The Maiden Foundry had quite a challenge last year fabricating 4 huge umbrellas for Providence Hospital in Portland
Oregon. The proposed Umbrellas were to be 10 feet in diameter and over 12 feet high. The idea was to be simple, just weld together the eight pedals and form an Umbrella canopy from sheet bronze. Then ad a bronze pole and all the bronze mechanism underneath that makes an umbrella. The Foundry worked over the year to discover just how to create the complex form of an Umbrella from flat sheet bronze.
The first failed attempt was the brilliant idea of scanning a real umbrella and trusting that CAD software could flatten out the scan revealing what shape to be cut out of sheet bronze. After all it was 2009, and with all the high tech computer gear available, this would be easy. It turned out that this was so complex that the computer froze up trying to describe the shape of one umbrella pedal. At best it looked like a section of an orange peel that was mashed flat. Cutting that shape out of bronze sheet would waste a huge amounts of very expensive material. Then it really wasn’t that clear to see how we could bend that abstract shape back in to an Umbrella pedal.
The next idea was to send our project to San Francisco where the big computers are and really commit to this. They did it! The computer created 16 unique shapes that when welded together created one perfect umbrella pedal. Then reality hit. 16 pieces to make one pedal, 8 pedals per umbrella, that is 128 pieces to weld together without warping from the heat. That would be 512 for all four umbrellas. Welding top and bottom and chasing out all those welds which was over a mile of welding and chasing on 4 umbrellas. This was not practical in any way, from a quality and budget view.
The next brilliant idea, which was sure to be correct and easy, was to use a three-D printer and print out 4 inch umbrella pedal from our scan. The material used from the printer was somewhat flexible, so we just mashed it flat and traced around the outside with a pencil. We committed this drawing to a full scale test to make one pedal in 1/8th inch bronze. Although our full scale pedal looked like the correct shape, there was something very wrong with it. We believed that welding 8 of these shapes together would not produce an umbrella canopy. We proved that by printing 8 of the shapes in paper and taping them together. We got something similar to a donut, and a waste of a $1,000.00 of bronze plate.
Finally, We decided to review the data from the San Francisco computer, but this time we were going to be artists, not
techies. We pasted the shapes into Adobe Illustrator and began to experiment. With hours of time printing shapes, cutting them out and taping them together we reasoned our way toward a shape that had promise. Then we nailed it and created a 18 inch paper umbrella canopy that was convincing and the client liked what he saw.
We were still stinging from the wasted $1,000.00 wrong way experiment. We decided to build a full scale mock up.
We had 8 pedals lazer cut from masonite, which we duct taped together. Voila, a 10 foot Umbrella!; Everyone was now comfortable with cutting $45,000.00 worth of 1/8 inch Everdur plate.
Assembly of the Umbrellas went very well as all the thinking had been done, we just welded and chased out our work. The Umbrellas did require some fixtures to store them while we did patinas and final assembly. Delivery was accomplished with an oversize permit from ODOT and 4 very slow trips down I-84 to final placement.
Visit the foundry’s website at: http://www.maidenfoundry.com/