New Opportunities for Routing

Have you ever thought you could be doing more? Well perhaps you can.

In your current sign making process, do you use computer-aided design software (CAD) and computer-aided machining software (CAM) for a CNC router? These typical tools for dimensional signage are also used in a wide range of other industries that may present possible opportunities for sign builders.

This article will look at two applications: ice sculpture and amusement park fixtures, where tools and techniques used in the sign making industry are being used to make major improvements over traditional hand-crafted methods.

Sign builders looking to expand their market potential should be aware of these developments and be open to the potential for utilizing their skills and equipment in them.

Carving on Ice

The ice sculpture business has seen rapid growth in recent years, as increasingly detailed carvings are becoming a sought-after centerpiece for a wide range of special events (such as weddings, business meetings, birthday parties, etc.). The ice carving business has matured from relying on a few highly experienced master carvers to one in which designs are produced via CAD software and reproduced to a high level of accuracy on CNC ice routers.

One of the leading companies in this business is Ice Sculpture Inc. (, founded by Jim Duggan. Duggan saw CAD/CAM methods being used in sign making and thought it could be applied to his industry in a similar manner.

One example of a typical commercial project for Ice Sculpture Inc., is producing a 1/3-scale carving of a NASCAR racer. Duggan does this for the Atlanta Motor Speedway VIP Club.

Adirond-1The company made a model of 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart’s car (pictured, above). The car and display stand consisted of nine blocks of ice (each measuring 40-by-20-by-10 inches and weighing 300 pounds). The router-carved car included logos for Chevrolet, Goodyear Tire, Old Spice, Office Depot, and yes, Ice Sculpture Inc.

This car would have taken several days to produce using the traditional method of drawing a template to define the profile of the sculpture, gluing each template on a block of ice, removing the excess ice with a chain saw, and cutting out the logos with chisels and hand power tools. (This traditional method is not only time-consuming but also prone to inaccuracies).

Duggan instead imported a raster image of a side view of the car into his ArtCAM software ( and converted it to the vector format required for producing CNC programs. He then scaled the template to the 1/3-size of the ice sculpture. Duggan also obtained raster images of each of the logos that appear on the car and converted them to vector format.

Next he created a standard-size ice block and copied it six times. He moved and trimmed the blocks until they fit together to make up the body of the vehicle. Then he generated the four tires of the vehicle from another ice block and combined two blocks together to make the display stand.

Duggan used the ArtCAM Center Vector feature to center the logos across the width of the vehicle. Next he used the software to generate CNC code for his Ice Bulldog Pro CNC router from LSI Automation ( to produce very crisp and exact ice sculptures.

“The car took about four hours to design and about four hours to cut on the CNC router,” said Duggan. “We can now produce the highest quality ice sculptures in half the time that would be required to produce them by hand.”

Hey, Hey, Hey, Kids!

Another company using CNC and CAD/CAM capabilities to help with their interesting designs for themed environments, theatres, arenas, exhibit halls, restaurants, malls, and casinos (to name a few) is Adirondack Studios ( in Argyle, New York.

Recently the company used this software technology and its wide set of tools to model a CNC program and produce a 35-foot-tall-by-35-foot-wide rendition of Krusty the Clown’s head that can today be found at the entrance to The Simpsons Ride™ at the Universal Studios Florida® theme park in Orlando.

The client provided both a clay model and a STL surface model of Krusty’s head. Using the STL file, Adirondack Studios built an AutoCAD solid file, which was used to prepare shop drawings and then sliced into forty-six vertical, four-inch-thick slabs (the thickness of the EPS foam used for the full-scale model). These slabs were then used to build forty-six STL files.

Bob Gregory, senior router operator for Adirondack Studios, imported and positioned these files into an ArtCAM model that was 40-by-40 feet square. Using the Machine Relief tool, he built tool paths for each slab and then followed up with ArtCAM’s tiling engine to slice the model into slabs four feet wide and eight feet long (the size of the EPS foam stock used to produce the positive full-scale model).
Over 400 sheets of foam were cut, in order to build the model on Adirondack Studios’ CNC machine with its 10-by-5-foot bed.

Adirondack Studios’ carpenters then glued the slabs together to make a full-size positive mold. They used a shop-built hot wire knife to cut the mold into shippable chunks. These chunks were then shipped to a fiberglass shop that used chopped fiberglass to make 1/4-inch-thick fiberglass sections of the shell.

The sections were then bolted together and attached to a space frame built by Adirondack Studios that supports the shell. Krusty’s eyes were cut out and attached to a motor so they move back and forth.

After the entire model was assembled, painted, and approved by the client, it was disassembled again so it could be shipped to Orlando.

Photos (top to bottom) courtesy of: Adirondack Studios; Ice Sculpture Inc.; Adirondack Studios.



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