Olympic Stadium Wrap: Innovation, Part II

How the Olympic Wrap panels were made in 9 steps

Keep in mind that this was an unusual project, with unusual requirements – and a heretofore untested, unproven fabric. This is the process of Rainier making the Olympic Stadium panels, hiccups and retries and final successes.

And it is representative of Rainier. Because everything we make here is custom, this is operations as usual – in that nothing is usual! We call ourselves solution providers, because we solve problems.

Before any of this took place, we spent months and months doing tests on fabric that just didn’t work – we lost 3 printer heads in the process! When we finally got fabric that would run through our printer… this is what happened:

STEP ONE: Color tests and print trials

We ran the fabric through our printer to see how well it did with color.

STEP TWO: Printing a mock-up of a panel and seeing how it does – when you hang it

And the answer was… that it didn’t work. See all that texture across the red (below)? The fabric is puckering. Because the fabric was puckering, we had to raise the printer head. As a result, we ended up with another problem: banding, those vertical streaks of lighter and darker ink. The gap between the head and the media was too large – which meant the ink was too spread out. That’s not acceptable. We redesigned the fabric and tried again. And again. Until it worked.

(Read more about the process of designing the fabric HERE (post 8/1) and come back tomorrow for a close-up look at producing the fabric – and getting it right.)

When we finally got the fabric right… rolls of it arrived on the Rainier production floor.

Once we had new fabric, we mocked up a new panel. Look at that smooth expanse of blue. That’s what we were after, and now that we had it, production could begin in earnest.

STEP THREE: Printing the panels

STEP FOUR: Cutting

Rainier uses state-of-the-art automated cutting machines. As with every other step of this project, cutting the fabric presented unique challenges. Because of its stiff, thick composition, we cut all 336 panels by hand– extremely unusual on our shop floor. We get the job done, no matter what it takes.

(Below) Rainier owner Scott Campbell takes a turn at cutting the panels while VP of Sales Bruce Dickinson gives him a (rather far-off) helping hand.

STEP FIVE: Sewing the pockets

Every panel has “pockets” running their lengths – like seams on garments. The pockets hold the cables that eventually twist to create the helixes.

Employees work their way along the length of the panel to sew the second layer of the pockets. Every pocket was given double layers of fabric to protect against abrasion from the cable.

Remember, every panel is over 80 feet long!

STEP SIX: Laying out the panels for finishing touches

What looks like white dots at the bottom of the panel are essentially punched holes. In the installation, the panels are bolted to a clamp bar at the bottom and top.

The rope you can see in this picture is a drawstring, used to pull the cable up the length of the pocket.

STEP SEVEN: Packing the panels

Because of the stiffness of the fabric and the thickness of the double-layer pockets, the fabric was folded and wrapped around bolts, rather than being “rolled.”

We built special shipping crates to accommodate the fabric bolts.

In the picture (above), you can see the before (on the left) – white rolls of fabric – and the after (on the right) – bolts of finished panels packed away in individual cubbyholes.

STEP EIGHT: Loading and shipping

STEP NINE: The Rainier team celebrates and waves good-bye as the wrap leaves Seattle, WA, bound for London

Stay tuned for…
Tomorrow: A closer look at the process of producing fabric.
Wednesday: Installation of the panels at the Olympic Stadium.