From pedestrian bridges to car stereos, Blue Sky is known for their solid research in product design development. The Olympic torch would be no exception.
The SOCOG design brief placed importance on the spirit of the Olympics, and familiar Australian symbols such as native flora and fauna, inventions like the Sarich engine and physical locations like Sydney Harbour and the Opera House. Using these spirit symbols, Blue Sky drew up a series of image boards to explore visual meanings and possible applications. Along with research pictures, like every model of Victa lawnmower, the team even hunted down a traditional boomerang to use as inspiration in the studio.
The initial designs were then modelled in 3D using the latest state-of-the-art software. The 3D surface files were rendered to a high resolution and finally photo-realistic flames were added in Photoshop. After Blue Sky had refined the four designs, they made the decision to submit them all.
- Side profile of the Olympic Torch.
By submitting the four designs, Blue Sky was essentially allowing itself to present four different points of view to the SOCOG committee. In their interview with the SOCOG committee, Blue Sky felt that the symbolic design was the torch that was most likely to satisfy SOCOG and the brief. Within two weeks of the first deadline, Blue Sky Design was chosen as one of four companies to progress to the final selection round. The project now entered a crucial stage in the design process. The concept had been partially accepted but the design was a concept, far from complete, and a package detailing all the necessary elements to take this idea into production was required.
Taking the torch design into a three dimensional format required the expertise of model-makers. The final design for the symbolic torch was emailed to Box & Dice. Using numerically controlled (CNC) milling machines, Box & Dice then produced a high quality scale model, complete with realistic surface finishes.
The function of this first three dimensional model was also for the designers to evaluate the finer points of the design. On paper certain decisions can be made, but in three dimensions a whole set of other decisions can be made with a higher degree of certainty. Together Blue Sky Design and Box & Dice subjected the design to further modifications: they made the body shorter and modified the angle of the external layer so that more of the blue layer became visible. During this analysis of the three-dimensional model it became apparent that a solution for the surface treatment was necessary. The printing process, called cubic printing, lays a pattern over a liquid surface. The object is immersed in the liquid where the printed pattern transfers around the product. The final print is then sealed with lacquer and buffed into a polished surface. Blue Sky went into their final presentation with a physical three dimensional model. They supported their bid with a lifecycle analysis of the torch and information relating to the emissions the torch would create (produced by the Centre for Design at RMIT) and a document outlining the costs of manufacture.
All of Blue Sky’s efforts paid off when the symbolic torch they had designed was officially selected by SOCOG to carry the Olympic Flame to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
- Top detail of the Olympic Torch.
The final stage of any product development is often the most time consuming and costly, involving prototyping, testing and preparation for manufacture. It is where all the small and seemingly unimportant details are resolved. For Blue Sky, the two main issues that needed resolving were: 1. Construction and assembly; and 2. Fuel and burner technology.
Forming the three shells of the torch proved difficult. The outer and middle shell were made from sheet aluminium and the inner shell was made of stainless steel which, due to its hardness and complex shape, was particularly challenging. While conceptualising how the shells would hold together, Harringtons (the torch manufacturers) were inspired by the hinge pin used in cutthroat razors. This provided them with an easy way to open and close the torch and a way to completely lock the torch together. The hinge-pin formed the basis for the on/off switch, gave access to the gas cylinder and made it easy for all the internal components to attach themselves to the inside of the torch.
While the external design was being finalised, and another company worked on the internal components, it fell into Harringtons’ hands to bring the elements together into a working product that could be replicated for the 14,000 models required. The core of Harringtons’ work was in the detailing of all the components, their assembly and validating that the product met the proper environmental and safety standards. SOCOG and the IOC would also require detailed documentation that showed how the metal and polymer torch would safely pass through thousands of hands while alight with flame. It would not be until the Opening Ceremony that everyone involved in the design and construction of the Olympic torch could breathe easy.
- The Torch is on display at the Powerhouse Museum.
Through a separate tender process, the University of Adelaide in conjunction with Fuel & Combustion Technology Pty Ltd (FCT) were commissioned to develop the fuel and burner system for the torch. FCT developed a fuel mixture of butane and propane gas, a blend that would burn cleanly and produce just enough soot so as to produce a bright yellow flame. They also developed a completely new design for the burner that produced two flames: a large external flame that was the visible flame and a small protected flame that was utilized to ensure the large flame was kept alight at all times. One of those seemingly unimportant details that required a great deal of time and effort was the development of the choke assembly, or more specifically the ‘choke cap’, an element that regulated the flow of gas.
Macquarie University’s Centre for Laser Applications successfully produced the ‘choke cap’, the function of which was to produce a flame with a specified height and burn duration. It was a small piece of sheet brass with a tiny aperture of 75 microns that had to be perfectly round to within one micron (one hundredth the width of human hair). All throughout this process of detail design work, torch prototypes were constructed to confirm mechanical design solutions, material choices, reliability and functional issues. To test whether the flame would extinguish itself in the wind, a torch was placed in a wind tunnel and the flame exposed to winds of up to 65kph. In a separate tunnel, a sprinkler system was added to test the flame against wind and rain together. All aspects of the torch were rigorously tested so that the final product reflected or improved upon the specifications set out in the initial brief. After 18 months of development, the final torch design was unveiled on 8 March 1999. With the subtle curves inspired by the traditional boomerang, the colours of Sydney Harbour and the sails of the Sydney Opera House, the new Olympic torch helped to ignite Australia’s Olympic fever.
- Olympic Torch on the home stretch.
The new torch not only represented the spirit of the Olympics and the spirit of Sydney, but also the Australian spirit of unique innovation and creative collaboration. The final specifications included: • An outer layer arc of pressed aluminium component, powder coated in white and cubic printed with the Olympic logo) • A middle layer arc also of pressed aluminium and anodised in a fluoro blue. • An inner layer arc of high-grade stainless steel holding the copper feed lines, plastic switch mechanism and stainless steel burner components. • A gross weight of 900 grams (more than half a kilo under the maximum) Among the 10,000 people who ran, walked, rode, peddled, and swam with the torch in its historic relay, even Mark Armstrong was unprepared for its final impact.
Well, before I ran – really it’s an amazing thing – I was standing in the crowd ahead of the relay, so you’re sort of standing here waiting for your turn, and children, and women, and mothers, and babies, and grandfathers were all coming up wanting to be photographed with the torch, and they didn’t know that I was part of the design company that worked on it or anything, they weren’t interested in that, but they were fascinated by the torch just to stand near it, to have their child hold it, and have their photograph taken. I’ve never seen anything like it; that people could be so caught up in just really a flame on a stick. So then I started to really understand the Olympic spirit, that’s powerful, so powerful. But I didn’t understand probably till then because although it’s an exciting project it’s still a piece of industrial design, it’s a piece of engineering, and it’s a nice looking thing. That’s it. But when I was therein the torch relay I had a lump in my throat. It was just quite incredible to see how much it meant to other people.
— Mark Armstrong
In the concept development phase, Blue Sky developed many hundreds of designs that reflected different ideas that were then culled into four final concepts. The winning design being inspired by the boomerang with a white outer layer representing the sails of the Sydney Opera House and the blue inner layer for the hue of Sydney harbour.