It is hard to believe that it was only seven years ago I witnessed a CNC router in action for the very first time. I was fascinated and simply had to have one! Although I had been in the creative end of the three dimensional sign business for most of my life I didn't really know what I would do with one - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Through extensive research I quickly found out that with the relative simplicity of EnRoute, CNC routers were capable of just about anything imaginable. This journal will chronicle that journey to date and continue each week with two or three entries as we continue to explore just what is possible with this wonderful software... -dan

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Table nearing completion

Today was the day to put the final prefabrication details on the board room table and get it outside to gather the final rust patina it will wear in the boardroom. Each workstation at the table needed an electrical and ethernet connection so I broke out the welder and got busy welding on the threaded pipes which will act as fasteners for the flexible conduit we will use to bring the power and network connections to the underside of the table. Once everything was ground nice and smooth it was time to add some detail. 
Sculpting epoxy was used to fashion hundreds of barnacles and some starfish to create a nautical flavor. One the epoxy had set up it was time to apply our iron paint to the fittings and barnacles, then as a last step some mid acid was sprayed and sponged over the entire piece. The rust patina formed before my eyes!
It's still very dark and somewhat blotchy but it will even out as it dries and more rust forms in the next day or so. It's impossible to tell the  heavy steel from the routed Precision Board after the paint and patina are done.The starfish will get their proper coat of paint and a glaze of course to tone things down. The table top is at the cabinet makers to get the melamine put on it next week. 

As I started the acid wash I felt it needed one more detail to take the table over the top. I put away the acid and quickly cut two more small holes in the large pipe with my plasma cutter, then broke out the welder one last time and welded in two more small threaded pipes. These were for the electrical wires for the rows of LED lights which will now run under the table on each side. It's a detail that just has to be included! They will show the barnacles, starfish and the myriad of electrical connections to their maximum effect and also add a soft glow to the MultiCam logo we will burn into the center plexiglass with a CNC laser. I can hardly wait to see it all together!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Let there be (a) light!

I was very clear about what I wanted as I built the desk and robotic arm lamps. How we would get there was a little fuzzier. The electrical cable had to feed through the assembly and it had to fit around the structure I would weld. First came the structure of 1.5" square tubing. The angles were cut by eye and I tacked it up as I went. The arms had to be removable so we could get it all in the door. This job would use up plenty of scraps for there were lots of small pieces.
I decided to laminate it up using 1" 30 lb Precision Board. I had plenty on hand and it would minimize the labor in removing the material for the structure. I designed the files in EnRoute as simple cut files. The medallions were routed as 3D files and took a little longer to route than the others. Each arm assembly would be made up of 36 pieces which were still being cut on the MultiCam as I started in on the project.
I started on the bottom, tracing the structural steel and then cutting out the material necessary. Then I glued and screwed the pieces around the tubing. The center (squarish) portions of the arms are four layers thick. The round medallions with the 'M's are six layers deep. I still have to fabricate the hydraulic cylinders and add all the piping and wiring along with a bunch of rivets on the bottom portion of the desk. Then I'll get to the front and sides as well.

The desk is coming along nicely and should be a show stopper when we are done.
Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

COOL! - and warm.

The new Rapid Texture looks fabulous right off the MultiCam. With a final meeting scheduled for tomorrow I needed to paint up a sample to satisfy the owner and interior designer. Although I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, the trick would be to translate those ideas into reality. I buzzed down to the local builder's store to grab some samples of melamine. Paint would be much easier to match to it than the other way around.
The idea was to play the warm colors of the room against the cool one and yet still stay within the theme. I painted the blue base color first. I'd use the same color on the top portion of the wall and in the wainscot. I first used a blue jean color of glaze, then once dry added a custom mix of dark brown, cherry red metallic, dark blue and a little black. I brushed, wiped and sponged to get the finish I liked. The base board and trim are MDF. The logo piece and rivets are routed from 30 lb Precision Board. They are all painted with a rusting metallic paint. Together it's going to look pretty cool!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

