Inside the 1966 Needle

This is the first of the series of lighted objects I have created for offer on the Lumenique site. I will publish each one with a brief on what inspired it.

Most will recognize this from one of my favorite cities on the West coast. As a kid, we visited the 1966 World’s Fairgrounds numerous times. We visited the museums and displays, then played on the grounds. My last visit there was many years ago, on a working tour of projects I was doing as a Lighting Designer in the area.

We always drove on vacations, so the image of the Space Needle rising into view is indelibly planted in my mind, and was an object of awe at the time. I feel a strong connection to it. This object is not a model of the structure, but was most certainly inspired by it. I added light to it, which reminds me of how it looked in the evenings, my favorite time.

I imagine this occupying a special side table of someone who has a similar affinity for iconic architecture of the 1960’s. If you know someone who might be interested, please share this with them. The life of my lighted objects begins when they are placed in someone’s own personal space.

On the web page, you will find more views of this work, as well as a 360 degree video of it.

What follows is a summary of how the 1966 object is made (wiring and driver components are not shown for clarity). The lighted objects I am creating are more involved in the design, engineering, and building stages than any manufactured product could ever be. This is part of their character. Just as sculpture artists using numerous process steps to create art from bronze or steel, making lighted objects also demands a great deal of pre-planning and numerous steps to realize the final work completed.

Exploded view of the 1966 object.
WIP Time and Raw Investment Involved

This project involved over 40 hours of design and engineering to create all of the component models in SolidWorks and pre-test the assembly. The 17 unique components added up to a total of 23 total parts to be printed on the F370 printer – which took a total of 134 hours to complete, using 280 cubic inches of material – at a raw material cost of $924 – and another 26 hours of solvent washing to remove support materials from the hollow sections.

Once the components were printed and cleaned, the legs and saucer lower assembly, and lower body required bonding to create the finished components. After these were fully cured, all components were treated to a series of sanding, filling, re-sanding, priming, finish sanding, and final painting steps, taking roughly 34 hours to complete over a period of 9 days (allowing proper cure time between steps).

Assembly, including wiring, took over 7 hours to complete, and includes routing wires through the leg assemblies, and saucer window section to connect the 4 OLED modules to 2 drivers, a dimmer control and a power switch. The entire objects is serviceable, as the major components are attached with concealed fasteners, to allow access to OLED modules and the drivers.

3D Printing Enables this Design – But is Not Cheap or Easy

The misconception about 3D printing (created by hobbyists making cheap low quality bobble head toys and tug boats from models taken from an on-line resource) is that 3D printing of objects is cheap and easy. In fact, it is neither, and both. In this case, the use of 3D printing employing a commercial grade printer, is to create objects of quality, with character that is free from compromise to fit tooled, machined, or hand carving processes. Further, the finished objects are as durable as they would be if molded from solid materials. There is no reason to doubt that these objects will capable of surviving several decades of intended display or use.

Creation of quality artistic objects is motivated by the desire the deliver finished works that are visually closer to my intended vision of them, which frequently involves features that are virtually impossible to produce using any other methodology. In this specific example:

  • The legs are hollow to provide a path for wiring to be passed from the lower base to the saucer above. This is not possible using injection molded, or carving parts from solid stock, without taking more time and investing in special production methodology.
  • The saucer mid section is made of two parts, both with hollow interior features that cannot be made using any conventional method. To address this, the only solution would be to change the design to fit a molding process, compromising the shape.
  • The saucer window section is also two parts, and includes negative cavity spaces in addition to wire passage holes, that would require both special tooling and secondary processing to create.

In addition to these factors, the 17 discrete components, assuming they were modified in design to be injection moldable, would cost roughly $93,500 in tooling (@ an average of $5,500 per mold), plus an additional $9,000 in setup and first run processing to get the parts necessary to build this one object. Further, the tooling time would have taken a minimum of 16 weeks to complete. While the finished parts would be less costly, there would be additional secondary processes necessary to compensate for the missing features needed for the assembly, while the secondary finishing operations would not be significantly reduced. There may be instances where an investment of this level is rational, but for a one-off object, it is not the case here.

The Best Path to Customization and Commissioned Objects

The advantage of 3D printing in creating objects such as this, is that customization is readily accommodated to suit a specific end result. Further, making multiples is just a matter of repeating the processes of building the object, with some advantage of economies of repeating process steps. The processes can be used to create fully custom objects, with reasonable lead times, and modest investment, to suit a wide range of desires, which is why I am pursuing this today.

This particular object is about average for this scale of end product, in both time and cost. In the 17 objects now offered, there are two that are far more complex, and several that are not quite as intense.

You can view the entire collection, which is being built on continuously at the Lumenique Web Site

Author: kwillmorth

Photographer and Artist

Leave a Reply