I was very proud to be part of the team at 4c Design, responsible for the design and manufacture of the Queen’s Baton for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. In this case study I will reveal from my perspective the design process that led to the final design, along with some of the engineering challenges encountered along the way. I will also share with you some images of the build phase and of the baton’s epic journey as it travels 190,000km around the Commonwealth.
The 4c Design Team
4c Design is a product design engineering consultancy based in Glasgow, Scotland, it was the company who won the contract to design the Queen’s Baton and the company I was fortunate enough to be employed by for a little over 5 years until moving on. It was a fantastic company with a very talented team of designers and engineers that on a daily basis create practical and innovative solutions to design problems. It’s always tough to describe the breadth the work done at 4c, but in a sentence I would say:
“4c design everything from board games to power stations.”
There is a strong team at 4c and all that we accomplished utilises the strengths of all its team members. The strength of this team approach is in my opinion why 4c are so successful and why the Queen’s Baton design has been hailed as such a success around the world.
What is the Queen’s Baton?
Put simply; the Baton is the curtain-raiser to the Commonwealth Games. It travels through all 70 Commonwealth nations and territories over 288 days, inviting each area to participate in the games. The baton does not have a flame; instead it carries a message from the Queen that is kept secret until it is revealed at the Opening Ceremony, signalling the start of the Games.
The Queen’s baton is as similar to the Olympic Torch, as it is different:
The Design Process – From the Beginning
The Glasgow 2014 team gave 4c a very open brief:
“Design the Queen’s Baton for Glasgow 2014”
While 4c had milestones to achieve and information from previous relays; the design was entirely in our hands for better or worse. This was a bold move by Glasgow 2014, but one that was appreciated by the team. The 4c team were determined that the baton wouldn’t just be another pretty object, instead it should have genuine meaning behind each element. There should be a feature made of the Queen’s message. Also as engineers, we wanted it to have a practical element and some mechanical theatre.
I remember finding the early stages of determining the story was a torturous time; as a designer I was desperate to start designing and talking about shapes and mechanics as were the rest of the team. But, William Mitchell, the design lead on the project quiet rightly restrained the teams design urges, because as with any piece of good design it is vital to first have a defined brief. We went through a number of exercises to determine what the baton should be and gradually a story began to form. The video below was recorded during these early stages, members of the design team were asked “in a word describe what you want the baton to be”. Although at this time we had all manner of weird and wacky ideas, it is good to see that we were on the right track and that the final baton design does meet most peoples briefs.
The four elements of the brief as I saw them were:
- The baton had to be honest; when looking back at the original batons it was primarily a carrier for the Queen’s Message. So it was agreed that the message for our baton would be written on paper, be visible to the public (although not readable) and would form the centre of the design. Also the materials for the baton had to be true to Scotland, in its heritage and landscape.
- It was important to showcase the latest technology with the baton, but we were cautious of using digital technology as that seemed to conflict with the honest/authentic part. So instead we would use the latest 3D printing technologies to create a design previously impossible to produce by any other technique.
- As the baton travels around the Commonwealth, it is inviting each country and territory to join in the Games. We wanted to cement this message by providing each area with a gift that serves as an invitation to the Games. The baton is the perfect platform, from which to deliver this invitation.
- The baton of course needed to look the part, but as engineers it was important to us to introduce a little mechanical theatre. Since the Queen’s Message must be kept secret, we thought a simple mechanical puzzle could keep it locked away until the opportune time. This puzzle might also be the key to delivering the aforementioned invitation.
The Design and Engineering
There are four key design engineering challenges to the Queen’s Baton; The Gem, The Puzzle, The Lattice and The Handle:
We wanted to gift a Gem to a representative of each of the 70 Commonwealth countries. This would serve as an initiation to join us in Glasgow on the 23rd July for the Games. It was decided the Gem should be made from a natural Scottish material; granite mined from Isle of Ailsa Craig was chosen. This island contains a rare kind of micro-granite, perfect for use as curling stones; as a result up to 70% of curling stones made are from Ailsa Craig (in 2004). When manufacturing curling stones, the centre is bored out and typically discarded; we used these cores to form the basis of the Baton’s Gems. Inserted into the top and bottom of the Gem, are custom coins, designed by myself, manufactured by a Nigel Munro at the GSA.
The puzzle forms the top of the baton and must not only keep the Queen’s message safe, but also dispenses the Gems to each Commonwealth nation. The mechanism proved a real challenge to get right, but the sort of challenge relished at 4c. The puzzle is mechanically the most complex section of the baton containing 53 parts and yet from the outside appears the simplest section of the design. I must be careful what I say, so not give away the secret, but it is based around an old Japanese puzzle. Modified to work in a circular shape as well as dispense the Gems. When the outside collar is turned the four arms open like a mechanical iris, this releases a Gem. The Gem rises up automatically to be presented; in its place a second brass Gem lifts into place to replace it. The baton can then be reloaded when moving onto the next nation. The final Gem is presented at the opening ceremony, once this has happened an extra few stages are completed and the whole puzzle assembly can be removed to reveal the Queen’s message. As you may remember, the Queen’s representative had a little trouble cracking the code at the opening ceremony, but he got there in the end to great applause.
