It’s been slower going than hoped, one with many technical challenges to overcome, but the clock is now counting down to a grand opening for “Let’s Go Sailing.” “Let’s Go Sailing” will be the Great Lakes Children’s Museum’s newest exhibit and the third new exhibit opened between July 2014 and June 2015. “Let’s Go Sailing” will open to the public on Saturday, March 21, 2015. There will be a grand opening at Noon. Museum members will have a sneak peek on Friday, March 20, 2015 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.
The idea of a sailing exhibit has been cooking in the staff and trustee minds for more than a year. In May 2014, the plan was to use a small 3’x5′ table, wooden “boats” with wheels and popsicle sails, and hand-held, bladed, household fans to blow the boats around the table. At that time the project was to be funded by a grant from the Charles M Bauervic Foundation.
As development began in earnest in June of 2014, the project began taking on a life of its own. Staff members looking at the project were concerned about the physics involved – worrying about whether the fans would be strong (and safe) enough for small children to actually move the boats across the table. There was also concern about whether the depth of learning was appropriate across multiple age levels. As staff collaborated, the table morphed from a 3’x5′ simple table to a 4’x8′ air cushioned surface. The boat evolved to a hover-craft design.
By late June, the staff was working their way through the planning for building the air cushioned surface, evaluating fan systems, and contemplating construction methods for the hover-craft. In one of the brain storming sessions of the time, a staff suggested it would be “so cool if we could find a 3D printer in Traverse City to work with us on this project.” It wasn’t just a pipe dream – printing in three dimensions like you might have seen in Jurassic Park is now real and affordable.
July of 2014, the Traverse City Business News printed an article highlighting a business engaged in 3D printing. A phone call and a face-to-face meeting later, Alpha 3D Professionals had joined as a partner on the project. The discussion continued on the hover-craft/air cushioned table trajectory. As the design progressed, the need for more financial sponsors became apparent.
Museum staff reached out to foundations and local businesses. The Tuktawa Foundation joined the project with a financial donation in the summer of 2014. In the Fall of 2014, Quantum Sail Design responded to the request for help. They wanted to hear more. Encouraged by the prospect of having a conversation with someone knowledgeable about the sport and fun of sailing, staff eagerly set a meeting.
Museum staff briefed Quantum Sail Design’s representatives on the air cushion/hover craft design. There was a pause at the end of the enthusiastic presentation. The verdict? “This is a really cool idea… but it won’t work.”
Starting on that note, Museum staff had two choices. Either listen and learn, or walk away clinging to an untested design which seemed “cool.” Fortunately, the Museum staff opted for the first choice. By the end of the conversation, Quantum Sail Design had joined the collaboration and the air cushion table and hover-craft design was abandoned. Quantum’s team had a much better handle on the physics behind the fun and they were excited to help translate the physics into real, hands-on learning fun.
Quantum took the lead on developing a vehicle that could not only be blown around the table, but which could actually sail – moving upwind, downwind, and across wind. The “vehicle” design shifted back to a “blow-cart.” The blow-cart combined a tri-hull boat hull with wheels and a sail. The first prototype was roughly constructed of balsa wood, the bottom of a toy sail boat, and pinewood derby wheels. Quantum Sail Design’s team’s prototype blow-cart tested successfully.
In November, the project gained two financial sponsors. FirstMerit Bank responded to a face-to-face discussion and Jonathan and Marissa Wege pledged their support based on the information being shared through trustee meetings. Alpha 3D Professionals produced the first of three blow-cart designs based on Quantum Sail Design’s successful prototype.
The design followed Quantum Sail Design’s successful prototype in that it was a tri-hull shape. The wheels were to be embedded in the hull partially hidden from view. The sail was to attach to the hull through a hexagonal socket. The wheels were to be “lego-like”.
The first prototype blow cart design took about 33 hours to print. When the exhibit team met to examine the design in three dimensions, they were amazed at the detail. It was sleek and met all the aesthetic goals. The verdict on the physics? The design was too heavy to actually sail.
Alpha 3D Professionals staff took on the challenge of lowering the design’s weight while maintaining strength and keeping the wheels embedded in the hull. By the middle of December 2014, we had a second prototype (Blow-Cart 2).
Blow-Cart 2 was a catamaran design with a thinner hull. The exhibit team was concerned about the axles, the wheels and… the weight. The model was still print-intensive, taking several hours to print two halves of the design. The team decided to move the wheels out to the side, maintain the hull outline, but reduce the printing to one piece. The team also decided to try using pinewood derby wheels on the new design.
In February of 2015, Alpha 3D Professionals revealed Blow-Cart 3. Blow-Cart 3 took only about 3 hours to print, required minor finishing and met all the design specs for weight and wheels. Quantum Sail Design’s staff took the prototype, added a sail and produced the second successful sailing test using two 14″ house fans.
With a successful prototype, the exhibit team’s focus shifted to the source for the “wind” and the sailing table. Converting cubic feet per minute to miles per hour and translating that to a real life application was the next challenge. There was serious concern about using bladed fans. The team looked into axial designs and bladeless designs. The Dyson AM07 tower model quickly rose to the top of the design choices because it met the airflow requirements with minimal background noise. A letter of inquiry to the James Dyson Foundation, a weekend of waiting, and then an even quicker response. The James Dyson Foundation joined the collaborative effort four days after the request for two AM07 fans was mailed.
Last week was a busy week for the project. On Monday, the fans were received. Wednesday, Traverse Area Community Sailing joined as another partner, a finish carpenter volunteered to take on building the table, Chicks for Charity signed up to help with preparing the walls for the final opening, and the exhibit team conducted a successful test of the fans and prototype Blow-Cart 3.
From here, the pace will only quicken. Quantum Sail Designs’ team members are busy planning the signage. The Museum’s Toddler Beach area will shut down on Monday, February 23, in preparation for the renovation and reopening in March. The exhibit displays will be built over the next couple weeks. Chicks for Charity will be at the Museum on March 9 to paint the walls, and the display. Museum staff will be reaching out to local flooring companies for their expertise and recommendations on the right floor considering sound, cleanliness, moisture and traffic.
Watch your email for an InfoFlash on the details for the opening. And in the mean time, mark March 20 and March 21 as the weekend when the physics and fun of sailing will be highlighted in a new Great Lakes Children’s Museum exhibit destined to become a crowd favorite.