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Sets, scenery and props – are robots the answer?

The CNC Robotics system is used as a pivotal part in the design of props in the film, TV and entertainment sector

There is no typical job in prop or set making. That’s what makes working in this sector so exciting.

Sometimes there are no drawings or concepts in the brief, just the imagination of the client who wants their vision to come to life. If you are lucky you’ll get technical drawings and then decide what materials are needed to tie in with budget and deadline. But often jobs need to be turned around within a day, particularly if props are urgently required for set.

A highly skilled team can rise to the challenges within the film, theatre and television industry as they have adaptable skills and techniques, but often the big challenge is scale – to create miniature or large scale with high level of detail, made to a very high standard using standard acrylic, MDF or polystyrene materials.

Keeping two steps ahead and generally expecting the unexpected is key. The very nature of prop-building requires fluidity and flexibility should the requirement change, and it’s always handy to have an alternative plan B! So how do you balance highly creative prop-making with the quick turnaround that is often expected from clients?

By embracing elements of automation in the creative process.

“We started our set-building business in 2004 working on all aspects of scenic construction and model-making, having built almost every kind of prop for our clients,” says Jason Barker from CNC Robotics. “To set ourselves apart from the competition, in 2008 we developed a bespoke CNC robotic milling system to allow us to create props of scale, with intricate detail, to a quick turnaround. This tool meant that we could deliver significantly cheaper, in less time and still with a high degree of accuracy.”

Having recognised the potential of incorporating robotics as milling machines, CNC Robotics also knew that other companies needed a cost-effective flexible tool that could be integrated into their wider production process. Over time, the robots became so successful that it took over from the normal set-building business. Since then, CNC Robotics has focused on transforming companies by introducing automated process to increase productivity and accuracy on projects.

CNC Robotics’ specialism is working with creative problem-solvers, prop and set makers, helping them to work across the widest spectrum of creative and technical processes to achieve high specification and well-executed projects.

Barker says: “Our clients want to increase their portfolio and ability to service worldwide demands in the television, film, museum, exhibition, creative and architectural sector with large-scale display models. They are often looking to increase output of their workshops and find solutions that complement existing routers and other traditional machining tools and cutters.”

A state-of-the-art, eight-axis robot system on a linear track and rotary table is capable of carving in a variety of materials including polystyrene, high-density foams and wood to allow for details and precision machining of large-scale forms without compromising on intricacy. Combining a 3D scanner also allows a creative team to scan miniature or life-size objects and then have the ability to scale to any size their clients require.

The use of this robotic system, combined with design tools, means that a new aesthetic becomes possible with innovative shapes and patterns that would not be achieved without these automated machines. The robot reduces time and costs of construction.

“Our robotic system helps to transform workshops by combining traditional craftsmanship with the latest technology, allowing our customers to create the extraordinary for their clients,” says Barker.

But does this replace the need for highly skilled teams?

In a word: No.

A robotic CNC machine is agile and flexible, with the head of the robot being rotational and able to point in the direction it needs to go. Robots are able to carry out a vast range of tasks, from the most delicate and precise to heavy engineering applications. And while they do provide a dynamic solution to modern engineering and manufacturing tasks, there is often a misconception that robots replace people.

You still need a highly skilled team to design, program, feed and maintain the system. The increase in accuracy and productivity that a machine brings allows a model-making team to work on other technical projects while the robotic machining is undertaking the heavy-duty work. A fully integrated automated system allows designers to incorporate their designs into CAD and CAM and produce the exact replica every time. The software tools allow the design and production teams totally flexibility and creativity for even the most complex and challenging of prop or model design.

The pace of change is accelerating and the automation age is here; robotics are significantly and positively changing the way we work and live. The future success across all industries will be defined by the ability of UK firms to adapt their infrastructure and exploit these technologies. When it comes to finding such solutions for creative companies, CNC Robotics make the impossible possible.

For more information on how robotics can improve the productivity of your business, please visit cncrobotics.co.uk or call the team on 0151 523 8009.

Facts about CNC Robotics

The company was founded in 2010 by husband-and-wife partnership Jason and Madina Barker and was born out of Jason’s passion for robots and the intricate programming that enables the wide variety of solutions of which they are capable. CNC Robotics is proud to hold the accolade of being one of the fastest-growing and most innovative 250 companies in the UK, and has become one of KUKA UK’s premier system partners and integrators. The company’s unique mix of R&D, passion for innovation and team expertise makes it the market leader in providing tailored, cost-effective solutions.