MultiCam boardroom mockup

I finished the woodwork on the boardroom table this morning. Now it is time to begin the finishing process, the part I find the most fun! I'll sculpt some barnacles and a couple of starfish onto the large base to add interest for those who look close. Everything will be visible through a plexiglass centerpiece on the table.
As a reward for my hard work on the table top I decided to mock the room up and see how everything fit. This meant a shop clean and organize as things are always tight when a big project is underway. The top of the heavy, 'cast metal' arches are still imaginary until I can confirm measurements onsite next week. But even with all the missing pieces it is exciting to see things coming together. This will be a boardroom like none other!
This afternoon I'll start in on the finishes for the table including some barnacles and starfish on the heavy tube under the table. Those who take the time to look close will be rewarded. The best is yet to come on this project.
Stay tuned...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why EnRoute software?

Today someone asked me why we chose EnRoute Software. It's a great question worth answering here! An extension of that question is why after almost five years do I stay with EnRoute and continue to endorse it so enthusiastically?
Back when we were searching for a CNC router I looked at everything. The information was perplexing and overwhelming to say the least. I had no experience with complex computer programs or CNC routers. I didn't even know how to work with vectors. I came from the bitmap, Photoshop side of things. I am anything but a 'computer guy'. So everything we were looking at was brand new.
We ended up purchasing a top end MultiCam CNC router. I wanted a sturdy, reliable machine that would allow me to concentrate on the art I was producing and think as little as possible about the software and hardware we were using to help us create it. We wanted a machine that would impose few limitations on what we could do back then or in the future. The software we selected had to do the same. Because our experience with complex software was so limited our MultiCam dealer recommended EnRoute. He felt the learning curve was the shallowest and yet the program was still very powerful. Our dealer also felt that EnRoute would continue to be on the cutting edge in the future. Trusting him, we made our choice and bought EnRoute.
We were different from most shops in our approach to learning to operate our router and the software to operate it. I purposely had no jobs scheduled for production on it. We would wait until I had a handle on things. The folks at our local MultiCam dealer did their best to show me what they knew. We were cutting out shapes in minutes. But I wanted far more than that! I wanted to do dimensional pieces for the most part. About this time our dealer had schedules some training course with EnRoute. He also scheduled some one on one time with the instructor for us. I broke out the manual and did my best to struggle through the learning curve. Books and manuals aren't my strong suit.
The first project(s) we did was all the letters of the alphabet as samples for our walls. Each was different, each pushed the boundaries of what we knew to that point. As I worked I immediately saw the possibilities of what was possible and in short order was doing things that hadn't been done with the software before. I sent photos and a story of my excitement over this wonderful new tool to SignCraft www.signcraft.com  They published the article and put the 'A' on the front cover of the magazine.  That in turn captured the attention of the folks at EnRoute. We became good friends over the next while.
It also garnered the attention of others from around the world who were interested in doing these same things with their CNC routers. After sending off countless emails and answering many phone calls we decided to join with the folks at EnRoute in hosting a workshop here in our studio/shop twice each year teaching and showing how we make this powerful program do these amazing things. We've now hosted more than a hundred people in our shop, many of whom have been using other 'competitor' programs. Each workshop I hear of what the other programs can't do or of how complex the procedure is for the same task. More than a few of our students have made the switch to EnRoute after watching it in action at our workshop.
In October it will be five years since I started on this amazing journey. We've done some very cool projects in that time. We've also been privileged to work closely with EnRoute in teaching others in how to use this program and in exploring new ways to use it to it's full potential. Jeff Hartman (one of the creators of EnRoute) has been our guest teacher at many of our workshops. He often explains the thought process he and his brother Kent are going through as they write new features for EnRoute. In doing so I understand how the program works so well.
On occasion, through our friendship with the folks at EnRoute, I have been privileged to catch a glimpse of things currently in development for EnRoute. While I can't reveal anything here about the future, let me say it will be exciting and will make some pretty cool stuff possible. Although I acted largely on the recommendation of my dealer when I started almost five years ago, in retrospect, it was the absolute right decision for our needs. The software has few limitations. The learning curve is relatively modest compared to some of the other 3D routing programs out there and yet the program is plenty robust and powerful. While I am anything but a computer type guy and very limited in my technical knowledge, the software works beyond my wildest dreams. In all likelihood I will never do all the things that EnRoute is capable of.
I would happily recommend EnRoute to all I talk to.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Texture in a big hurry!

