As a guy who craves a chance to use technology to solve problems, I love mechanical design.  Because we build stuff, we encounter multiple applications of mechanical design practically every day. We use it in tooling, machining, rigging huge (and fragile) electronic signs and designing kinetic art sculptures.

And in my experience, the simpler the mechanical design is the better!  Take the classic toy Spirograph for example.  A lot of folks of my generation played with Spirograph when we were young.   It’s a great example of simplicity.  Even kids without art skills found themselves creating very cool images because it was so easy to use.

BUILD YOUR TREE HOUSE

My sister built a tree house in her backyard.  So what does that have to do with mechanical design?

A lot can be learned from tree house construction.  It reminds me of the incredibly simple solutions the pro’s used on Tree House Masters (a great TV show that used to be on Animal Planet).  Think about what happens to a tree during high winds.  It sways.  And rather than see this as an obstacle, they take it on as a challenge.

The answer to the challenge is simple. Don’t use rigid connections, instead allow it to move.  Allow it to breath!  Instead of a hole, use a slot where the bolt goes; this simple solution allows the bolt to move slightly. As the tree moves, it loads up in different areas.  It essentially moves the force to a weaker spot.

DON’T MAKE IT A MARATHON

In the case of the Redmond Trailer project for artist Janet Zweig, the best technology for the situation happens to be simple.  The mechanical functionality of the gullwing door we built for her public art project lies in its simplicity.  It’s not overly complex so you want to use it more and adapt it wherever you can.  For this reason, you’ll find it in many of the kinetic art sculptures we’ve built, like the Discovery World Wind Leaves in Milwaukee, Bay Front Hilton Wind Palms in San Diego and locally the Ruach memorial sculpture at the First Congregation Church in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Problem-solving shouldn’t be a marathon.  Sometimes it’s best to go back to circles, squares and rectangles.  The mechanics become very complex based on process, not necessity.  The process of problem solving sometimes makes mechanical design far more complicated than it needs to be.  Once you get to step 8, you find yourself in an overly complex scenario.

This comes from starting down a path that is too complex.  It’s like the tire swing cartoon we’ve all seen before.  Unfortunately, few folks go back to the early stages of the process to ensure simplicity.   What I like the most about this project is its simplicity and raw cool factor.  It’s not complex.

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