Computers and design are a big part of Tony Stark’s Workshop. Of course Tony has the robotic artificial intelligence J.A.R.V.I.S. to help him get things done, or perhaps mostly to clean up the shop and serve as a comic foil to Stark’s genius. He’s got holograms and a variety of other things going on too that, like J.A.R.V.I.S, we’d be hard-pressed to come by–the tech simply isn’t available quite yet. Fear not, there is plenty of awesome tech that is available for our Ultimate Workshop.
Computers Prefer A Darker Environment
First thing is, we need to house the CADCAM Design and Computer area in a darkened room. All the light that is so beneficial in our more mechanical workshop activities just creates glare on our computer screens that makes them harder to see. For that reason, we’ll put a special room that is slighlty darkened, with just a bit of halogen (for the warmth) indirect lighting so we can see our way around and not trip over things. We’ll also specify a raised false floor for cabling so we can properly wire all the workstations without any exposed cabling. This shot shows the lighting I’m talking about–it’s all behind the monitors, never in front:
All lighting is indirect, and comes from behind the monitors, never in front where it could cause glare…
While we’re at it, we’ll spec neutral colors and plush carpet on the floors that soaks up excess sounds. I’d also upholster the walls for the same sound deadening purpose.
Desks and Chairs
I often sit for hours in front of the computer writing software (or these crazy blog posts!). I know what it can do to your back. Ergonomics is the name of the science that’s aimed at minimizing the strain on your body when you have to do this. The first thing is having the right relationship between the workstation’s table height, so your forearms are properly cushioned, and the monitor height, where you eyes are focused. You want to have to slouch are bend your neck at an awkward angle. For this workshop, we’d have the workstations custom designed for exactly the right ergonomic orientation for our reclusive Billionaire Maker. For your shop, maybe an adjustable workstation is key.
The chair is super-critical. I use a Herman Miller Aeron Chair, and it’s nice, but it has its limitations. If you’ve ever used a foam roll to stretch your back and relieve back pain, you’re familiar with the idea that putting pressure in exactly the right places works wonders. I have found that a small ball, something slightly larger than a softball, works just as well as the foam roll or perhaps better. This gave me an idea for one of the first projects I would tackle in my new Tony Stark Inspired Ultimate Workshop. This would be an infinitely adjustable desk chair based entirely on supporting the body at ideal pressure points with these small balls:
Each of the chairs 10 bodily contact points is individually adjustable…
Each of the chair’s 10 bodily contact points is individually adjustable to conform to the optimal comfort point, and the range of adjustments is based on a US Army Anthropometrics study that characterizes what the range of body shapes are for the human population. There are no arms to interfere with the desk as in practice you’d be pulled up so most of your forearms are resting on the desk surface. The balls are all inflated rubber balls, and the pressure can be varied as well to adjust the firmness. It’s an open design, so there’s plenty of ventilation.
While a super comfortable and infinitely adjustable workstation and chair will help a lot, there’s also no substitute for getting up from time to time. You can’t just sit at the desk all day. Towards that end, I would envision there be at least one standing workstation in the room whose height is such that you can work there while standing rather than sitting. Finally, there should be a couple of exercise workstations–perhaps a treadmill desk and an stationary bike desk.
I have a treadmill desk that I use from time to time, and I can tell you that it is very difficult to exercise fine motor skills while walking on it. Don’t expect to do much CAD work or even writing. I would specify nothing but monitors with touch screens for the exercise stations–no keyboard or mouse. Within the limits of what you can do there, a lot can be accomplished. Perhaps you’ll be poring over parts catalogs to find just the right fasteners for your new project or simply catching up on the design and engineering journals you follow to stay current on the state of the art. Who knows, maybe this is how Billionaire Makers read CNCCookbook articles (hey, shameless plug I know, but I couldn’t resist)!
Monitors: Lots of Monitors!
