Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"This is serious tile manufacturing"

Yesterday, we used a plasma cutter and today we got to play with the pneumatic clay extruder. Ah yes, day after of day of playing with cool toys.

My very LONG morning began at 6am. We met up over at the ceramics lab, ready to figure out how the heck we were going to fabricate 50+ ceramic roof tiles. We started out by kneading the clay, putting it into the extruder and then..... nothing. It wasn't soft enough. So we kneaded it more and added some water.... still nothing. After spraying with water, throwing it and kneading it FOREVER, we put it back into the extruder and woah! It came out like a shot. Don't blink or you'll miss it (pardon the giggling, I like to think lack of sleep has something to do with it):

The problem was we had unknowingly grabbed a box of clay with grog. Grog in this case is not a delightful drink shared with your mateys, it is a clay with a much higher percentage of silica and alumina. This means its not nearly as soft as other clays, although from what I've read it also has less shrinkage during firing.

Regardless, I spent 6 glamorous hours kneading 100 lbs of clay to the consistency of butter. My two team mates also worked on similarly exhausting tasks, such as cleaning out the extruder after each pressing, then helping to knead, or trying to fit together the few tiles we were able to extrude. A VERY long morning indeed.

Never a dull moment

Yesterday was the day I decided that the adventures that I'm having as part of school are far too awesome to not be shared. Hence, this blog. Yes, yet another irregularly updated blog to be followed.

I am enrolled in a summer term design/build studio at the University of Oregon that focuses on horticultural building systems; specifically green walls and roofs. We were tasked with creating a green roof or wall system that could be modular or reproduced. You can read all about it here.

My team chose to design, fabricate and install a modular ceramic tile. As part of that we chose to extrude our tile pieces using an aluminum die. Sadly, the extruder we have access to is only 5" wide at its widest aperture. This meant that we had to plan to extrude half of a tile at a time, ultimately meaning that we needed 6 dies cut. These dies were cut from an 1/8" aluminum sheet, a material that could not be cut cleanly on campus. So e-mails were passed, phone calls were made and ultimately we were able to get access to a plasma cutter cnc table at Willamette High School (they have a wicked awesome metal shop!).

Here is the video awesomeness:

So, for my inaugural adventure, I present to you: PLASMA CUTTING AWESOMENESS.

You'll notice that the sparks are blue. Aluminum throws blue sparks when its cut, while steel throws yellow-white sparks. Cool, right?

Days like that are why I love what I'm studying.