Monday, July 16, 2007

Stretching the Limits

Vacuum Chamber

For the Really Big Shew

If you had the good fortune to attend the recent (ongoing as of this posting!) SEMICON West show, you may have seen an exhibit with our most recent Grand Achievement (part of which is shown above) - an enormous functional vacuum chamber containing a robot to handle parts processes. Just how enormous are we talking here? Well, to give you an idea, those are 24" calipers sitting by the side of it there, about 30" long. The body of this, the central chamber of the thing, is made entirely of clear acrylic, 1 1/2" and 1" thick, precision machined and put together with huge, cosmetic bonds at those 20" high corners.

Was it Easy?

I don't think so! This project was brought to us by an engineer we've had an ongoing relationship with, assisting him in design and fabrication of, at times, extremely challenging parts. He wanted a show-stopper for SEMICON, a containment for his company's new robot (which containment in "real life" will be made of aluminum plate) that they wanted to to be clear for the show so folks can see what's going on in there. Did I mention that it's a VACUUM CHAMBER! As in as empty of air molecules as is mechanically doable, 29 inches of mercury's worth, and over 4 feet across. And since it's for the Big Show, every bond and surface needed to be as cosmetically correct as we could get it. AND, on a tight deadline for SEMICON.

All in Two Weeks' Work

So, after some serious head-scratching, the production team (mostly John and Scott) decided to take the job - requiring thousands of dollars of material and the creation of production techniques to do stuff we'd never done before, and where the opportunities for serious project-threatening accidents were evident throughout. While the rest of us were out over the July 4th holiday, John, particularly, was working late with this baby. John did dozens of experiments developing the methods and fixtures needed for fabrication, and step by step the chamber and it's outer boxes emerged. As delivery approached, everyone in the shop got involved with pieces of the project, and finally, it was ready to be shrink-wrapped and put on the truck! As the clients said on delivery, the chamber alone took 6 "geeks" to carry into the assembly room.

So We Delivered

A totally unique project, on time, and assuming everything went well with assembly, people are looking at it at SEMICON as I'm typing this. Not for the faint hearted...