We’ve written about multiple monitors before, and we will certainly need lots of monitors for this room. They need to be ultra-high resolution. We’re starting to see monitors with 5000-8000 pixels across in prototype form. They need to be as large as possible–over 30″ for sure. Something like these curved 34″ Dell Ultrasharp Monitors are a possibility:
Ultrasharp Dell Monitors are curved and 34″…
Three of those Bad Boy Dells in a wrap around configuration would just about make anyone motion sick if you tried playing games on them. Perfect for spreading out with multiple windows and software tools. We’ll want all our monitors to be touch sensitive, and while Dell isn’t even talking about that with these models, our Billionaire Maker would send his jet around to meet with Michael Dell about some special cost-no-object models for this Secret Laboratory Workshop facility. Somehow I think the two would get along.
In addition to the 3 large monitors at each workstation, there should be a row of auxiliary monitors mounted above. These would be smaller, perhaps 24″. Their purpose is to provide more screen real estate for reference materials so you don’t have to deal with overlapping any materials. Whether you need to keep watch on a stock ticker for your massive portfolio (Billionaire Makers have those) or you just need the dimensions for a variety of sub-assemblies and fasteners available as you work on the main drawings, the aux monitors are there for you.
Tony Stark uses a lot of holograms and mid-air projections. We won’t have that luxury for a few years, but there’s no reason our CADCAM room can’t have a big projection wall on one side with 2 or 3 super-bright DLP projectors set up to beam images onto these Wall Screens.
Opposite the DLP Projection wall on the other side of the room we’ll put wall-sized white boards for quick sketching, lists, and group discussions. I favor the DLP Wall on the left and the marker wall on the right for my own CADCAM room. In addition, we’ll mount a high resolution camera that can take “screen shots” of the white board walls any time we want to capture what’s there and transfer into the digital realm.
Rarified Tech for 3D Manipulation and Precision Drawing
In addition to spectacularly huge and tack sharp monitors with touch surfaces, we’ll be needing the best available devices for working in 3D and for doing precision drawing.
Tony Stark does a lot of manipulation in mid-air, and we can use a device I first wrote about Elon Musk (he of the Tesla and SpaceX) demonstrating here in the pages of CNCCookbook for that purpose. These devices are handy, but not very precise. For more precision we’ll want a couple of additional devices in the form of a 3D Mouse and a Haptic Input Device. One thing I learned from our survey on alternate input devices is folks love their 3D Mice:
People love their 3D Mice…
Any workstation that’s intended to be used for CADCAM purposes ought to have one of these gizmos, they really do work well the difficult job of manipulating objects in 3D space with some precision. In addition, the ones with all the extra buttons give you some very handy shortcuts to common operations that will save time on what is always fairly labor intensive.
For the ultimate workshop, having 3D Mice is just table stakes. In this world of 3D Printing and 5-Axis Milling, we’re going to want tools that are up to the delicate task of sculpting free flowing 3D objects. That Iron Man mask didn’t come to Tony Stark easily with just an ordinary mouse, now did it?
A device I’ve admired ever since coming across it in my travels is the Haptic Arm 3D Input Device:
The name is pretty crazy and they’re not inexpensive, but one look and it’s pretty obvious how they could be very handy to have. Think of it as a very small CMM Arm that you use to sculpt in space.
Cubic Computing Horsepower Available Everywhere
Clearly this workshop wants nothing but the most absolutely potent computing hardware imaginable. Well, at least the most powerful stuff that can run the software we need to run. Much as we may like the stylish R2D2 shaped Mac Pro, we have to admit there’s only a few packages that can run natively on the Mac. It’s good stuff, but we want full flexibility to run it all. I’m not going to try to call out any specific machines because frankly, the market is moving too fast and any recommendation would be obsolete in a matter of months. What this workshop needs are workstations with the following characteristics:
– Most powerful CPU’s available. That means fastest clock speeds and most cores.
– Huge amounts of very fast error checking RAM memory.
– Solid State Disks and plenty of them. Configure them in RAID arrays that are both redundant and even faster than single drives.
– Most powerful graphics cards available–we’ll need them to drive all the high resolution monitors being spec’d.
Some other odd requirements. The machines will go into an air conditioned and sound proofed closet. All that power makes a lot of fan noise and we don’t want to hear it. Also, we’ll make sure there are USB, LAN, and Video hookups all over the workshop with Keyboards, Mice, and Full Touchscreen Monitors everywhere. Back in our closet we’ll put in a switching backplane so we can walk away from a workstation in the CAD room, go to a CNC Machine, hit a couple of buttons on the touchscreen monitor, and be looking at the same screen we just walked away from.