We are always looking for new ways to introduce cool textures into our work with our MultiCam Router. When my good friend Jeff Hartman, who wrote the EnRoute program with his brother, showed me the rapid texture program they were working on I immediately thought about incorporating it into wainscoting. That was almost two years ago. Now the Rapid Texture is at last released and I have designed the technique into the MultiCam Technical Center project. The beauty of Rapid Texture is the speed at which we can now texture large surfaces. Where it used to take hours and hours, it can now be done in a fraction of that time. The possibilities are endless and it will take me a little time before I can wrap my head around it and then perhaps take it in directions Jef and his brother never imagined. Time will tell.
For this project we will incorporate Rapid Texture into the main floor and into the 'fossil' office upstairs. For the nautical theme room I wanted to create a feeling of waves. I ran a test piece using MDF but was dismayed to see chunks breaking out. The material just wasn't suitable for what I was doing. So a sheet of 3/4" 30 lb Precision Board was substituted and it came out perfectly! I love the patterns possible using the conic bit and a random texture... I'm still thinking of the painting and patina possibilities. I'm liking the idea of playing warm rust tones agains the cool silvers planned elsewhere through the room.
Stay tuned...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Submarine factory

The upright portions of the ribs are now all assembled and ready for paint. Six of the ten ribs are primed. These will be installed late next week and then I will take final measurements for the top, cross pieces. As with all of our large projects, the nautical room has taken over the shop and my thinking process. As I spread on the primer my mind is racing far ahead, planning details yet to be designed and fabricated. Today I ordered the rust paint from California and LED lighting from a company in Quebec. We'll be trying lots of new techniques and incorporate new ideas into this project. It will stretch us further than we've ever gone before.
We'll polish off the primer tomorrow and begin routing the wainscoting and table top. The oak trim and table top formica along with the giant pipes which run down both sides of the room will be ordered tomorrow.  In the morning I will also design the routing files for the hundreds of rivets which will 'hold the room together'.  Stay tuned...


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Primed rib!

The cut pieces of MDF came off the router far faster than I could hope to assemble them. In the end I just used my energy to feed the hungry MultiCam. I had to do up one piece however to satisfy my brain it would all go together as planned. Each rib (actually 1/4 rib) was made up from 8 pieces. They fit together perfectly as I knew they would. A little hand work with the die grinder added texture to the edged and rounded the outside corners to my satisfaction. Some paintable acrylic caulking rounded the inside corners in a hurry. Then I added a generous coat of Coastal Enterprises FSC-88-WB primer. The WB stands for water based. This primer is the consistency of heavy cream and when brushed with a small brush can leave random brush strokes for the perfect texture. When I add our 'rust paint' the end result will be 'cast iron ribs' that will look just right for our application.
Before I knew it I had a primed rib done to perfection! Stay tuned for progress on the next 19 pieces to come...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Production plus!

When we bought our MultiCam router I was determined not to use it just as a jigsaw. Over the last five years the CNC has been used for dimensional work almost exclusively. Today for the first time I put flat stock MDF on the table and cut shapes exclusively on multiple sheets of stock. While the end result will be a very dimensional project the bulk of the room is to be made up of flat panels cut to shape and then glued up and assembled later.
As always I built the files in Enroute. This was one of the few times where every measurement was critical in order to fit perfectly into a room already built. Our material arrived late in the day but I threw sheet after sheet onto the router and let the machine do it's magic. I had hoped I could assemble the pieces as they came off the machine. Fat chance of that! I was working up a pretty good sweat just keeping the machine fed as it churned out the intricate pieces. I was cutting out 3/4" MDF - heavy stuff!
When the last piece was cut I had only managed to put together three of the fifteen beams needed. I had churned through 12 sheets of 3/4" MDF. I was tempted to continue but it was suppertime and I needed a shower. Tomorrow is another day!

Furniture with a difference!

