Tag Archives: Manufacturing

Not a Run-of-the-Mill Island!

Weather is changing here in West Michigan…winds are picking up and skies are shifting and we’re drawn to start baking and making cups of hot cider! Speaking of baking, ever wonder where your flour came from back before there were automated manufacturers? Well, one example would be the windmill, which was first used in 18th Century Holland! Here in West Michigan, we have the only working dutch windmill in the entire country – and its roughly about 250 years old!

In 1964, the windmill (or the De Zwaan ) was moved to America by boat, just before a law was passed that windmills were no longer allowed to leave the Netherlands, so the purchase was the last one ever made. The De Zwaan (the Swan) came in 4 pieces which were then reassembled in Holland, Michigan, standing 125′ tall, where it still stands today! Part of the agreement with the Dutch government was that it remain a working windmill and be open to the public to teach about Dutch history and the was of the mill.  On windy days when the temperature is right, De Zwaan’s own miller, Alisa Crawford can still be found milling wheat into flour where people can purchase it online or when visiting Windmill Island. Alisa is the first Dutch-certified miller outside of the Netherlands as well as becoming the first woman admitted into the guild! So cool!

Of course, we were excited that they offer guided tours through all levels of the windmill. It is amazing how old it is, and that it is actually someone’s workplace. It reminded us how ingenious humans are to come up with the idea of using wind for power….. we knew all about turbines that create electricity, but hadn’t considered wind as a way to make grains. If you’re ever in Holland, Michigan, be sure to check out Windmill Island! You won’t be disappointed!! :0)


The Water Street Prosthetic Lab!

Sadly, in the last of couple years, the dolls of Water Street have been losing limbs like hands or even heads due to casualties of fun or an attempted playdate with our dog, which has resulted in a bigger than desired group of dolls without arms, feet, legs and hands. It is time for them to regain their full ability as role playing friends. It’s time to turn their disabilities into SUPER abilities!

The dolls of choice were Batgirl, whose arm popped off moments after she emerged from her packaging. The tricky part was attaching it because it broke at the elbow joint and there was still a plastic piece left inside. More on that in a minute. The second doll was an already repainted/modified Bratz doll, named Kimberly, who lost 2 fingers in a dog attack (though it looked like more…).

We used a program called Sketchup! on the computer to create the designs and interfaces we would then print on the Maker Bot. Before we made anything we needed to access the tools we could use. (most of them are listed below) Then we began measuring and writing… we used calipers to measure the teeny stuff so we were sure it would fit correctly. Then we chose an appendage to make: Olive chose a Bob’s Pizzeria box and a hand saw and I chose a large hook and a over-size sword to make…

TO THE COMPUTER!!! after a lot of extruding, re-learning how to measure on that program and getting some critical intellect, we were ready to send it off to the Maker-bot! After a suspenseful night sleep, we went out to the lab to find some printer and part errors: Olive’s pizza box was too thin at the bottom so it looked like a bunch of string and my sword’s cuff was too chunky and short. So we went back to the computer to make modifications on the designs, hit print, and after about 7 hours of waiting – it worked!! The new prosthetics fit tightly  and now Batgirl can cut vegetables with more grace and ease, deliver Bob’s Pizza at a moment’s notice and Kimberly is now continuing her career as a pirate! Arrgh!



Maker Time!

As one of our final end-of-the-year projects, we’re learning to create 3D PRINTS on our MakerBot!!! How cool is that?!?! We’ve been making “simple” things on the computer on a professional design program called SketchUp. We’re designing all kinds of things.

For her first print, Olive created a yacht for her minuscule Polly Pockets complete with outdoor seating, a kitchen and guest bedroom! I started by designing a cute character for my ‘cute character collection’. I have since started working on prostsetics for dolls with lost arms or hands. We are learning so many things about math… scale is a big one (no pun intended!)… when we built our first models, we had no idea that they were actually 64 FEET tall! We reduced them down to a size that would actually work with our toys. Can you imagine a 64′ tall Polly Pocket yacht !?

The fact that your own designs can magically appear in a matter of hours is so impressive! As we learn more about the complex program to create things, the next challenge is to create something that ‘fits together’. More on that when our project gets further underway.


This is the MakerBot in action!


This print took about 3 hours to print.

This is Olive’s Party Ship for her Polly Pockets!

This little baby took over FIVE hours to print!


Personal Energy Transportation!

This week, we went for a business tour to the West Michigan branch of an organization named Mobility Worldwide that makes wheelchair-like carts for disabled adults and children in areas around the world.

The first thing we saw when we came in to the building was the newer and older versions of the PET carts which were sitting next to the door as we entered the building. The original cart wasn’t as durable as the new design and it was smaller and less comfortable, which isn’t good for someone sitting in it all the time. The newer design had high-tech foam on the seat {instead of wood} which is usually used for medical purposes and the back of the seat is a new stretchy kind of fabric. A cover was added for safety around the gear chain and he handles are now easier to pedal. {we know so because we tried one… WOW that is so fun to pedal around (Eventhough I don’t look very happy in the picture!}! Anyways, so many improvements!!!

We also saw the workshop where the carts are handmade, and saw some people in action! All of the volunteers who work there are retired, {what a good way to spend your retirement!} And there’s no measuring involved when putting together a PET cart, thanks to the great planning and fixturing that has been designed to help them. It comes down to a whole lot of cutting, painting, packing and fun!

Just to let all of you charity givers out there know, you can in fact donate to the company, the cost of each cart is $300. That actual cost, since the people building it volunteer, and so many of the parts and processes (powder coating, for example) are donated.  Each member of our family put money together so we could make a donation to this amazing project. And guess what? If you sponsor an entire cart, they will custom make a plaque on the back of the cart with YOUR name or someone who you would like to honor or commemorate! Isn’t that cool!!

