Dimensional Innovations Creates Elaborate Design with Traditional Engineering
The Oxford Dictionary defines engineering as “the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building and use of engines, machines and structures.” We are all aware that this is an extremely broad term, especially when you consider all the different disciplines of engineering that are out there. Everything from architecture to design to processes can be wrapped into engineering, and Dimensional Innovations (DI) is a company that does exactly that—engineering in the broadest sense you can imagine.
Design firm Dimensional Innovations created the outdoor lettering for SoFi Stadium, home of the L.A. Rams football team. (Picture courtesy of TheRams.com)
Dimensional Innovations is a company that defines itself as an organization that builds experiences. While that immediately sounds like a nondescript, Silicon Valley buzzword, it is wholly accurate. Jason Cornett, who is the engineering manager at DI, said, “We’re an experience design, build and technology firm, but I mean, really we design, build and innovate. We kind of do it all, and we do it all in-house.”
Unlike a machine tool building company or an organization that creates consumer products, DI has to approach engineering differently. They are responsible for building an experience for visitors to a variety of facilities. Whether that involves creating a more comfortable (and playable) environment for kids at a children’s hospital or developing the signage and entryway at a major stadium, their expertise is spread across an array, arguably all, disciplines of engineering.
“It is different than a typical engineering job,” Cornett said. “The fun thing about DI is that we get to talk to our design team, we get to talk to our fabrication team. Rather than just sitting in SOLIDWORKS designing, we see the whole design process from A to Z. We’re always building something unique. Even during an install, we get a talk and need to come up with solutions on the fly. It is always a collaboration, and figuring things out.”
While DI develops experiences at sports stadiums, corporate headquarters and museums, the idea of designing an experience can really be recognized through their work with children’s hospitals.
“We’ve designed experiences to help make those hospital environments more comfortable.” said Weston Owen, PR and Social Media Strategist at DI. “That space can be a scary and intimidating experience for an adult, let alone a child. So, we work to implement technology to make them feel at ease and in control. For example, at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center a couple of years back, we created this incredible activation called ‘The Wilderverse.’”
Patients at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center can interact with an DI-designed experience that flows throughout the infusion room.
“You have kids that are going in and getting shots, probably pretty scared with what they’re dealing with, and they are immersed in ‘The Wilderverse.’ There are all these beautifully curved LED screens that they can interact with. Basically, they create an avatar on their phone. They customize it and they have complete control over it. As they’re sitting there getting their shots and all of these LEDs are out in the middle of the room, their avatar can navigate this vast world that we created with waterfalls and forest. To build community, other kids are creating those avatars as well, so they are interacting with each other, exploring and growing. At the end of the day, we have had so many kids that say, they did not want to go home from the infusion center because they were so engrossed,” said Owen.
Design Process for an Experience
Due to the nature of their work, every project that DI works on has a different timeline and process. Developing a moving architectural showpiece in a stadium is different from building an interactive software environment for children, but DI has the resources to do both.
In fact, most of DI’s works are extremely refined prototypes—they rarely have a project that requires mass production. Instead, they need to work in collaboration with their fabrication (manufacturing) team to not only create something that will work upon delivery, but which will also last over time.
According to Cornett, communication is key to keeping the many moving pieces of the large one-off projects on track. “Our teams are always collaborating, always communicating with each other. If something won’t work, then we’re always going back to the drawing board to make sure that it’s going to fit that profile of what the clients look for.”
With an organization of around 270 people—from design and engineering teams to fabrication and install teams—this collaboration is apparent. Cornett admits that there are occasional “pixie dust moments” where a client or their design team asks for an engineering feat that just isn’t possible…at least within a given budget or time restraint. So, just like any other engineering firm, DI has to navigate the shifting trifecta of cost-time-quality.
Because of their combination of unique challenges designing large, one-off products and navigating the typical challenges of engineering, DI focuses on that collaborative environment.
“Really, it starts off with our design team and, you know, they’re designers at heart so they have creative sessions with the client to talk about what they are imagining. Sometimes our engineering team will get brought in to discuss limitations like sheet size on materials for instance, or transportation size. After that process has wrapped up, engineering gets the image or concept, and we tear it apart. It’s just a shell at that point. Like, this is what the client wants, this is their overall goal, so we pretty much had the freedom to work inside of that to make it buildable. We also work closely with the fabrication team so we can actually get the thing built,” Cornett said.
DI’s fabrication team works to make the SoFi Stadium design come to life, before shipping it off to Los Angeles for installation. (Image courtesy of Dimensional Innovations.)
Even details around delivery or installation of their projects can be a challenge and require engineering consideration. For instance, DI was responsible for designing, developing, and installing the logo on the outside of the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Developing massive lettering was straightforward. The challenges came when we had to move the finished product from DI headquarters in Kansas City and mount the letters several stories in the air.
Beyond the logistics and installation challenges is that the products that DI is creating are refined (extremely refined) prototypes—ones that absolutely haveto work. While it’s an expensive challenge if an average engineering project has failures or premature wear, once a DI project is installed, there are no longer opportunities for further iterations. It has to work the first time.
“That’s the beauty of SOLIDWORKS,” Cornett explained. “Doing everything in 3D space, and really fully engineering these things before they’re released, we can see what’s going to fit and what’s not going to fit. We have our set standards and procedures that we built up over time to make sure that our materials go together, such as counting for things like acrylic always being undersized and whatnot. The 3D modeling is a lifesaver in that aspect.”
He explained that their modeling needs are incredibly complex, but the precision factors are essential. Because their delivered products are custom and unique every time, it’s vital to have sizing and fitment specifications be spot on.
“I think of our team as solvers,” Cornett continued. “We really are just modeling pieces and parts, building the thing inside of SOLIDWORKS, but the most useful feature we use is context modeling. So, we make sure all our parts and features are linked together so that if there is a change, everything changes with it. Like, say we find out a wall changed size during construction. We can go in there and click a couple numbers, change the wall and our whole model essentially fixes itself—and we know it’s correct. We can go straight into manufacturing at that point, you know, hit print, with confidence.”
SOLIDWORKS employees joined together on a worldwide, multi-disciplinary collaboration to design a digital space station, aptly named “The Grand Challenge.” Then, DI created a real-world scale model of the digital design. (Image courtesy of Dimensional Innovations.)
The resources needed to design experiences the way DI does are extremely broad-based with a lot of grey in cross-disciplinary engineering, but both Cornett and Owen emphasized their team’s ability to collaborate both internally and with clients as essential. While they aren’t exactly an engineering firm or a manufacturing business, their builds reflect both the imagination of design and the practicality of traditional engineering.
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