It is not often a design I worked on is used by the Queen, but I know that when the message was placed into the Baton by the Queen. She took great delight in the mechanism and its hidden secrets. We aim to please, Your Majesty.
The team knew we wanted to display the Queen’s message, but for the longest time we didn’t know the best way how to do this. The breakthrough happened with this very simple prototype.
It was found that by rolling up the message and internally lighting, it was visible but not legible. By surrounding the illuminated message with a spring (which later became the lattice) the message became further obscured and protected. Hence the lattice concept was formed and decided upon. This was also our opportunity to showcase the latest manufacturing technology, 3D printing (Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)). With this technology we could create designs which were previously impossible fabricate with traditional tools. This is where the challenge really began; we modelled different designs using 3D software called Rhino. Many different lattice styles were trialled, including Voronoi pattern’s (represents the space between bubbles) and using multiple computer algorithms that mathematically represented the baton relay route and countries as various lattices. Although these mathematical approaches had a nice story, unfortunately it did not produce the correct aesthetic. For the final lattice shape we fired rings up a pole randomly in Rhino and captured the shape they formed as they fell, after a number of attempts we had a design. This was refined in illustrator and finally imported into SolidWorks to create the final manufactured form. Within Solidworks we warped the shape to give the lattice its variable diameter and added a second internal lattice. These two lattices were then interconnected to make them one body. At this stage, thought was given with regard to how to interface with the puzzle mechanism and the handle. Also while the SLS allows the printing of abstract organic forms, it does have limitations. We had to ensure the design retained its aesthetic, while remaining manufacturable. The key to this is ensuring the cross section of the lattice never changes too dramatically and that the lattice when printed has a solid foundation.
The handle needed to be simple, easy to hold and we really wanted to use natural materials. It also had to house the electronics and so had to be hollow. Immediately we thought of wood as the material and upon consulting with Gal Gael we decided upon a ‘bird-mouth’ technique for constructing the handle. This is used in boat building for the construction of masts, it and relies on multiple lengths of wood that are assembled together and bonded together. This produces a very strong, hollow shape that has a very nice aesthetic. The wood is elm, locally sourced from a park in Glasgow. The handle contains simple, custom electronics to turn the light on and off, while auto adjusting for environmental light conditions. It also can be interacted with via Bluetooth. This electronics had to be customised to fit within the tight dimensional constraints of the handle.
Although we did outsource the fabrication of a few key components, all finishing of parts was completed at 4c Design. With a product like the baton, the finish had to be perfect and so the pressure was really on. The key elements to fabrication were the puzzle assembly and finishing the lattice.
As previously mentioned, the puzzle contains 53 individual components, all needed to be custom manufactured to extremely tight tolerances. All visible components were manufactured using the same SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) process as the titanium lattice. It was important to use the same process because the titanium finish needed to be consistent throughout the baton design. This allowed a little more engineering freedom in the design, but unfortunately the process does not yield sufficient tolerances. This was overcame by adding extra material in key areas of the printed model and manually machining it off to the required tolerances. These tolerances were needed because there are a number of sliding surfaces all housed in a very tight space. The lengthy process of polishing the titanium is explained below. Other components were manufactured using a different 3D printing process called Selective Laser Adhesion (SLA); this process was used to keep weight to a minimum and to save time and expense. The remaining components were manually machined from stainless steel. Assembly of the mechanism is fairly quick when you know the technique, a good thing because the mechanism needed to be built and rebuilt many times during construction to ensure the perfect tolerance and feel of the puzzle mechanism.
The lattice arrived from the printers 90% finished, but still had a few inevitable imperfections and a rough texture all over. Polishing the lattice started by removing the imperfections using an industrial Dremel tool. With the imperfections removed (3 days later) the process began of sanding and polishing. This started by placing the lattice in the lathe and sanding while it spun, the objective was to create a consistent finish without rounding the edges. Titanium is an extremely difficult material to work with, not only is it very hard but it also has an extremely poor heat transfer coefficient. This means that despite the lattice looking like a giant heat sink, it would heat up and remain hot for a long time, sometimes this resulted in heat bruising of the metal which then needed to be sanded away and the process starts again. It was a long process, but eventually the correct technique was achieved. For the final finishing, we used a grinder and several stages of flat sanding discs, each time being extremely careful not to overheat the metal. The final stage used a soft polishing pad and polishing wax to get the mirror finish. All in all, the lattice took well over a week to achieve the polished finish. With the lattice polished and puzzle mechanism complete, it was simply a case of putting all the pieces together and giving it a final once over. The baton was ready for its journey around the world.
Journey Around the World
It has been amazing for me and the 4c team to see the Queen’s Baton travelling all over the globe, it is not often that a single object becomes part of something so massive and is exposed to so many people, cultures and experiences. To know that I played a role in its design and fabrication is something I am immensely proud of and it is incredible to see how well the design has been received all over the world. I have collected my favourite images of the Baton’s journey here.
Thank you reading. I would love to know what you think of the design and if you have any questions please comment below.
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