Engineer Stuart Kendall stood atop the great pyramid in Egypt, and thought to himself, how much he would like to part of an epic stone project like this one.
Little did Kendall know, but the years ahead would provide him with just that opportunity. He spent 7 years at Machinists, Inc. as head of engineering and concept formulation, the guy in charge of "dreaming up ideas while creating all kinds of design builds, crazy stuff."
In 2000, he started his own firm called Seattle Solstice, which specialized in large scale stone fabrication. They built a number of very unusual machines for working, fabricating and carving stone with exacting precision.
"We created a process for making nearly perfect spheres and matching spherical sockets. When water is pumped into the socket base, the ball levitates and rolls almost frictionless on a thin film. We're in a very small club. Only about five groups worldwide have mastered this process. We're the only people in North or South America," Kendall said.
Kendall's precision stone work brought his company much acclaim, so much so, it attracted the attention of the people building the 10,000 Year Clock in West Texas. It is a concept that has been around for 25 years, the brainchild of the California based, Long Now Foundation, a group dedicated to long term thinking.
"What they wanted to create was an actual example of long term thinking. The concept chosen was the design and fabrication of a mechanical clock, to be built with the best technology available, and set up to run, unattended if necessary, for 10,000 years," Kendall said. "They're trying to reach as far into the future as we can reach backward into history."
The clock builders wanted a group involved with innovative stone cutting, and certainly Seattle Solstice fit that bill. Stone cutting was critical because the clock would be housed in a limestone mountain in Texas, hanging vertically in a 500-foot shaft.
The builders wanted a way for visitors to view the clock. The first idea was to mount a stainless steel, spiral staircase to the stone wall. Visitors would climb this staircase to see the clock.
"In the end, my group proposed that it would be possible for them to cut radially into the sidewall of the shaft using a limestone quarry belt saw to create a spiral staircase directly into the mountain. The clock group loved the idea so we concurrently designed both the staircase and the equipment to cut it," Kendall said. Working with Machinists, Inc., an effective team effort was organized including Kuka Robotics of Germany to handle the robotic simulations and power components, and W.F. Meyers of Indiana to provide quarry saw expertise and equipment.
Fabricated and assembled at Machinists Inc., and taking 2 years to complete and test, the finished platform robot was huge, 32,000 pounds, standing about 30 feet tall with a 75HP programmable CNC 3 joint articulated saw all controlled electronically.
As many know, the project is being funded by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. Additional information about the project and a movie of the saw can be found at Wired.com.
Kendall expects the project to continue for several years. Machinists, Inc. was chosen as a partner in the project, he said, because of the depth of knowledge and skills of the staff who have decades of machining and assembling large scale fabrications. And creating the components for the robot is not their only involvement.
"When they got ready to build the clock, they shopped the project worldwide. No one wanted to touch it. It's very, very fussy work. You are working with stainless steel plate up to 3 inches thick. You just don't know what is going to happen when machining that stuff because stainless notoriously has internal strains that can release when machined," Kendall said. "It took not only extreme expertise at Machinist Inc, it just took plain courage to bite the project off and say yeah, 'we'll see if we can do it'.
"It's going to be a great feather in MI's cap when it's done. It will certainly be about the longest lasting parts of any kind coming out of that place. The saw robot and the clock project have been great for them." And for Kendall, standing atop the spiral stone staircase may give him much the same feeling as standing atop the great pyramid. This staircase is going to be around awhile.
"These stairs that are being cut in Texas, they may be there as long as there are human beings to climb up them. The extremely dry mountain location, at 6700 feet, was also chosen for its seismic stability," he said. "Being able to be part of the project, and having MI's partnership to make it happen has really been an amazing trip."
For more information contact Jeff Tomson, Machinists Inc., 206-763-0990 - www.machinistsinc.com
"When they got ready to build the clock, they shopped the project