At 4c Design, we are very proud to have been the design team behind the creation and fabrication of the Queen’s Baton for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. This case study will reveal the design process that led to the final design, along with some of the engineering challenges encountered along the way. We will also share with you some exclusive pictures of the fabrication, along with a few insights into the developing the design and a few of the concepts that didn’t quite make it.
Prior to the beginning of each Commonwealth Games, a Baton is carried by relay, taking in all countries and territories that will participate in the games. More importantly, it is a symbolic invitation to attend the Games. The relay begins at Buckingham Palace, where The Queen places her message to the Commonwealth into the Baton. The relay ends when it reaches the home of the Games, where the Queen receives her message and reads it aloud to formally open the tournament. The Baton we designed passed through many thousands of hands across 70 nations and territories. It travelled 190,000 kilometres in 288 days, including 40 days touring the UK, before reaching its final destination, Glasgow, on the 23rd July 2014.
The process of winning the contract to design and build the Glasgow 2014 baton was in itself a momentous project for 4c. The 6 month government procurement was an intense process: it poked and prodded our business from every angle, establishing that we had the credentials and experience to deliver such a key element of the Games.
The design of the baton had many stakeholders including the Commonwealth Games Federation, Scottish Government, Sport Scotland and Glasgow City Council to name but a few. Therefore, it was imperative that we did not lose focus on the design process. Refreshingly, the Invitation to Tender for the Baton had stated that they were interested in an ‘approach’ to design rather than an actual concept, which showed Glasgow 2014 had a great understanding of design process. Upon winning the contract their brief to us was simple:
While we had milestones to achieve and information from previous relays; the design was entirely in our hands for better or worse. This was a bold move by Glasgow 2014, but one that we appreciated. We had less than a month to turn our preparation material into something tangible. The Games Organising Committee included several experienced men and women, some of whom had worked on previous Commonwealth and Olympic Games. These people were hugely valuable at the early stages of the design process. They helped us understand what had and hadn’t worked at previous events and we could adjust our concept accordingly.
The 4c team were determined that the baton wouldn’t just be another pretty object, instead it should have genuine meaning behind each element. Hence we felt the Queen’s message needed to be written on paper and be on display to the public; while of course sheltering it from the elements and keeping the message secret until the opening ceremony. Also while previous batons made a show of electronic technology (cameras, GPS etc), it felt that this was no longer relevant as all our smart phones already contain this technology. Instead, as engineers we wanted to make a feature of technology in the materials and manufacturing techniques used to produce the baton. We also wanted it to have a practical element and some mechanical theatre.
We recorded this video at the start of the design process, we asked members of the design team “in a word describe what you want the baton to be”. Although at this time we had all manner of weird and wacky ideas, it is good to see that we were on the right track and that the final baton design does meet most people’s briefs. The four elements of the brief as we saw them were:
We recorded this video at the start of the design process, we asked members of the design team “in a word describe what you want the baton to be”. Although at this time we had all manner of weird and wacky ideas, it is good to see that we were on the right track and that the final baton design does meet most people’s briefs.
The four elements of the brief as we saw them were:
There were four key design engineering challenges to the Queen’s Baton; The Gem, The Puzzle, The Lattice and The Handle:
We wanted to gift a Gem to a representative of each of the 70 Commonwealth countries. This would serve as an initiation to join us in Glasgow on the 23rd July for the Games. It was decided the Gem should be made from a natural Scottish material; granite mined from Isle of Ailsa Craig was chosen. This island contains a rare kind of micro-granite, perfect for use as curling stones; as a result up to 70% of curling stones made are from Ailsa Craig (in 2004). When manufacturing curling stones, the centre is bored out and typically discarded; we used these cores to form the basis of the Baton’s Gems. Inserted into the top and bottom of the Gem, are custom coins.
The puzzle forms the top of the baton and must not only keep the Queen’s message locked away (until you know the secret), but also dispenses the Gems. The design of this mechanism proved a real challenge to get right, but is precisely the sort of challenge we relish at 4c. The puzzle is mechanically the most complex section of the baton containing 53 parts and yet from the outside appears the simplest section of the design. We must be careful what we say, so not give away the secret, but it is based around an old Japanese puzzle which we modified to work in a circular shape as well as to dispense the Gems. When the outside collar is turned the four arms open like a mechanical iris, this releases a Gem. The Gem rises up automatically to be presented; in its place a second brass Gem lifts into place to replace it. The baton was then be reloaded when moving onto the next country. The final Gem was presented at the opening ceremony. Once this happened it enabled the whole puzzle assembly to be removed to reveal the Queen’s message. This step triggered the opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
We knew we wanted to display the Queen’s message, but for the longest time we didn’t know the best way how to do this. The breakthrough happened with this very simple prototype.
