Category Archives: Productivity Improvement

Full “STEAM” Ahead

We are all familiar with STEM but what is STEAM?  “STEAM” takes the standard STEM formulation (science, technology, engineering, and math) and adds an A for arts. The movement, led by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) encourages the integration of Art + Design in K-20 education.

It is not about teaching art as a separate discipline but exploring where art naturally fits. Proponents of STEAM suggest we can be better engineers by learning how to think creatively through challenging design projects, like this one.   

Our design team at SIGMA became part of a RISD graduate’s studio in a recent fabrication project combining art and engineering. Rebecca Manson, an artist specializing in ceramics, was creating an eight foot diameter sphere made of thousands of small porcelain parts. Ms. Manson describes the piece as…”a look underneath our skin at the enduring structure that all humans share”. By recalling what is known as the ‘Overview Effect’;.. “the principal that when one sees the earth from space, feelings of deep love and concern for the planet reportedly wash over them…” the sphere represents a memorial to the planet earth. This stunning ‘union of bones’ created with paint over glaze over pigmented clay results in layers of color that change with light, angle and personal perspective. Only a very talented engineering and fabrication team would be able to make this project a reality.

Fortunately, the artist found SIGMA Design.

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Howard Mikuylak working on the sphere

The giant, extremely fragile sphere had to be constructed in a mold, one half at a time.  SIGMA’s challenge was to construct the internal structural framework, which would support and align the sphere to rotate about its vertical axis.  Solid knowledge of geometry, strength of materials, and adhesives was required. Testing was done on the materials and their flexibility under various conditions and temperatures. Too much rigidity in the structure or adhesives would have caused the structure to break.

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Sigma Design’s Max Burns and Bruce Knapp working on the 1/2 sphere

When the first half was delivered in its ‘nest’ a rope ladder was constructed to allow work on the internal structure without stepping on the delicate ceramic shell. When the internal structure was done and secured into the shell, it was time to release the shell from the ‘nest’.

If you have ever tried to turn a warm cake out of a pan, hoping it would come out in one piece without breaking, you might understand our anxiety as we carefully turned over the nest. Would this giant sculpture come crashing out destroying months of work on the ceramic pieces? Would it require a bit of coaxing, tapping, and gravity, like that cake? 

We held our breaths, turned it over, and, well- it was stuck! Twelve hours later we had the sculpture safely out of the nested mold, which then returned to the artist’s studio for the creation of the second half.

Rebecca’s team got to work and weeks later we had the second half back in our shop. Upon delivery of the ‘northern hemisphere’, SIGMA got to work on joining the halves, and installing the pedestal.

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The finished product! (Sphere #2, 2016)

Throughout the project, SIGMA’s ability to support the artist’s vision while working within the realities of math and physics was a unique challenge. The idea that STEAM education might make these types of collaborations happen more often is very exciting to us.

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Rebecca Manson & the Sigma Design Team

SIGMA Design Co and UNIQUE Wire Weaving Collaboration Boosts Productivity of US Industrial Wire Weaving

How do American manufacturers compete effectively in the industrial wire weaving business that supplies the medical, electronics, filtration, process and other industries? First, take a proven machine design; second work with the right US based design engineering/manufacturing firm; third, be creative and redesign the machine to double output using the same floor footprint; and four, manufacture and assemble the machines in the USA. This is the exact story of how two New Jersey companies – Unique Wire Weaving Company, Inc. of Hillside, New Jersey and Sigma Design Company of Middlesex, New Jersey collaborated to double US productivity through successful reengineering and production of a redesigned “Loom 16 Machine”.

Unique Wire Weaving Company Inc., located at 762 Ramsey Avenue, Hillside, New Jersey is  led by Mr. Ken Beyer, a fifth generation wire weaver. In business since 1946, Unique Wire produces and supplies wire mesh and filter cloth in specialty alloys and exotic metals, weaving wire as fine as 0.0008” diameter. They are known for their strong technical capabilities and quality products and are committed to producing in the USA for supply to the medical, electronics, filtration, process and other industries.

The challenge for Unique Wire was that it had several 1950s looms that worked well, but they needed these machines to have greater precision and higher production speed thereby adding capacity at their existing facility at minimal cost. For this machine conversion project, Ken Beyer turned to Sigma Design Company, LLC, a company that offers comprehensive services – including prototyping and mechanical design engineering through machine and product manufacturing, validation and assembly at its ‘Technology Commercialization and New Product Manufacturing Center’ in central New Jersey.

Unique Wire Weaving Loom 16The result was that Ken Beyer and Sigma Design developed and built a modified loom – Loom 16, using the common base, but completely redesigned and built a new wire feed system and drive train assembly. This allowed a two-fold increase in both production speed and production volume using the same machine footprint that had been used for years – thus increasing productivity in the same space. The redesign also improved controls to allow them to broaden the products that are manufactured on this machine – such as weaving precise tungsten mesh  that was previously not possible  on these machines. Sigma Design will continue to work together with Unique Wire to find ways to help them to build more capacity with solid ROI. This type of ongoing collaboration, four years to date by these two New Jersey companies, is the foundation of creating a New Manufacturing Era for New Jersey and the USA.

SIGMA Design Company – Collaborative Engineering for Improved USA Productivity

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