The MultiCam Technical Center project is coming along quickly. Every day materials are being ordered and delivered, and our MultiCam router is starting to get a workout of course. As the final engineering and paper work was making it's way through the system I started in on the steelwork for the boardroom.
The heavy steel was the first step. we ground all the primer off the large pipes, cut them and welded them together. The table will be 13 feet long when the dust settles. The feet of the table were next. I had imported the heavy duty adjusters from California. They were good for 20,000 lbs each - more than enough for this job!
While we were welding and grinding our MultiCam was whittling the nameplate for underneath from 30 lb Precision Board. It was done as two back to back pieces with some 1" material cut to fit around the structural steel in the middle. It won't be seen by everyone but it is the many small details that will reinforce the theme of the project and show just what a MultiCam CNC machine is capable of. There is a little more welding and grinding to come before we begin the process of making it all rust to perfection 0- the patina of choice for this project. Then we'll begin work on the top, complete with many more details of course like icing on the cake.
This afternoon more than 60 sheets of MDF arrive for the room details which should be a whole lot of fun! I've got all the files created in EnRoute, just waiting for the materials...

Friday, July 9, 2010

A little birdie told me...

DANville is quickly approaching. As we count down the days here I'm trying to get all my projects in order - including the mile marker from Yarrow. This is for the sign forest. A friend of mine asked me the other day asked if the sign I was making was going to be dimensional and well... fancy. OF COURSE!!! :)
I decided on an informal look this time. The sign had to tell a story about Yarrow too - albeit without many words. I thought and I thought... then I thought of the perfect solution. Since it was a mile marker from DANville to Yarrow the distance would be as a bird flies. But this would be no ordinary bird. The sign would feature the elusive and very rare Yarrow bird. The amazing thing about this particular bird is that it can't fly in a straight line. And since we live in Canada the distance would be measured in kilometers as required by law. Because the sign would have the Yarrow bird featured I decided I better add in an extra hundred kilometers because that is how this particular bird would fly. It likes to take the scenic route and watch the sunsets. The Yarrow bird absolutely loves a challenge too... :)
I'm counting the days until DANville...
-grampa dan

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Unlimited possibilities

I think of signs differently than most sign makers. Signs to me are far more than just a flat board with letters stuck on them. I define signs as anything that brings attention to my customer's business, product or service. 'Signs' can extend to the decor of a building, the landscaping and or anything else we can think of. Its a market we happily indulge in.
The office/showroom we are currently working on for MultiCam Western Canada is a great example. I've posted a few teaser pictures of the concept art previously. I'm working with the contractor to include a three dimensional 'M' which stands for MultiCam of course throughout the office. We'll use the various sizes sprinkled liberally through the office - slightly tweaked of course for the room it goes into. For 'the submarine boardroom' we'll use this round version of the medallion - complete with rivets. This is a screen shot of the file I created in EnRoute. The final version will be painted to suit the room into which it is going. These will be placed in the wainscot trim in between the ribs. Overhead a larger version will be the centerpiece of each arch.
But this will only be the beginning. Every door and window trim will use small corner blocks routed from 1" thick 30 lb Precision Board. The larger square version will be routed in diamond format and be included in the wainscot trim of the entrance/waiting area.
Upstairs in the main office, 'the fossil room' I'll create a fossilized version to use in a similar fashion. The end result will be a subtle marketing campaign that will reinforce the MultiCam brand and add wonderful detail throughout the office/showroom areas.
The beauty of it all is that it is a great opportunity to up sell the things we do. These little pieces are easy and quick to create and use up our scrap material. Details like this sets us apart from our fellow sign makers and it also raises the quality of our customer's projects. The possibilities are endless if we think about all the places we can put our software, products and machines to their highest possible use.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Yarrow > 2336 kms

