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Delcam software used to produce “the ultimate clock”

Toolpaths for engraving the cam were created with PowerSHAPE and PowerMILL

Delcam software has been used in the creation of a mechanical clock designed to keep precise time for 10,000 years. The monumental clock is a project of the USA-based Long Now Foundation, which was founded in 1996 by a group of scientists and thinkers who sought to create a lasting cultural institution that would provide a "slower/better” counterpoint to society’s increasingly "faster/cheaper” frame of mind. It is the brainchild of scientist, engineer, and Foundation board member Danny Hillis, who in the mid-1980s pioneered the parallel computing techniques that gave birth to hyper-fast supercomputers.

The clock’s binary digital-mechanical timekeeping system self-corrects by "phase-locking” to the noon sun, providing accuracy within one day in 20,000 years. However, the solar day continually varies in length, due to the tilt of the earth’s axis, the elliptical shape of its orbit around the sun, and influences of the moon and other planets. Mr. Hillis designed the clock to adjust to true solar time through the action of a mechanical cam that is a 3-D representation of the Equation of Time, a mathematical description of the constant change in the relationship between local noon, sunrise and sunset.

In the final version of the clock, which will be 30 feet tall and sheltered in a white limestone cliff in Nevada, the EOT cam will be about five feet tall. Presently, the Long Now Foundation is preparing six-inch-tall cast bronze replicas of the cam as display and promotional models. Applied Minds, Mr. Hillis’ R & D company in Glendale, California, is machining an aluminium version of the model that will be used to make the mould for the replica cams.

Producing this component of the millennium-measuring clock required a good deal of computing power and manufacturing skill. First, Applied Minds programmer Steward Dickson transformed the mathematical equation into a 3-D stereo lithography file. Then Jerry Sanders, founder of VIZION Technologies, Delcam’s West Coast Sales Partner, used the CopyCAD reverse engineering software to convert the STL file into a smooth 3-D surface file. To help make the cam’s function clear, the display models are engraved with lines representing the winter and summer solstices, as well as numbers to mark the passing centuries. These details were added to the model with PowerSHAPE and the complete cam then machined with PowerMILL programs created by Applied Minds NC machinist Brian Roe on a Deckel Maho DMU 80T five-axis machining centre.

The finished cam is a striking piece of sculpture. Mr. Roe, whose manufacturing and prototyping background includes stints building BattleBots and animatronics for motion pictures, admits that his part of the project was made easier with PowerMILL. He said, "I’ve used other CAM programs, and PowerMILL is better by far. The ease with which it lets you machine surfaces compared to everything else I’ve worked with is incredible.”

"I’ve used other CAM programs, and PowerMILL is better by far. The ease with which it lets you machine surfaces compared to everything else I’ve worked with is incredible.” Brian Roe, Applied Minds NC machinist

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