27 Spare Parts

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“Oh man, it’s stuck…” Kevin calls out over the motor rumble as he and Craig at Metal Magic stand hovering over the metal puncher.

at Metal Magic
(image: Anesta Iwan)

This past week, we had a chance to meet Kevin, a retired police officer who is passionate about metal works since his high school days, and Craig, a long-time metal artist who’s owned and run the shop for longer than any of us can attest to. As Kevin walked us around the workshop, he pointed out different machineries that Craig had built over the years (some from scratch). There was the metal bender, the metal puncher, and the pattern cutter – this last one can replicate a given metal profile by using a magnet that traces around the given piece and directly translates that same motion to cut a new piece of metal (this is very similar to Benjamin Cheverton’s machine from the 1850s! Read more on Cheverton here).

Pattern Cutter – Metal Magic
(image: Kevin)

When we had first approached Metal Magic, we had wanted each connection to be a ring that connects the three intersecting rods together (read more on the connection here). After a lengthy discussion, we concluded that the connection may not hold up because of the size of the rings as well as the weight of each stainless steel rod. Second iteration was to chamfer and weld the three rods at each corner. And because third time isn’t always a charm… only after the seventh test with wood sticks, we figured out the angles. But Kevin and Craig weren’t yet convinced on how the connections all looked. So we tried again.

clover connection – Metal Magic
(image: Anesta Iwan + Nish Kothari)

They had proposed using a single metal piece cut in the shape of a three-leaf clover where each “clover” would then bend independently and be welded to the ends of the rods. Nish and I loved this! And furthermore, Craig had proposed a tighter version of this same concept by using three metal discs that would cut and welded together and later welded to the rods (so the end product would yield a smaller connection than the three-leaf clover connection). We’re sold! We were there and watched them punch a quarter-sized stainless steel disc (their very own token maker!) and then the machine was jammed…but I loved the fact that it didn’t work, that it didn’t roll smoothly as we had intended. This was all captured on camera by Will, our friend and videographer. We want to capture those moments where the prototype snags because that’s reality.

The founder and CEO of Metalab, Andrew Wilkinson, recently posted an article that talks about how a team should operate like a machine. Each component of the machine is doing its best job at that specific task. If it’s not the best fit, then it is repositioned to conduct another task and another spare part takes its spot in the assembly. And that is how we see this team- we’ve spoken with so many individuals who are amazing in what they do and who do them far better than the both of us can, from LED lighting, to sound and music, to metal fabrication, to filming, to sensors, to curation, and to fundraising, and we’re happy to have them as part of this “machine” in the making of “27 Steps.”

27 Steps at iHangar
(image: Anesta Iwan + Nish Kothari)

In the end, in the spirit of spare parts and exchangeability, because of transportation issues, we have now settled with a prefabricated connection where, similar in form as the three-leaf clover but the rods are now bolted to it (so they can be assembled and dissembled as needed). We’re now halfway there and have one pyramid erected at the Innovation Hangar (Palace of Fine Arts)! At times it’ll be flawless, but other times a bit “stuck,” but nonetheless, we’d love to see you at the iHangar and share a fro-bot yogurt along the way!

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