I am traveling to Danville, Illinois in about a month to take part in a 'WALL DOG EVENT'. The old time sign painters who painted billboards and buildings with giant advertisements and murals were called wall dogs. The Mural painting event in Danville celebrates that tradition by gathering sign painters from all over and then painting 15 murals in only three days. One hundred and sixty-five artists are traveling from across Canada, The USA and beyond for this exciting event. I will be project leader for one of these murals. It will be the fifth time I have participated in such an event in this fashion. It will also be the 115th historical mural I have painted over the last 28 years. This is the mural I have designed for the occasion.
One of the events taking place that weekend is to erect a Sign Post Forest similar to the one in Watson Lake, Alaska. That world famous attraction was started by a lonely soldier from Danville - more than 70 years ago. We as wall dogs want to honor him by bringing signs to Danville, featuring our home towns and the milage to get back home. My sign simply has to be a dimensional one of course and I'll be using EnRoute to design it and my trusty MultiCam will be pressed into service. As always I'll be using 30 lb Precision Board to build it from. Because it will be screwed to telephone poles I will reinforce it with 3/4" plywood laminated inside. Although most folks will use miles to designate the distance to their home town I decided to use kilometers - just for fun.
I used the vectors from a new font I am working on to create the lettering. It's a cartoon design - very informal and fun. I'll combine this with the driftwood to create a weathered plank. I'll sculpt a cartoon bird on top to suggest the distance is 'as the bird flies'. I imported the vectors into EnRoute, then the driftwood bitmap which I traced. Then I selected the outline, and created a relief with a domed top (13 degrees). This rounded the top of the wood nicely. I added the driftwood texture bitmap using a value of 0.3".
Then I created an offset outline around the lettering and arrow of 0.2" I created a flat relief of this shape. Then I drew an oval around the relief and selected them both. The oval will be used to modify the relief in a dome shape using that same 13 degree angle. Once done I deleted the oval.
As you can see in the side view the lettering is now shaped with roughly the same profile as the wood grain panel.
I used the lettering vectors to then create chiseled lettering which were done at about a 21 degree angle. Before merging them to the wood grained panel I created a second copy of the panel and flipped it for the back. This side would have no lettering. To make room for the 3/4" plywood insert I used a copy of the vector outline. I used the outline tool to create an inside offset of about half an in thick. Then I drew a rectangle inside the panel leaving a generous border around the edge. I used the 'jigsaw weld tool' to create this new shape and then deleted the components I used to make it. I grouped the outline of the panel with this new shape and then used the toolpath tool to create the routing offset which would cut out a 3/4" panel with the hole in the middle for the plywood insert.
I then tool pathed the other panels and sent them to the MultiCam. They were routed in two passed - a rough cut using a 3/8" bull nose bit and a final pass with a 75% overlap using a 1/8" ball nose bit.
Once routed I removed the dust and then set about gluing them up using PB Bond -240, a Precision Board product. This glue is a one part adhesive activated with a little moisture. Gluing went quickly using a small bondo spreader to get an even coating. Once the three layers were coated and lined up I used plenty of small clamps to secure things nice and tight.
I'll be back soon to show how I worked up the edges of the sign to match the front and back... then a little sculpting and we are on to paint.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

An office FULL of MAGIC!

The industrial building complex limits the style and size of the exterior signs for the MultiCam Western Canada technical center but inside there are no such restrictions. There will be absolutely no doubt you have arrived at the right place when you step inside the door! The reception desk will be larger than life... a huge metallic, robotic welcoming machine built largely with a MultiCam router and EnRoute software of course. The walls of the reception/waiting area will feature wainscoting created using EnRoute's new rapid texture software. This allows us to route large panels in just minutes instead of hours. I am excited to see how far we can push this new technology to the max. On the upper walls some imaginative eye candy will show what MultiCam's machines are capable of. The staircase railing behind the reception desk will showcase various techniques and materials as well.
The owner's office will go in a totally different direction. We affectionately call it the 'fossil room'. The heavy duty desk will be made from hundreds of pieces of plasma cut half inch steel welded up to form a giant dinosaur skeleton. We'll test drive EnRoute's freshly minted new plasma cutting software for this task. A thick glass top will allow the sculpture to be seen from all angles. Some imaginative wainscoting will again feature EnRoute's Rapid Texture and some like themed eye candy will grace the walls.
The theme work through the rest of the office complex and showrooms will be a bit lighter for now, but door and window trim, the way finding signs and key pieces of other elements will be custom made on a MultiCam machine. The office will showcase the various machines' capabilities at every turn.
Now at last it is time to take this exciting project from the drawing board to reality. I'll be posting progress here on a regular basis. Stay tuned...