It was found that by rolling up the message and lighting the scroll internally, it became visible but not legible. By surrounding the illuminated message with a spring (which later became the lattice) the message became further obscured and protected. Hence the lattice concept was formed and decided upon. This was also our opportunity to showcase the latest manufacturing technology, 3D printing (Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)). With this technology we could create designs which were previously impossible to fabricate with traditional tools. This is where the challenge really began; we modelled different designs using 3D software called Rhino. Many different lattice styles were trialled, including Voronoi patterns (represents the space between bubbles) and multiple computer algorithms that mathematically represented the baton relay route and countries as various lattices. Although these mathematical approaches had a nice story, unfortunately they did not produce a suitable aesthetic. For the final lattice shape we fired rings up a pole randomly in Rhino and captured the shape they formed as they fell, after a number of attempts we had a design. This was refined in illustrator and finally imported into SolidWorks to create the final manufactured form. Within Solidworks we warped the shape to give the lattice its variable diameter and added a second internal lattice. These two lattices were then interconnected to make them one body. At this stage, thought was given with regard to how to interface with the puzzle mechanism and the handle. Also while the SLS allows the printing of abstract organic forms, it does have limitations. We had to ensure the design retained its aesthetic, while remaining manufacturable. The key to this is ensuring the cross section of the lattice never changes too dramatically and that the lattice when printed has a solid foundation.
To contrast with cutting edge modern technology and to celebrate Glasgow’s rich ship building heritage, the wooden handle is constructed from reclaimed wood from Glasgow’s parks, using techniques from the boat building trade. Thus, the baton descends from the modern to the ancient. The wooden handle was constructed by the Galgael Trust, a social enterprise programme in Glasgow, which teaches wooden boatbuilding techniques to marginalised or isolated young people and adults. Recovered Elm wood was used, employing the ‘bird-mouth’ technique often used in constructing masts, to ensure the handle was exceptionally strong yet with a hollow section to accommodate the electronics.
Although we did outsource the fabrication of a few key components, all finishing of parts was completed at 4c Design. With a product like the baton, the finish had to be perfect and so the pressure was really on. The key elements to fabrication were the puzzle assembly and finishing the lattice.
As previously mentioned, the puzzle contains 53 individual components, all needed to be custom manufactured to extremely tight tolerances. All visible components were manufactured using the same SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) process as the titanium lattice. It was important to use the same process because the titanium finish needed to be consistent throughout the baton design. This allowed a little more engineering freedom in the design, but unfortunately the process does not yield sufficient tolerances. We overcame this by adding extra material in key areas of the printed model and manually machining it off to the required tolerances. These tolerances were needed because there are a number of sliding surfaces all housed in a very tight space. The lengthy process of polishing the titanium is explained below. Other components were manufactured using a different 3D printing process called Selective Laser Adhesion (SLA); this process was used so I could keep weight to a minimum and to save time and expense. The remaining components were manually machined from stainless steel. Assembly of the mechanism is fairly quick when you know the technique, a good thing because the mechanism needed to be built and rebuilt many times during construction to ensure the perfect tolerance and feel of the puzzle mechanism.
The lattice arrived from the printers 90% finished, but still had a few inevitable imperfections and a rough texture all over. Wanting a mirror finish; we started the polishing process by removing the imperfections using an industrial Dremel tool. With the imperfections removed (3 days later) we began the process of sanding and polishing. This started by placing the lattice in the lathe and sanding while it spun, the objective was to create a consistent finish without rounding the edges. Titanium is an extremely difficult material to work with, not only is it very hard but it also has an extremely poor heat transfer coefficient. This means that despite the lattice looking like a giant heat sink, it would heat up and remain hot for a long time, sometimes this resulted in heat bruising of the metal which then needed to be sanded away and the process starts again. It was a long process, but eventually the correct technique was achieved. For the final finishing, we used a grinder and several stages of flat sanding discs, each time being extremely careful not to overheat the metal. The final stage used a soft polishing pad and polishing wax to get the mirror finish. All in all, the lattice took well over a week to achieve the polished finish. With the lattice polished and puzzle mechanism complete, it was simply a case of putting all the pieces together and giving it a final once over. The baton was ready for its journey around the world.
The journey begun at Buckingham Palace, London on the 9th October 2013. We travelled down to witness the Queen placing her message into the Baton and thus officially launching the Queen’s Baton Relay. It was a proud moment for Scotland and a proud moment for 4c. The baton has now travelled all over the globe and we are extremely pleased how well it has been received. It is not often that a single object becomes part of something so massive and is exposed to so many people, cultures and experiences. More images of the Queens Baton’s journey can be found here.
There were many individuals, that came together to create the 2014 Queen’s Baton, 4c would like to acknowledge all the key players in its design and manufacture: