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Creating a dream for the new national children’s museum

The new National Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C has been built to allow children up to age 12 to experience interactive exhibits focused on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, or STEAM, including the marquee Dream Machine three-story climber and slide.

Entech Innovative Engineering partnered with Universal Services Associates to engineer, build and install the Dream Machine from the ground floor up three stories, where children can let off steam by imagining they are an airplane pilot in one of many lighted Easy Pods up in the clouds or sliding down the 45 foot (14 m) slide like an astronaut landing from space.

The Dream Machine is composed of the main Climbing Structure, the large slide for older children and adults, the Little Cloud Slide for smaller climbers, two Easy Pod enclosed structures, a See Saw and different themed areas including 14 suspended marine buoys, several hanging Weather Balloons with Mirror Balls and Cloud Clusters formed from several white Acrylic spheres. Some of the more innovative processes used to construct Dream Machine included 3D modelling software combined with five-axis milling machines used to build a virtual model, then aid in fabrication. Drawings of the parts were then delivered to fabricators and vendors to build with exact details.

This project had a challenging installation due to its small space spanning three floors in height and nearly 30,000 pounds of steel and fibreglass components, not including the equipment needed to erect and assemble the structures. Small Spyder Cranes, forklifts and aerial work platforms, sometimes all working in concert, were used to install the project.

 Some of the most difficult engineering for the Dream Machine included correctly lining up the suspended pods and ensuring the angles were right and true. Because of the ongoing collaboration between engineering and project management teams, the design was well developed and easier to put together on site.

Proven safety features were installed throughout the Dream Machine. High density polyethylene, or HDPE, was installed to prevent climbers from receiving scrapes and safety netting was placed around the crawl tubes. Additionally, the pod rings were fabricated to lock into the brackets as they were installed and pods included small holes to let in light, as well as additional lighting in some of them to assist climbers. The whole climbing structure is also wheelchair accessible at multiple points.

“There’s a magical moment of entry as soon as visitors enter the front door,” said Crystal Bowyer, the museum’s president. The Dream Machine gives children a chance to let off steam by climbing from the ground floor up three stories and sliding down. With 20,000 square feet (1,858 sq m)of exhibition space, the museum features plenty of rooms including permanent and temporary exhibits. Great design is everywhere!”

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