We loved seeing the work they do there! A special thank you to Dr. Dale Dykema who did such an excellent job explaining the process to us and to Mr. Gary Wallace who helped figure out the tech issues with the video & projector :0)! Thank you for having us!!


This is the original PET.
This PET has new modifications to make it safer, more durable and much more comfortable!


One of the super happy PET recipients!!





The Green Market!

A long overdue post, this summer, we learned about business (profit, loss, expenses, philanthropy) by participating in a Green Market at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts in Saugatuck, Michigan. It’s a weekly (we went every 3 weeks) outdoor market held for both fresh food vendors and craft items.

Months before the market, we started the process of deciding what we wanted to create. We landed on ‘peg dolls’, fair trade wool fiber cord bracelets, barrettes and organic cotton reusable market bags printed with veggies and fruits.

It was an interesting process. One of the hardest decisions we had to make was about choosing the bag. We had the option of a super inexpensive, made in China, standard cotton (environmentally, one of the dirtiest fabrics manufactured) bag, where we could sell for less and make the most money. Another option was to go to the other end of the scale (preferred by us) with an American Made organic bag. They were so expensive, that we wouldn’t make any money at all (the bags were 8 times the cost!) but would have supported American workers AND the earth. Lastly, we could split the difference and choose bags that were some of each. We decided to go, based on what we thought the market would pay and still make a few bucks, to go with the organic cotton bags made in China. Still 4 times more than non-organic bags made in the same place. A hard choice at every direction!

Everything else we made wasn’t as hard to decide on. We chose Arbor Circle in Grand Rapids, Michigan as the organization where we would donate 20% of our proceeds (after expenses were paid back, of course!). They do incredible work in helping West Michigan’s homeless youth including LGBTQ with support of all kinds. It was here we learned about Corporate Matching Gifts – what we donate, a willing company matches to double the donation – That is COOL!

See what you think! We had FUN making all the crafts and learned a lot about how the Green Market works. An extra thank you to Dad for all his help setting up and taking down our booth each time we went to the market – that’s a lot of WORK!!!


Big Parts – Little Bits!

We recently got lucky and were given a tour of Padnos Recycling in Grand Rapids, Michigan! They recycle industrial and commercial plastics, metal, paper, even whole SCHOOL BUSES and give them a chance at a second life. It is such a cool place. There are giant, powerful (loud!) machines that grind anything they put into them into tiny bits and pieces.

We started in the plastic recycling facility where we saw everything from furniture parts, ends of toothbrushes, packaging, house siding and automotive parts (we saw whole interior car DOORS) ready to be ground up.  Once big bins were full, samples were taken to a test lab where super skilled people melt it, stretch it, burn it, and break it to figure out what kind of plastic they have to work with.  Big machines – super cool to see these millions of parts being reused instead of ending up in the landfill!!!!

Next stop – the metal yard where they can take whole CARS and SCHOOL BUSES and grind them up into BITS. You read that right. Whole cars – flattened, but still, they’re whole! A machine loads the heavy parts on a conveyer belt – up, up, up to the top of this machine, where they reach their DOOM! Down the ramp and into the mouth of grinder! AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!  Ben, who just started working there recently, had full control of a claw that could clear any jam of parts that got stuck. We were IMPRESSED with his skill! And that machine – Careful – for REAL!

There was a school bus at the back of a pile that we waited to see go into the machine, but it was going to be too long before the pile was cleared, so we just had to imagine it. On the good side, we saw 2 cars, a refrigerator, 4 bicycles, a high chair and countless other parts fall into that machine. It was WILD!

A big thank you to all of our tour guides for taking the time out of their day to show us around. As Olive says – it was imagination-landia! We talked for days about what we could create with all those parts :0)






Ford Motor Company

Last week we got the amazing opportunity from Michael McQuillen to get a tour of the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan. We began our tour by seeing a Guinness Book of World Records Hot Wheels race track! It was several stories high – so COOL!

Once we got to the Research Lab, we met a Research Scientist by the name of Dr. Alper Kiziltas. His job is to take current materials used to make cars and develop more sustainable versions. These are some of the things we learned:

We saw foam made with soybeans used to make seats that took SEVEN YEARS to make, not seven months, SEVEN YEARS! Thousands of formulas were tried until at last they finally developed a combination that would work and last in a Ford car. The first one that used this new material was the Ford Mustang. They now use this material in other cars. Over 31,000 soybeans are used in the seats for the Ford Escape. That’s a LOT of beans!!

We also learned how they are continuously trying new material combinations. They are experimenting with old, ground up tires, bamboo {with a stuffed panda on it}, coconut & rice hulls, tomato waste from a company that makes ketchup and also shredded MONEY! That’s right! We saw coin boxes that used real MONEY blended with plastic! The designers said they wanted it to be flocked and black on the inside. We liked it plain so we could see the money shreds. It would be fun to know that real money was used in a car we owned.

We also talked about gigantic, Russian dandelion roots that are used to make rubber and alternative uses for used cigarette filters picked up off the streets in Las Vegas and then cleaned for use in more experiments. There were so many things that they are trying. It takes so much EFFORT to come up with the right recipe. These researchers have an AMAZING amount of PATIENCE! That’s something I should work on!!!

Our trip to see the Ford Company was super cool and we learned a ton – it was awesome! From everyone here at Water Street Academy: THANK YOU for sharing your great work!!!!


This is an overview of our visit that my Mom created using Graphic Recording!Ford R&D