Engineering and Design for the Future: The Making of the 10,000 Year Clock Project

Imagine this: A 300 foot tall clock encased in the middle of a mountain. Gliding titanium gears, clacking ruby latches, sapphire, metals, and ceramic all perfectly fitted and working in unison so that the clock will be able to endure and capture time for 10,000 years. A giant 9 foot tall pendulum swings back and forth glacially within the mountain walls, with slow ticks and tocks (one per every 10 seconds of time), until the clock’s chimes ring out with a unique melody that doesn’t repeat once in its 10,000 years of existence…

It sounds like something out of The Hobbit or some other fantasy world, but the conversation I had about its creation and design with Mechanical and Design Engineers at The Long Now Foundation, Taylor Roan, Luke Khanlian, and Zoe Stephenson, was definitely real and definitely cool.

The mountain in Texas where The Clock will be placed

The mountain in Texas where The Clock will be placed

Taylor gave me some background on The Long Now Foundation and the 10,000 Year Clock Project. He explained, “Danny Hillis is one of the founders of The Long Now Foundation which all began with an observation on how businesses, society, and people in general think about time. We only really concentrate on things by the quarter or the year and we only really think about the future with a science fiction mentality. So Danny came up with this idea of a clock that would be able to tell time for 10,000 years. He found the very idea of The Clock got others thinking about the future in a whole new way and it inspired this sense of hope and excitement about the future.”

The main power system of The Clock

The main power system of The Clock

As you can imagine realizing this idea, designing, manufacturing, and building The Clock in the middle of a carved-out mountain is a big project with many intricate details to consider. I asked this team what some of the main challenges and obstacles have been in building The Clock. In this blog post I’ll take you through some of the difficulties the engineers discussed in regards to the design of The Clock.

Taylor talked about the difficulty associated with the sheer size of this 300 ft clock and shared how it was important to build a purely mechanical clock. Electric components couldn’t be considered because of longevity and it was necessary to build a clock that could easily be serviced, or that was designed not to require servicing, with components that could easily be replaced. The engineers built The Clock in a way so that the mechanics are exposed, so that anyone with a basic engineering background could look at the inter-workings and figure out how it could be serviced in the future if needed.

Luke explained, “We had to essentially pick up on the mechanical clock design from 100 years ago so that it would last for 10,000 years and combine those designs with technology and ideas of present day. From a design perspective, we wanted to make it timeless (no pun intended) and of course it needed to be 10,000 years compliant in a functional state.” Zoe added, “this idea of a transparent design is central to the design of The Clock.”

One thing that has aided the team in creating transparent engineering calculations and transparent design is PTC Mathcad Prime 2.0 and PTC Creo. Taylor said, “A lot of mistakes can happen with a project of this scale. PTC Mathcad keeps track of units and does a lot of the grunt work for us so that we can calculate more quickly. On top of that, we can share our progress and design with the founder of the company and other members because it’s a good documenting tool. It’s very legible and printable which takes away confusion for many members of the team.”

combining units, math, and notes in one engineering software

Preliminary calculations that combine units, math, and notes in Mathcad Prime 2.0

Luke explained, “It’s easy to pass data from Mathcad to Creo. Mathcad informs the design using data and then I use PTC Creo to realize the particular parts. It’s a robust tool that helps in writing equations that in turn helps to create the geography needed.

Stay tuned to read and learn more about the 10,000 Year Clock Project or register for Mathcad Engage 2012, PTC Mathcad’s virtual event to hear more Mathcad customer stories!

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