Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Elephant No. 219: Scouring Pads

I was supposed to be doing a different activity today, but the workshop didn't quite work out, so I decided to try making an elephant from scouring pads instead. I have no idea how well—or even if—this will work out, but I thought it might at least be an interesting experiment.

Although many different materials have been used to scour pots and pans over the centuries, the "scouring ball" patented by R.B. Kingman in 1928 was one of the first scouring tools to be made of metal mesh. In 1942, the first doughnut-shaped scouring pad was patented by David J. Kelman, and remains the most common design to this day.

Later scouring pads included a sponge matrix with metal mesh woven through, and finally plastic scouring pads, coinciding with the introduction of non-stick pans.

For today's elephant, I decided to stick with the stainless steel version, which has apparently been banished to barbecues and the workshop. The idea behind stainless steel, for me, was that I could likely bend metal to my will more readily than sproingy plastic.

These are the scrubbers I bought at the dollar store.

The smaller one is quite soft—more like doll hair than wire—so I opted to use only the larger scouring pad. After giving it a once-over, I saw that it was tied together in the centre. So I cut the wire "thread" that was holding it together.

This resulted in an opening I could use to pull out the centre and unwind the whole thing. I noticed a couple of things when I did this. The first was that the scouring pad is actually a knitted tube of flat wire. The second was that, by cutting the central thread, I was helping the tube to unravel—just like the sleeve of a sweater. I wasn't sure yet if that was a good or bad thing.

Because I didn't really know how I was going to make an elephant out of this springy tube, I started by binding up one end as the tip of the trunk. As some of you may have noticed, I often find that the trunk is a good place to start when making a sculptural elephant form—particularly when I'm not sure what I'm doing. I bound up the tip of the trunk simply by winding a loose piece of scouring-pad wire around the end, then tucking in the ends. I later cut off the bits that are sticking out.

Once the trunk was started, I worked backwards towards the head, gently flattening an area behind the trunk to form ears. I tacked the ears to the head at the top with a loop of wire twisted through and tied in a knot. To help the ears hold a flattened shape, I ran a few stitches of wire around the outside edges.

Next, I pulled out the rest of the coil, which showed a disturbing tendency to unravel and pull apart. I threaded a needle with a piece of wire, and stitched through the end loops before pulling it tight. I now had a longish empty sausage shape attached to the head. It didn't look great, and I couldn't really form legs long enough to make it stand up, so I decided instead to make a sitting elephant with little legs. To form the legs, I used some more wire threaded onto a needle, and pushed a few stitches through and around each of the four legs.

To finish, I more or less just pushed the form around until I found it visually pleasing.

This was easier than I expected it to be, and only took about 45 minutes from start to finish. When I started to unroll the scouring pad, I really wasn't sure how well it was going to work out, but I'm pleased with the final result. In real life, it's very shiny, and catches the light in a rather pretty way.

The final piece is a bit floppy, due primarily to the way the wire mesh has been knit. I tried at one point to push bits of scouring pad inside the form to make it more solid, but it looked nicer left empty.

Because of its floppiness, I wouldn't rush to make more of these, but it was an interesting exercise, and the final piece is kind of cute.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Much is written about the many ways in which nature inspires technology. Few pieces of recent technology, however, come as close to mimicking the original as the Bionic Handling Assistant by the German company, Festo.

Festo's Bionic Handling Assistant.
Photo: Festo
Source: http://electronicdesign.com/article/embedded/safe-robot-swarms-73667

Based on an elephant's trunk, the Bionic Handling Assistant can move in virtually any direction, with a gripper that can even handle a small piece of fruit. Made of polyamide with multiple actuators and pneumatic controls, the system is so sensitive to touch that, if it comes into contact with a human operator, it immediately pulls away. For technical information on how it works, click here, or watch the video below.

Designed for use in manufacturing, the Bionic Handling Assistant recently won the German Future Award, and  is currently the most precise and elaborate robotic arm on the market.

Source: http://www.festo.com/cms/en_corp/9655.htm

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