Creating innovative specialty works for Science Centers and Museums has been a part of Entech Innovative Engineering’s offerings for many decades. Our experience ranges from designing and fabricating the vitrine chest and mechanical security mechanism for the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, to creating the Entech-branded SkyCycle™, a full-body immersive educational exhibit displayed in almost a dozen science centers throughout the United States and Asia.
Focusing on the work that went into one of our most recent projects for this market, we are putting the spotlight on how The Dream Machine came to be. The Dream Machine is an interactive climbing structure at the National Children’s Museum in Washington DC. This three-story exhibit features the main climbing structure as well as a buoy maze, floating cloud seesaw, and cloud simulation ring. Read our project page on the Dream Machine here.
This final result would not have been possible without all the behind-the-scenes efforts from our project managers, engineers, designers and partners. We were subcontracted for this project by Universal Services Associates, thanks to a longtime work relationship between USA and our owner John Marhoefer. We started with a set of design intent drawings provided by Gyroscope and developed the structure based on several existing facility conditions and those ideas in the drawings.
Project Manager for this job Shane Grey described some of the initial challenges associated with the shape and structure of the Dream Machine, stating “Working with spheres is a challenge unto itself. The reason this was difficult is that the Dream Machine is basically a stack of balls/spheres. Orienting them in the stack so they are supported structurally was difficult by itself then the openings between them that permit guests to climb up through the interiors of each sphere also needed to be aligned.” and continued to say “To sum up, curved surfaces do not permit one to simply measure their way to success. Careful consideration of many factors, including innovative ideas for locating the spheres in the stack and where their openings landed had to be decided on and committed to early.”
Our Project Management and Engineering departments worked closely with Universal Services Associates and The National Children’s Museum teams to make sure everyone was satisfied with the design before starting the build process. Entech utilized SkyCiv, an online structural analysis and design software, to verify the design prior to fabrication as well. “The capabilities of SkyCiv provided a robust and adaptive platform for important engineering decisions related to the large climbing structure. “ Visit the SkyCiv Website to learn more and see the renderings. Using their software ensured the safety of all proposed structural aspects to keep guests safe while climbing.
Fabrication challenges were extensive. Earlier our PM Shane described working with spheres and how challenging that aspect of design and engineering was. The other challenges included the fact that our fabrication facility is not as tall as the space that the Dream Machine lives in today, which required our team to think creatively. Shane elaborated on this challenge, stating “The main support column is 40 feet tall, so we had to assemble half of the parts on a shortened section of the main support column, and then remove those parts to set the remaining parts in place to complete the fabrication and welding. This meant that measurements and locating marks were not going to be useful after we removed the first set of parts from the column. The entire assembly would not come together entirely until it was done on site.”
Completing the Dream Machine on site presented its own set of obstacles for our team to overcome. In The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (a federal building), which is where we would install the Dream Machine, access is restricted as well as all trucks, materials, and personnel. All must pass through security screening check points each day. Other installation challenges to mention were things like getting the materials into the space, some quite large, and the use of equipment to move elements around on two levels and up to the ceiling 45 feet up. The structure features winding net tunnels, netted archways, and other whimsical net elements provided by our partner InCord. InCord has been North America’s largest manufacturer of custom safety netting for over 20 years, and provides custom netting solutions for Material Handling, Construction, Amusement, Sports, Theatre, Service Pits (BayNets™), Specialty, and Environmental/Ecological Restoration markets. Read more about InCord and their work on the Dream Machine on their Blog.
Overall, all projects of this size require consistent communication with the GC in both directions, collaboration between partners, and within our team. Our diligent team worked for over a year to ensure this project came out to be above client expectations and continues to be the top exhibit for all ages in the museum. As we continue through the year looking at how Entech Innovative Engineering is The Company That Works, the Dream Machine serves as a great example of the Work and collaboration that goes behind every project Entech completes.