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RCA Student makes Toaster from Scratch

Published 22 June 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: sustainability, toaster, argos, design as art, keepers of the booty

Photo Credit: Daniel Alexander

Loving this press release, so I’m pretty much going to republish it verbatim.

A design student at the Royal College of Art in London has made a toaster – literally from the ground up. Thomas Thwaites has travelled to mines across the country to get the raw materials for his toaster. Processing these raw materials at home, (for example he smelted iron ore in a microwave), he has produced a ‘kind of half-baked, handmade pastiche’ of a toaster you can buy in Argos for less than five pounds (for those non-UK readers, Argos is like walmart, except everything is hidden underground and accessed via a combination of small slips of paper, small pens and trolls that guard the booty). Thwaites’ toaster has cost 1187.54 ounds and has taken him on a 9 month quest around Great Britain. The project web-site is here


The project is a reaction to the idea that it’s possible or desirable to be self-sufficient, but also to the view that having more stuff, more cheaply is better. “The steel parts in a shop bought toaster probably came from rock mined in Australia. Now they’re on my kitchen worktop – for the price of less than an hour’s work. Quite amazing,” says Thwaites.

The real cost of objects is hidden. You wouldn’t want iron smelted or plastics being melted in your back garden, trust me. Though my neighbours have been quite nice about it,” he continues. “It seems the need to buy more stuff to save our economy and the need to buy less to save our environment are on a collision course. So, we either have to value what we’ve got a lot more, or spend as much time and effort taking things apart and disposing of them as we do putting them together.

As well as visiting disused mines in the Forest of Dean, England, the Knoydart Peninsula in Scotland and the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, he has consulted experts in mining, oil drilling and recycling (as well as a drunken deer stalker) to turn his vision of a making a toaster from scratch into a reality.

Photo Credit: Daniel Alexander

However, the practicalities of the project came as quite a shock when he realised that he’d need to find and process nearly 100 materials to make a true likeness of the Argos Value Range toaster he used as his model. Thwaites’ toaster uses just five materials; iron (for the grill), copper (for the pins of the plug and the wires), plastic (for the casing, plug and wire insulation), nickel (for the heating elements) and mica (around which the heating element is wound).

Step 2:Smelting Iron Ore in a Leafblower Furnace from Thomas Thwaites on Vimeo.

Steve Furlonger, the former Head of Sculpture at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and Director of Windsor Workshops, described Thwaites’ project as “disguised information”, adding, “Under his toaster making project he is saying profound things, of a different order. The ‘failures’ he encounters, during his toaster making, point to the success of his real message; that we have become disconnected from how our world is supported and sustained.

Thwaites completed the project as part of his MA in Design Interactions from the RCA and will be displaying his toaster (and making toast with it) at the RCA Show Two, the College’s annual graduate showcase for new designers from 26 June. He is also working on a short film and book which documents the toaster project in full.

The Toaster Project will be displayed at RCA Show Two, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU – 26 June – 5 July, 11am – 8pm daily (closed 3 July, closes at 5pm on 30 June, 1 July, 5 July) – admission is free.

Step 2, Attempt 2: Smelting Iron Ore in a Microwave from Thomas Thwaites on Vimeo.

Simply wonderful eh? I think while this is an interesting and from my perspective, very amusing story, there’s a salutary lesson here about consumption of materials and sustainability. I’m just not entirely sure I know what it is.

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Roland launch new MDX-40A with more automation

Published 18 June 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: prototype, rapid prototyping, roland dg

Here’s a strange one. The world surrounding rapid prototyping often focusses on the additive, layer-based processes, SLA, FDM, SLS etc etc. That’s fine. But if there’s one thing these systems are not. its rapid. At an inch an hour, Z corp is probably the fastest.

The thing that often gets missed in the many publications and trade shows surrounding that tag, is that there are much quicker ways to create prototypes and the strange thing is, that they typically are much more cost effective and less complex than their additive counterparts. The perfect example is Roland and its range of Modela products. These are effectively small form factor CNC machines, many capable of cutting some tough materials, from the usual chemical wood, resins and model-board, through all manner of plastics and such and into metals, particularly aluminium and copper (which is super handy for electrode machining). What the smaller machines (the MDX-15 and MDX-20) lack in the ability to cut tougher materials, they do make up for with digitising tools, using an integrated probe. The Larger machines (the MDX-540 range) are more benchtop, rather than desktop, but give you much bigger working envelopes, greater cutting speed and (with some accessories for tool changing and auto-rotating billets) unattended operation.

