A tender for removal

During November 1995 while driving a taxi on the streets of Sydney, listening to the radio was among other distractions, a common activity to pass the drudgery of a shift. The actual date is now unclear to me, and was not documented, but while listening to ABC 2BL Radio (702am), my attention was taken by the then director of The Earth Exchange Museum who was announcing the closure of the museum. The director was describing the various exhibits at the museum which had at that point not found a home. An earthquake simulator was one of these exhibits.

Calling the museum I made a general enquiry about the simulator, requesting the possibility of a visit and an inspection of the machine. Visiting the museum I was taken by the size of this readymade machine and the components consisting of a high delivery air compressor, hydraulic powerpack, hydraulic actuators, solenoids and programmable logic controller. I was informed that if the simulator would be scrapped if a new site was not found.

Logistically it would be difficult to remove! Suspended on the second floor of the museum in Hickson Road on four vertical steel columns. To remove the machine it had to be cut into sections to get it out. Having only recently been befriended by Ben Blakebrough in setting up a workshop in Leichhardt, and now with space available to locate it, the decision was made to offer the museum a tender for removal. My offer was to remove the simulator at no cost and that the simulator would over time be re-commissioned and in some way in the future directed towards some kind of 'creative' outcome. The tender for removal was approved two days later.

The original simulator design was for a completely pneumatic system which a Sydney based company, Latitudes, did the design work for. This pneumatic system did not generate enough movement quickly enough throughout the platform. Consulting engineers Gardener Willis and Associates then modified the design of a pneumatic system to run almost exclusively by hydraulic actuation. Tysci Industries became involved in completing the work in implementing the hydraulics for the simulator.

Familiarising myself with the machine I spent as much time as possible at the museum during February and March of 1996, the unit was tagged and a plan was conceived in how it would be removed. Systematically I slowly stripped it down, removing the rubber floor covering, lifting the floor pieces out, removing all hydraulic actuators and valve banks. A crane was hired to lift out the hydraulic powerpack and air compressor. Reluctantly the compressor was sold soon after to subsidise costs of the removal.

The last thing removed was the sub-frame of the simulator. It was decided where this structural frame would be cut, and Ben did the oxy work. Block and tackles were used to swing these pieces out of the floor cavity over a couple of days without injury. The simulator was now cut up into sixteen pieces, squeezed into a lift, craned onto a five ton truck, then dropped in the yard at the Leichhardt workshop. This was now April 1996 and here it stayed almost untouched for most of the next two years.

With very little engineering skills I set about planning how I would re-use the simulator components and contemplated whether I would recommission the device or re-engineer a new machine. The argument was fairly straight forward in that I had acquired this unique machine which at the time of removal was a going concern and the most likely outcome was to use it as a tool for the development and learning of skills that in most cases would be very difficult to have access to otherwise. The decision was made to return the simulator to its original state of operation with the new design being a modular configuration enabling the simulator to be moved and installed in various possible future locations.

What exactly and how the simulator would be used in an installation / performance context since the removal of the simulator remained a secondary concern. The primary focus of the work in front of me was to treat it as a learning and research tool enabling for a solid base for future works and collaborations that might attempt to re-direct the tools, techniques, and tenets of science and industry away from their typical manifestations in practicality or production.

Recomissioning of the earthquake simulator finally began around April 1998. A small development grant was received from the Australia Council For The Arts and subsequently followed up in 1999 by a "Scientific Serendipity Research Grant" from the Australian Network For Art And Technology (ANAT). Culminating in close to 3000hrs to recommission the simulator, the following work was finally completed in March 2000:

* Redesign of 3-Phase start up unit for the hydraulic powerpack * Laying out a working model to test all hydraulic rams and solenoid valve actuators * Reconfigure Festo Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and eliminate existing hardware problems * Learn to operate Festo Software Tools (FST) operating system * Redesign driver board unit, eliminating malfunctional relays communicating to solenoid valves * Design for a new modular structural sub frame and a modified top frame. * Actual engineering fabrication of the design was implemented and realised

From the outset in taking on such a large work I believed that eventually the conceptual concerns of the project would likely explore notions of presence and absence in researching the future possibility of remote automation using minimal bandwidth data transmission, and widely available, low cost components enabling for the remote switching of the earthquake simulator by means of globally monitored seismic activity.

I was fortunate to receive further funding from the Australia Council For The Arts, New Media Board in October 2000. This new work grant was towards the research, design and implementation of a real time control system, enabling the earthquake simulator to interpret and conceptually output the variable effects of globally monitored earthquakes by means of near real time, remote data transmission.

The original Festo Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) that controlled the hydraulic and pneumatic solenoids of the simulator has been replaced by a standard PC with a Computerboards CIO-DIO48H digital I/O card and a 48-channel solid-state relay rack. The proprietary software that controlled the PLC stepped through a series of sequences within a closed environment. Seismonitor v0.9 has been written to both move the system into an open (Linux) operating environment and introduce a near-real-time, IP-based interactivity to the system.

December 2001

Catalogue Contents