The machines will have continuous onsite and offsite backup to make sure that if the workshop burns to the ground suddenly, no data is lost.
Software to Make it all Go
It’s going to take a lot of software to make this workshop run smoothly and provide all the power and convenience that’s possible. Let’s run through some of the obvious needs.
For CAD Software, I’d spec two packages–SolidWorks and Rhino3D. It’s hard to be SolidWorks for doing an important set of drawings, especially for a complex assembly with many sub-assemblies. But Rhino is my goto software for anything quick and dirty or anything flowing and curvaceous. I can just get things done faster in Rhino than SW provided I don’t have to wade through constant change orders that benefit from the parameteric CAD. Having both of them at hand is a powerful combination. The other thing is both packages have a rich ecosystem of folks providing plug-ins and add-ons of various kinds. Want FEA (Finite Elements Analysis) to determining exactly how much we can lighten a bracket and have it still be strong enough? No worries, a plug-in is available for both packages.
For CAM, it’s harder to choose. There are tons of good packages out there. Much like my choice of both SolidWorks and Rhino3D, I can see an argument for having 2 CAM packages. Some of the ultimate most powerful packages can be a little heavyweight for simple projects. I’d spec on ultimate superpowerful CAM Package that did everything I needed and one for quick and dirty use, such as creating fixtures. I leave the selection of exactly which two packages to the reader, but we do have our CAM Survey to at least show the relative popularity of various packages.
Of course there’s a lot more software available than just CADCAM.
I’d want to have a great G-Code Editor like G-Wizard Editor available for when I needed to hand tweak things in the code the CAM posted. I’d have to have the world’s premier Feeds and Speeds Calculator, our own G-Wizard Calculator too. GW Calculator is so much more than just a Calculator as it is filled with all sorts of common reference data and other tools you’ll find indispensible while sitting at the machine or running your CADCAM sessions. Editor’s Conversational Wizards make spitting out last minute g-code for simple stuff easy without recourse to CADCAM. With a good CNC Machine and Conversational Wizards, there’s absolutely no reason to keep manual machines around a shop like this at all. The CNC’s can do that sort of work faster and easier.
Speaking of reference information, the Ultimate Workshop needs to re-invent the wheel and make that much much faster and easier. We’ll be setting it up with G-Wizard ShopFloor which is designed to help shops get radically more organized and productive. It’s useful even in a one-man shop like this one.
We’ll take every manual for every machine and tool in the shop and stick the PDF versions into GW ShopFloor. We’ll add to that as much reference material as we can lay hands on in PDF form. That’s quite a lot. For example, I must have a couple hundred tooling catalogs on my hard drive in PDF. Supplier catalogs in general will be logged into GW ShopFloor–they’re often chock full of useful reference information. Lastly, we load up online versions of Machinist’s Handbook, Smid’s g-code programming books, and anything else we can lay hands on that might be helpful. Having done so, all that information is now available at our fingertips any time we need it just with a simple keyword search. We can use GW ShopFloor’s Kanban System to manage our ToDo lists and to assign sub-tasks out to helpers and sub-contractors as needed. That inventory control system for our fasteners and other parts inventory will probably be interfaced to GW ShopFloor as well to ensure our version of Pepper Potts gets new parts ordered before we need them, or that calls for maintenance on the machines are properly dealt with.
Once you get rolling with the right software that all works well together, it’s easy to build on that foundation.
Next Installment: Rough Stock and Material Handling
I’m going to roll these installments out more or less in the order they’d be needed. First we needed the space. Then, to create a part, we needed CADCAM and design tools. Next up is how we’ll handle Rough Stock and Materials to prepare them for machining.
[ Tony Stark Workshop Part 3 – Rough Stock and Material Handling ]
I’d like to keep the comments focused on what each article installment is talking about.
This was part 2 of our Ultimate Tony Stark Inspired Workshop Series.
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Bob is responsible for the development and implementation of the popular G-Wizard CNC Software. Bob is also the founder of CNCCookbook, the largest CNC-related blog on the Internet.
Aw, man, I sooooo want one of those workstations…
Me too, Marcus! But I have to sell a LOT of G-Wizards first, lol.