Roland has just launched a new machine which bridges the gap between the end of their range, the MDX-40A – an iteration of the MDX-40 launched a little while ago. This is based on a much more rigid chassis that the desktop machines, provides you with automation options and gives you the ability to cut tougher materials – but in a much smaller form factor.

It’s got a build envelope of 305 (X) x 305 (Y) mm 123 mm (Z). If you have the new optional rotary axis, it’ll support materials up to 270mm long by 120mm in diameter (10.63” long by 4.72” in diameter) – four times the previous model – and its big enough to mill a 500ml bottle. I’ve met a great number of people in the structural packaging space and they swear by these things, as they can do amazing things with acrylic (Tin Horse spring to mind).

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Objet launches smaller size multi-material prototyping machine with Connex350

Published 17 June 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: prototype, rapid prototyping, objet, polyjet, multi-material rp

Objet Geometries has just launched the Connex350, the follow up to the Connex 500 that allows you to simultaneously print multiple materials with different mechanical and physical properties.

Based on the same core PolyJet Matrix technology, Connex350 brings greater affordability, with a smaller build tray size (350x350x200mm). For those unaware of it, the Connex machines can replicate a huge range of different materials (read: different Shore hardnesses) in a single build by mixing how Objet’s FullCure materials are jetted to create different composites. The two FullCure model materials are jetted from designated nozzles according to location and model type, providing full control of their structure and mechanical properties.

The combination of rubberlike, flexible material and rigid material allows users to print models for a wide variety of applications, from coating and shock absorbers to living hinges and gaskets – and excels at replicating the feel and tactile response of over moulded or multi-stage injection moulded components – something which is very time consuming and labour intensive to prototype using vacuum casting. The device will be on show next week at Dassault Systemes DEVCON event in Velizey (that’s in France) – I’ll be there briefly, so say hi if you spot me.

On other Objet related notes, the company has recently launched a number of plug-ins for 3D design systems that give you control over your builds directly from within your CAD system. There’s currently three CADMatrix plug-ins available for Inventor, Pro/Engineer and SolidWorks. More details here.

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i4 Design new locomotive for Pete Waterman’s loco company

Published 17 June 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, design, rude boy, pete waterman, i4 product design

I love the press releases we get through the “door” at DEVELOP3D. Amongst the odd things inviting you to a Porn Exhibition in Munich to the stunning tediousness of someone, somewhere, launching a new stapler (seriously, it wasn’t even a nice one – it didn’t come in green). Then you get things that are just too funny (but equally as impressive).

Today’s jem has come from i4, an Edinburgh-based Product Design house, who have just announced details of a project its been working for ‘Just Like The Real Thing’ (JLTRT), a model railway company owned by none other than Pete Waterman. Yes. THAT Pete Waterman. The man that brought us Musical Youth, Kylie Minogue, Steps and some others.

JLTRT is Waterman’s model railway company based in Irvine, Ayrshire and they appointed i4 Product Design to design a model diesel locomotive, the ‘Class 26’ for the company. The team where tasked with creating a true representation of the Class 26 diesel loco through building a CAD model of the train. The project is due to be complete within the next few weeks. Then, JLTRT will start the manufacturing process at its plant in Irvine ad will launch next year.

As you can see from these pics, it’s an impressive beast. Modelled in SolidWorks but what I found most interest where the comments from Laurie Lynch, managing director for JLTRT who commented on i4’s work on the product “i4 Product Design has really come up trumps on this project. Being a market leader in model trains, we’re all about creating kits that our customers will be delighted with. That’s why we need to work with talented, professional designers who combined with our years of experience, can help create high-end models that our demanding modelers expect from us. We’ve been really impressed with i4’s work – they have an enviable reputation for delivering on time and to budget and work really well with our team. Our aim is to develop a long-term relationship with i4 and create more model trains in the future.

Finally, I was pondering what music video to post. To be honest, while I admire Waterman’s engineering-related interests and biz acumen, most of music output has been pretty much crap. Then I discovered an interesting fact. For a very brief period, Pete Waterman managed this lot. (who are on tour this year and I’ve just got tickets to see them in wolves). Enjoy the most gratuitous link to a music video ever. But its worth it.

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