Company Infrastructure and Product Design – The Challenges

July 30, 2018

CNC router - partially finished machine

As mentioned in our previous blog post, our visit to Wales in 2017 started a deep interest in slate, something that was going to stay with us, although we didn’t quite know that at the time.

We had known for a while that we wanted to begin a new venture, and Phil had resigned from his NHS role around the same time as our holiday. We began to think seriously about creating slate lamps and slate cubes in early 2018.

Soon the day arrived to get to work on art futuro and we took our time playing with ideas and materials to ponder exactly what kind of products we wanted to create.

In the beginning, the requirements for our production environment looked a bit daunting to be honest, in terms of the space needed, costs and technical complexity. Very early on, we realised that without a high-quality CNC flatbed router, we wouldn’t be able to produce the designs and the quality that we wanted to achieve. So, a rather large CNC flatbed router had to be acquired. But what do you do if a commercially available model, one matching your requirements, is way outside of your budget?

The answer came from an unexpected source. Similar to Open Source software, there are trends in the mechanical world where high quality open community-based designs are taking shape. Most of them are available as individual components or partially prepared kits, with the main assembly, calibration and testing up to the customer. Due to Phil’s electronic-mechanical background, we decided to opt for such a design. This meant that we had to assemble our CNC flatbed router ourselves.

The build was great fun but a challenge, and it took a fair bit longer than we anticipated. However, the end-result was fantastic. The accuracy is exemplary and the design possibilities endless. The CNC flatbed router has become a fundamental cornerstone of our capabilities.

CNC router - g-code control board and Z-axis with step motorsBut that wasn’t the end of the technical work: first, we had to master the transfer from CAD designs or plans to milling instructions that the CNC router can process; and second, we had to gain experience in how to machine the different base materials we use in our designs – slate, acrylic and wood. They all have such different characteristics.

There was so much to learn, and failures and setbacks were rather the norm than the exception. We had it all: melted acrylic around mill ends, broken mill ends, badly cut slate pieces and product designs that, for one or more reasons, simply didn’t work.

Getting a grip on how to work the thin slate was particularly difficult. However, sheer stubbornness and determination eventually won over and we eventually managed to produce products that were of a consistent quality that we were happy with.

This was a very exciting time, and we really felt we were on to something. Up to this point, we had only spoken to close friends about what we were doing so that we could design and create products freely and without feeling the external pressure of constantly being asked how things were going.

Soon we had manufactured enough products to launch art futuro. Still, we wondered, how would our designs and products be received by the public? Would they like them? Would people actually buy them?

We thought there was no better event to do this than at the Royal Highland Show 2018, in Edinburgh, Scotland, with its 250,000 visitors.

You can find out how our launch event went in our next blog post


#openbuilds #cncrouter #productdesign


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