Tramsformation - Make: Community
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By David Li

A Melbournian tram's journey to becoming a robot.

Type: Commercial, Artistic


State: VIC
Country: Australia
Affiliation: None


What inspired you or what is the idea that got you started?

As an 80s kid I've always loved the Tramsformer toys. I always found it fascinating to see how they could seamlessly convert from an everyday recognizable vehicle or object, into a robot. However even then, I was always thinking "what if this part could move this way" or "if only they could get this to change that way". I would often draw down my ideas driven by the fantasy of what I would do if only I could make my own.
Fueled by many years of drawing robots and comics, in 2008 I drew the Transformer for an art competition...only to miss the deadline by a day. It was shortly after this I got swept up in the fever around consumer 3D printing and used the concept as a basis to hone my CAD and prototyping skills. Since then it has evolved from an illustration, to a 3D model, to a fully transformable 3D printed prototype, and then all over again its current W-Class tram form. It's been a long road.

What is your project about and how does it work?

An originally designed 3D printed model Melbourne tram that transforms into a robot, along with packaging, and transformation instructions.

What did you learn by doing this project?

The short version:
- 3D modelling
- Designing moving parts for assembly and handling
- The differences between designing for prototyping vs production
- The differences between designing for 3D printing vs injection moulding
- The differences between various 3D printing technologies
- Budget-end 3D printers are very capable of producing great quality prints
- Documenting and designing simple and accessible instructions
- The importance of user testing and iterative refinement
- Packaging design
- Product and customer experience design
- Building a website with Gatsby.js and Prismic CMS
- How to make a stop motion video
- How to maintain and service a 3D printer
- The importance of documenting and sharing the project development journey
- Thinking alternative solutions when major project roadblocks are encountered
- It's okay (and sometimes necessary) to take breaks from the project

The long version:

What impact does your project have on others as well as yourself?

Bringing the Tramsformer to life has taught me that one can create and accomplish awesome things if they want them badly enough to learn all the process, tools, and techniques required and still push through the hard times where the temptation to throw in the towel feels impossibly heavy. Hopefully ,this can also inspire others to embark on their own fantasy homebrew projects.

Some local tram drivers have also expressed their appreciation.