Undercover Canvas is Barbados’ premiere awning and canvas shop. Owner and founder, Nigel Richings, has been patiently waiting since 2006 to automate his shop. Now that he finally has his Carlson Plotter/Cutter he CAN’T WAIT to show up in the morning, ready to take on bigger and more impressive projects than ever before!
“I seriously love this machine. It has made me so enthusiastic for my job again and it’s already paying for itself.”-Nigel Richings, undercover canvas 2014
Nigel started in canvas at Doyle Sails when he was 15 years old. By the time he was in his mid 20’s, he was running his own canvas shop out of his garage and after-hours from the loft, “under cover” (hence the name). When he needed more space than the two saw horses in his garage shop, he would move to the living room to pound grommets. Not great for his roomate and brother trying to sleep in the next room! Eventually he bought a small singer and moved into his own space and Undercover Canvas was born.
He now has distinct branding, four trucks, and installations all over the world, including several recent projects in New York City. Despite his growth, Nigel was still looking to automate and improve his processes — “We needed something to take us to the next level. This (the Carlson cutter) is it!”.
Growing pains abounding and short on space, Nigel was inspired by a sailmaker’s tendency to “loft” their tables. Using custom aluminum beams, they dropped a loft from his ceiling to add square footage to the shop.
Nigel admired how his old bosses at the sail loft utilized technology to give them a competitive advantage. With growing demand for his signature awnings, custom resort patio cushions, and the all-too-familiar pressure of a former employee-turned-competitor, he decided it was time to take his shop to the next level (literally) with a Carlson Design plotter/cutter and Digitizer.
But where to begin?
FIRST JOB: COVER A FOUNTAIN
After we finished installing and calibrating the plotter/cutter, it was time to get to work! (*pictures from the install are at the end of the story)
Nigel needed to cover a fountain he had measured earlier the morning of the install. He took the circumference of the base, top, and the height of the fountain. We turned these measurements into a flat, 2D pattern that was broken and seamed to fit on 60″ wide Weblon material.
The unusual shape of this cover and the custom customer demands make it difficult to design a “cone” unfolding program that would produce a finished pattern. For this reason, we don’t like our customers to rely on custom programs for basic design — especially not when getting started. It can severely limit creativity and learning. We do, however, have a basic boot/cone making program with inputs for Circumference 1, Circumference 2, and Width. Import this *UC pattern into Sketchup to modify.
You can also find great pattering resources online for additional reference.
Sketchup is a free CAD program that is very easy to learn and use. To make it even easier, we developed a 2D tool bar Sketchup plug-in to help you quickly draw plot (blue) and cut (red) lines. It also outputs a ready-to-cut file — all you have to do is click “save”!
We drew a large 2D unfolded cone and broke it into 7 parts. These seven parts were cut in two to nest across the width of the fabric. Sketchup makes grouping and exporting multiple, ready-to-nest files very easy.
Nigel sent us this finished picture a few days after we left. Great first project.
Unlike traditional geometic shapes, custom covers and unusual shapes can be very difficult to draw on the computer. That’s why we developed the T-Bar Pattern Digitizer to make tracing/digitizing custom patterns quick and easy. Simply move the laser pointer around the pattern and record significant plot and cut points.
The first pattern we digitized was an old four-piece Yamaha motor cover.
On the weekend, we headed into the field to take measurements at a local Sushi restaurant that recently purchased a Signature Awning. Tony and Nigel took measurements from the steel frames they erected earlier in the month for the fabric structure. We will use these measurements to design their Signature awning in Sketchup.
We were able to draw this 20’x24′ custom-designed awning structure in 1.5 hours. The four panels in the pattern each take 5 minutes to cut. What would have taken 2-3 guys 4 days can now be built by one in one day.
These projects are just a glimpse at the lessons learned over the course of the install. If you’d like to see more pictures of the lofted table, how they installed their system, or a few glimpses of life on the island, please scroll down.
They setup their table before we arrived, which allowed us to begin training on the first day of the install.
Big thanks to Jess, Nigel, Tony, and the rest of the Undercover Canvas team for a great install, fun trip, and new good friends. We look forward to seeing your next big projects!