January 28, 2015

How Astrobots are Born

Some Astrobots are simple, some are very complex, but all of them have are made with simple hand tools (with the exception of the welding machine), such as a hacksaw, a file, a vise, a hammer, etc. Here I document the ‘birth’ of an Astrobot: in this case, Rylee P212.


All my work is constructed entirely from used steel parts, with the exception of the copper boilerplate as well as some steel and bronze weld wire. I will even use stainless bicycle spokes for filler rod in the right circumstance. 308 stainless is an excellent choice for welding dissimilar metals due to thermal expansion.


The most time-consuming part of constructing an Astrobot is the collecting, disassembling, cleaning, and sorting of parts. There are often entire days dedicated to this important first step of the process. Containers have amusing labels such as ‘knees’, ‘heads’, and ‘fingers’.


Choosing the correct parts takes a good deal of patience. Not only do the parts selected have to resemble the desired anatomy, but everything has to work proportionally. Often the original pieces chosen are swapped out for parts that are more appropriate for the majority of the piece, sometimes becoming something completely different than the original intent, occasionally shifting gender in the process.


Once the basic anatomy is decided upon, a picture is taken, the parts are placed in a bin, which is carted over to the welding area.


There are many processes that can be used to weld steel — such as arc, oxy-acetylene, and MIG. However, I prefer to TIG weld: while more challenging than the other processes, TIG has an an extremely clean and focused arc which gives precise control of the weld.


My preference is to work with hand tools: such as a hacksaw and files for trimming arms and legs to proper length, or a vise and a cheater bar to give a graceful bend to an appendage. I use a bench grinder for removing larger burrs, and a belt sander to give the eyes a shine. Metalworkers have a reputation for being noisy, but I prefer to work quietly.


Precise TIG welds are often referred to as a ‘stack of dimes’. This is difficult to achieve with re-purposed steel, due to dissimilar alloys, loose fit up, and contaminants such as rust, paint, and oil.


Adding the eyes is my favorite part: it’s magic when your robot begins to look back at you.


The hands are almost as expressive as the face, and must be made carefully.


As the robot gets closer to completion, it begins to look back at its creator, as if the weld arc is Frankenstein’s life-given lightning bolt.


Once the main anatomy is completed, it’s time to think about the accessories and details, such as wings, gear details, etc.


Proteus-Class Astrobots have poseable joints that need to move only when needed, and to hold their pose. There is a balance to setting the proper joint tension; a great deal of care goes toward making the moving parts, since the goal is robot longevity. All removable hardware are common hardware: quarter-twenty nuts, bolts, washers and split washers. Making sure parts are easy to replace will help decades from now when the robot’s fate is in the hands of others.


Bronze weld puddle ‘rivets’ are added individually, which brings an additional color to the piece. While this weld technique is beautiful, care needs to be taken not to use bronze on the structural elements, since it is not as durable as the ERS-80 steel wire and 308 stainless typically used.


Each Astrobot gets a unique name chosen from a baby-naming book. The date and serial number is written next to the name in the book, as well as added into a spreadsheet. For this particular lady, I chose the name Rylee.


A boilerplate made from copper sheet is stamped by hand with letter and number punches.


Welding thin copper to thick steel is extremely challenging, but over time techniques have been developed to keep the copper from disintegrating under the arc.


Once the welding is complete, a durable coat of high-gloss polyurethane is applied. An Astrobot is born.

finWhile I have a certain amount of aesthetic control, I’m often surprised with the expressions the newborn gives back to me, particularly the poseable Proteus Class Astrobots.

images by Ronny Preciado

For more pictures of baby robots being born please visit my Instagram feed.

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Proteus-Class Astrobots

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