and steady hands are involved.
After the parts were perfectly cut with water jet, I still had to figure out where to manually mark the holes (referencing from the cut edge with calipers), center punch the holes, hope the drill centered itself accurately on the center punch, and then to actually drill the holes straight.
I have plenty of experience, lots of skills for precision metalwork, and at the same time, at every step I was astounded by the inherent possibility of inaccuracy. The CAD provides a tolerance of 0.001 inch, but how accurate can a human being be while rushed to get this done as quickly as possible?
CAD/CAM offers precise designs, but in reality, some machine-made perfection must integrate with handmade steps. The bridge between theoretical precision and adept skills is left in the hands of the human maker.
Moving on....more observations...
Most of the parts were cut from steel and aluminum by water jet. The results were quite impressive. The TECH Shops (at both San Francisco and San Jose) have water jets. It costs $3.00 a minute (after you pay to take a class).
The water jet cuts the holes first so the small parts don't move (this why it doesn't appear to be moving very much at the beginning.) Then the water jet cuts the edges of the parts. The speed is determined by the material and thickness.
Additional parts were cut with a water jet at KELLER Industries in San Carlos. Their water jet was even bigger, faster and louder. The Keller brothers and sons were incredibly nice and reduced the intimidating, even daunting, hurdle of approaching a commercial industrial metal fabricating business.
While water jet is used for large scale fabrication, it is also ideal for prototyping and one-of-a-kind. Just pop in the file and the computer controls the cuts.
Here is a short video.
Harriete can cut sheets of aluminum and file them close to CAM perfection, but should I cut six sheets? Where is the role of CAD/CAM in our craft work? I am a huge advocate for craft and hand made, but seriously question why we should be hand crafting in those situations when machines can do the work faster and cheaper. This is especially true for multiples.
Is "hand made" purity an absolute attribute when technologies could help us be more productive?
Are we disloyal to hand made if we consider using fabrication technologies that can help us be more cost effective?
I love making by hand, but there is a place where we should be working smarter and faster when the machines can do it as well as (or better than) we can.
This isn't an easy topic to tackle. I don't think the answer is absolutely one way or the other. CAD/CAM or hand made or mixing the best of both? I am beginning to think that we need to learn the computer software and the technologies if they can help make our work better and faster.