Great Engineering and Design Meet to Create a 3D-Printed Work of Art

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Caption: Employees from the Cummins Technical Center helped design and assemble “Shadow of an Unknown Bird,” one of the world’s largest 3D printed works of art. The sculpture is now on display in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.).

PHIL SHELTON WASN’T PARTICULARLY INTO ART OR ARCHITECTURE GROWING UP IN COLUMBUS, INDIANA (U.S.A.), DESPITE THE CITY’S REPUTATION FOR BOTH. BUT IF SHELTON IS NEARBY, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST 3D PRINTED SCULPTURES NOW ON DISPLAY DOWNTOWN.

That’s because Shelton, Business Leader for the Cummins Technical Center’s Materials Science & Technology department, has grown attached to “Shadow of an Unknown Bird.” He helped design and build the sculpture with other Cummins employees.

“I think it’s great,” said Shelton, part of the seven-member design team that also included architects, artists and engineers. “I might take exception to any negative comments,” he warned – mostly in jest.

The sculpture is the result of a partnership designed to celebrate great design and world-class engineering, as well as 3D printing and the Indiana University Center of Art + Design in Columbus, where the work can be seen through the end of the year.

The piece is also the answer to the trivia question: what has 8,000 screws, 2,000 hinges, 670 polygons, 53 polyhedrons and required two forklifts to put together? More on that later.

 THE SCULPTURE’S DESIGN

The project can be at least indirectly traced to Cummins’ former Chief Technical Officer John Wall, who believed the best engineering included great design. He would sometimes have Architect T. Kelly Wilson, the leader of the Center of Art + Design, speak about great design at the company’s engineering conferences.

Roger England, Cummins’ recently retired Director of Materials Science & Technology, approached Wilson with the idea of testing a new 3D printing technology known as BAAM by using it on an art project requiring both great engineering and great design.

BAAM stands for Big Area Additive Manufacturing. It’s essentially a 3D printer the size of a railroad car that’s capable of printing large objects. Wilson was intrigued and a team was assembled that included Jee Yea Kim, an architect and faculty member at Indiana University’s School of Art, Architecture and Design, and artist Jennifer Riley.

The design team began meeting every Tuesday starting in January to sketch out designs with an eye on an art show called Exhibit Columbus that started Aug. 26.

“I thought it was a cool idea, an interesting concept to combine art and technical design,” said Advanced Manufacturing Technical Advisor John Rupp, who oversees 3D printing at the tech center and also served on the design committee.

“I’d even say it was fun at times,” Rupp added – also mostly in jest.

The project was not without its challenges. Since the design team wanted to use BAAM, it decided to put together something big in the spirit of Columbus’ most notable public sculptures such as Henry Moore’s “Large Arch” in the plaza adjacent to the public library.

Then, the group discovered how much using BAAM would cost.

“We got a very good price from a company in Akron, Ohio, but it was still something like $500 an hour and $60 per pound,” Wilson said. “So right away, while we wanted to fill the gallery, we knew we needed to find ways to minimize costs.”

The team eventually designed a sculpture of conjoined polygons, plane figures with at least three straight sides and angles. Some included small sheets of Plexiglas, which add an interesting glow when the sculpture is displayed at night.

LESSONS LEARNED

One of the project’s biggest lessons? The material used in the BAAM machine can shrink if it isn’t cooled just right. The project experienced some significant shrinkage and the team quickly realized the wire ties it planned to use to keep it together weren’t going to work.

That’s when Rupp and the Cummins team brought in some skilled craftsmen from the Technical Center. The team used the hinges to hold the piece together and gently lifted it up with the forklifts so the final work could be completed.

“Any problem we had, these guys could fix it,” Wilson said of the Cummins team. “And they were always fun to work with.”

“It was an eye-opening project,” Rupp said, adding that the lessons learned on BAAM could come in handy later as the company works in new areas such as electrification

As for Shelton, he said he looks at art and architecture differently after the project.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect now for the work artists and architects do,” he said. “…And a lot more appreciation for the art and architecture in my hometown.”

Caption: Design team members Phil Shelton (far left) and John Rupp (far right) from Cummins, join architect T. Kelly Wilson (standing) and artist Jennifer Riley (seated) before “Shadow of an Unknown Bird.”

 

 

THE CUMMINS TEAM

The Cummins Team working on the sculpture included John Rupp, Phil Shelton, John Allman, Carl Jackson, Levi Fischer, Harvey Bailey, Andy Helwig and Evan Berkemeier

 

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