Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit: Setting the stage for digital success

Posted on 3 Dec 2019 by Jonny Williamson

Stage One designs and fabricates innovative solutions for the creative industries. Their ability to solve problems in unusual ways sets them apart from their competitors, as does their continual investment in digital technologies.

But how can a business with fabrication at its core transition to a more innovation and knowledge-based approach?

Asif Moghal of Autodesk took to the main stage at Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit 2019 to share how Stage One used digital to enhance its capabilities, and the impact this had on their products.

Everything Stage One fabricates is a bespoke, one-off creation, and with around 150 people and a turnover circa £25m, they are fairly representative of a typical SME, noted Asif.

Who are Stage One?

From its more than 14,00 sqm of space at their facility in Tockwith (Harrogate, North Yorkshire), Stage One delivers construction and manufacture for creative industries like entertainment and the arts.

The business is globally renowned for finding ingenuous and innovative ways to ideas to life. Their work has been seen across the globe and won the business the Queen’s Award in recognition of 10 years of Continuous Innovation.

Stage One’s diverse and unconventional portfolio of projects includes complex structures such as the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo; the Serpentine Gallery pavilions since 2009; the development of theatrical flying systems for Opening Ceremonies; and Thomas Heatherwick’s iconic London 2012 Olympic cauldron.

Watch the video below for a deeper insight ?

As a business, Stage One is already very digitised. Their in-house CAD team allows Stage One to collaborate with clients and visually describe how their ideas will be brought to life.

CAD models help to establish the most appropriate approach to manufacture and construction, and introduce a rigorous digital workflow that means whatever is drawn, is delivered.

Similarly, their manufacturing is already very automated. Stage One’s multi-axis machines are operated by highly skilled technicians, enabling the business to machine a wide range of materials from low-density polystyrene through to stainless steel.

Other equipment on-hand includes a laser tube cutter, a cutting-edge lathe, a twin-head waterjet cutter, a flat-bed laser plate cutter, several 3D printers, and a computerised colour retrieval paint mix system, to name just a handful.

With an organisational mindset dedicated to exploring “the art of what’s possible”; how does a business like Stage One take themselves to the next level?, asked Asif.

Stage One set themselves four goals:

  • To better utilise existing software they buy
  • To improve integration between CAD and CAM
  • To increase efficiency during manufacturing
  • To expand their knowledge of future technologies

As a use case, the business took modular stage decks – an essential building block for the creative industries.

Stage Deck - image courtesy of Stage One & Autodesk

With a feeling that the current design and manufacture was potentially over-engineered, Stage One set out to discover whether, by working in partnership with new technology, they could reduce the weight, increase the strength, reduce the displacement and reduce the cost.

The original design was 2.4 metres by 1.2 metres, weighed 63kg and can take a total floor load of 5kN/sqm.

Baseline analysis showed the original design has a factor of safety (Fos) – i.e. how much stronger a system is than it needs to be for an intended load – of 7+ and displacement of 3.03mm.

Enter… Generative Design

Generative design allows computers to do the heavy lifting – freeing up engineers and designers to focus on true innovation.

By sharing with the computer what it is you want to achieve, and the parameters or constraints involved, the power and scalability of the cloud allows thousands of design possibilities to be created.

This allows you to discover what the trade-offs are between them and ultimately arrive at the optimum design. What’s most exciting, is that generative design isn’t held back by the limits of human creativity or bias.

Generative Design - Seat Belt - Traditional Design vs Generative Design

LEFT: a traditionally, human-designed seat buckle | RIGHT: the same assembly generatively designed 

By combining generative design with new manufacturing materials and techniques, such as additive manufacturing, you also eliminate the design constraints imposed by traditional ‘subtractive’ production methods like milling, turning and carving.

The Stage One team set three key parameters and forces applied to generatively design a superior stage deck.

Stage Deck generative design parameters - image courtesy of Stage One & Autodesk

Taking those inputs, the computer iterated hundreds of different designs based on a multitude of different factors such as materials, manufacturing methods, rigidity and configurations.

The optimum design incorporated organic-looking supports (a trait commonly found with generative design).

Stage One Generative Design - Modular Stage Deck - image courtesy of Stage One & Autodesk

The designs above couldn’t be produced without the use additive manufacturing methods.

Stage One made the decision to retain traditional production methods, so used the above example as inspiration for the design below – made from cut and welded metal stock.

Stage One Generative Design inspired Modular Stage Deck - image courtesy of Stage One & Autodesk

This new design had the same dimension as the original – 2.4 metres by 1.2 metres; however, it weighed a third less – 42.63kg compared to 63kg.

Final analysis showed the new design retained the strength, offered a 55% displacement reduction offered significant cost reductions (depending on material and manufacturing method).

This project allowed Stage One to achieve every one of its four goals, but what’s more incredible, concluded Asif, is that the whole process from start to finish took just five hours.

“What could you and your business do in five hours?” Asif challenged the audience.