I set off to design a kinetic sculpture titled Polyscape as a "floating island" made out of recycled polypropylene plastic, which is the same material used in making disposable plastic bottles and bags. I was interested in investigating the natural properties of recycled plastic as well as the injection molding process therefore it was important for my design to incorporate modularity, semi translucency and the sculpture to be as light weight as possible. Most importantly Polyscape was designed to be flexible in shape, size and scope in order to be exhibited in a variety of settings.
The completed form is a tessellated pattern of interlocking irregular pentagon shapes. In order to achieve this I developed a 3D tile that can be interlinked together to form multiple types of patterns, such as linear grid forms, interlocking hexagonal forms as well as other less regular patterns.
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Step 1: Mold Making
As a graduate student at Stanford University I took a class called Mechanical Engineering 318, where I was introduced to computer-aided design. I was new to using Solidworks or any other CAD program, thus learning the program gave me skills that I can now apply in other project. I found designing in CAD was a great way to visualize and prototype parts, work out detailed design issues and precisely create forms. I also enjoyed interfacing Solidworks, Gibbs Camm and the CNC Haas mills, a great way to take something from the virtual reality of Solidworks, specify the physical milling process in Gibbs and then create it as a tangible part on the CNC mill. This is how my two-part aluminum mold was made.
I had some trouble with the CNC milling process and learned many good tips along the way. I learned that it's much better to go slower then faster, this can avoid breaking delicate milling bits and controls the smoothness of the surfacing. I also learned that it is much better to let the entire Gibbs program run from start to finish as apposed to stopping midway and trying to set up again continuing your milling program from the middle. This increases potential for error, a mistake I made was miscalculating my XY offsets by 0.1", which when unnoticed until the machine milled in the wrong place and damaged half of my mold beyond repair.
Step 2: Injection Molding
After several days on the CNC machines, the mold was finished and I was ready to inject reground molten polypropylene plastic. The injection molding process was surprisingly more involved than I anticipated. Getting the settings just right took a good while. Initially I had many partially filled pieces due to my wall thickness of .030". I manually milled out more gates and runners to allow the plastic to flow better and fill the entire shape. Overall I enjoyed the injection molding process and its efficient way to make multiples in less than a minute. This process allowed me to make hundreds of pieces in only a few days, after many days of trial and error.
Due to my injection troubles, most plastic pieces had to be post processed. Each pentagon had to be cut away from the flashing and runners Each piece was then linked together with (17gage 1/4" diameter) aluminum rings to create hexagon flowers and two other shapes. Each shape had to be joined together to form the tessellated polymer fabric.
Step 3: Assembly & Installation
This assembled poly-fabric grew to be 14 x 14ft approximately and was suspended from the ceiling with monofilament looped through pulleys. Some of these lines got attached to a motor activated by Arduino electronics with sensor input. The fabric is designed to move such that it mimics the motion of water. Using motion sensors input to drive the motors Polyscape undulates when humans are present. This invites people to explore and interact with the fluctuating seascape from above, below and all around.
Step 4: Exhibition (Final Form & Concept)
POLYSCAPE is a project which merges art, architecture, engineering and ecological literacy. It visualizes complex pentagonal tessellations that create magnificent interlocking forms, therefore addressing pattern, repetition and mathematics in modular design. POLYSCAPE is also unique in its design because it is flexible in shape, size and scope. This allows the piece to be transformable for its environment, expanded or collapsed, installed with minimal specifications and be almost maintenance free.
This project comments on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex. This floating island of ocean debris is primarily made of plastic and is estimated to be 100 million tons in mass and twice the size of Texas. POLYSCAPE hopes to bring attention to this massive yet growing trash vortex and create awareness of our own relationship with plastic by transforming common trash into unique forms which function as art. This project gives viewers the opportunity to reconsider our consumption of plastic and the consequences of its environmental afterlife.
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