Last September I wrote about Day2Night Ladies Footwear, a SolidWorks customer I first met when we invited some
2011 Mass Challenge finalists to visit SolidWorks headquarters in Waltham, MA. If you’re not familiar with the Mass Challenge, it’s a Boston-area organization that connects early-stage startups with the people and resources they need to get started.
One of those resources is a space where entrepreneurs can work until they can afford offices. The space includes a few computers with SolidWorks installed (SolidWorks is a sponsor). Startups must apply to be included in the program.
In 2012, 1,237 startups applied and only 125 were accepted–that’s a lower acceptance rate than many Ivy League universities.
As I mentioned, we invited a few of the 2011 finalists to visit us last year, and Ted Acworth from a Boston company called Artaic was one of the attendees. If you’ve never heard of them, Artaic specializes in creating large-format mosaic designs and murals out of one-inch tiles—using robots designed in SolidWorks. For now, Artiac is the only company in the world doing this, and they are revolutionizing a 3000-year-old art form. Ted and the company were featured on the Wired.com design blog yesterday, and if you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so.
Ted told me that he is actually a mechanical engineer by training, and remembers first hearing about SolidWorks in 1994 before it had even been released. He had been using Pro/Engineer at NASA, and was at Stanford University when SolidWorks first hit the market. He said that the Stanford team began using SolidWorks almost immediately because it was so easy to use.
Fast-forward to 2013, and Ted and the Artaic team are now using SolidWorks to design robots that can create a mosaic over 10X faster than a human.
When the Artaic team is planning a new mosaic, they first create an image of what the final product should look like, lay it out, and then scan it into a CAD program (which was also designed in-house). That program converts the scanned image into a pattern of one-inch colored tiles, then checks against Artaic’s on-hand inventory to see if any color substitutions may be necessary.
Once the layout process is complete, the robots can start creating the mosaic. During fabrication, the mosaic is assembled in
one-square-foot sections. Each section is labeled, and when fabrication is complete, all of the sections are shipped to their destination, where they are assembled by workers into the final arrangement. Since it’s a print-to-ship operation, there is very little waste.
Ted told me that Artaic’s use of technology gives them a productivity advantage of 10x-100x over traditional hand fabrication, and as a result, the team is able to work against deadlines that would normally be impossible. For example, he told me how a restaurant in Boston contacted him with a request for a mosaic five days before opening their new flagship location. Artaic was able to start work almost immediately, and workers were installing the first sections within 24 hours of initial fabrication.
While most of Artaic’s work ends up in places like hotels and cruise ships, they have gotten some interesting projects recently. For example, the founder of iRobot commissioned a mosaic for his home’s bathroom, and Artaic also created a portrait mosaic of Segway creator Dean Kaman, which was presented to him as an award.
Ted considers Artaic to exist at the intersection of R&D and fine art, and is using SolidWorks to make custom artwork available to a wider array of customers than would have been possible even twenty years ago. I have included a few example of Artiac’s work in this post, but I would encourage you to visit their website to see some of the other examples. When he visited our office, Ted actually pointed out a prime location in the lobby for a custom mosaic with the Dassault Systemes logo. Who knows…we may just take him up on it one day.