A soccer ball is a common sight at downtown Orlando’s Exploria Stadium, but try kicking one that rises 15 feet high and is made of welded aluminum.
On second thought, it’s best that you don’t try doing that.
Come July, the solar sculpture “Gyration” will take up residence on the corner of West Church Street and Glenn Lane as a symbol of the game played by the Orlando City Soccer Club and Orlando Pride professional soccer teams and the beauty of renewable energy. The soccer ball, measuring 15 feet high by 10 feet wide, was designed by an 11-member University of Central Florida team of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and art students who responded to an OUC challenge to conceptualize a sculpture that doubles as a source of clean energy. J. Costa Group and Decamil, both Orlando engineering and manufacturing companies, took it from there.
Take a look behind the scenes of the assembly process.
Once installed, the ball will cast lattice-like shadows on the surrounding pavement during the day while producing 1,264 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity annually.
“It’s been a really exciting project from the start, with huge collaboration between OUC, UCF, Orlando City and our contractors,” said Rubin York, Emerging Technologies Project Manager, at OUC. “And the actual aesthetics of the final product are almost identical to what the students came up with. We had to make very few modifications, which speaks to the quality of their design.”
Using the UCF team’s design, Decamil created a 3D rendering to generate the right angles and hole placements of the sculpture, ensuring the pieces would fit together after production. To create the frame, pieces of aluminum were cut using a CNC router, a computer-controlled cutting machine designed for hard materials, and bent into shape with a vice-like tool called a press break. It allows for very precise angles – perfect to create the hexagonal segments on the giant soccer ball – before being welded into the final shape.
“This was by far the most labor-intensive portion of the work,” said Jonathan Haig, Project Manager at Decamil. “It’s all done by hand and requires careful work. Overall, the process took about two hours to cut, four hours to bend and three days to weld.”
Next on the project roster were the hexagon-shaped panels for the soccer ball frame. Also formed from sheets of aluminum, their intricate pattern was made using high-pressure jets of water to create sharp, precise designs in the shape of the Orlando City and Orlando Pride logos. The panels were fitted to the frame for a quality check before making the final cuts. Each of the four panels took about four hours to cut.
The finished panels are not only easy on the eyes but will be renewable energy all-stars: the photovoltaic modules fitted in them will send power into OUC’s grid during the day, offsetting the electricity the sculpture uses for nighttime lighting. The result is net-zero carbon output.
And in true sustainable fashion, scrap metal left over from the logo designs was turned into wall decor in Decamil’s shop.
Once the panels and frame were fabricated and fitted, it was time to paint them. After sanding, washing and priming, the pieces were spray-painted in an insulated booth to ensure smooth texture, a time-sensitive process that took the better part of a day. Decamil mixed the color in-house to match to the men’s and women’s soccer clubs’ signature purple team color.
Before assembling the sculpture, Decamil will add LED lighting to the frame and panels and install a micro inverter, the system that converts solar energy into power.
In its final form, “Gyration” will rest on a solid base outside Exploria Stadium as a landmark to engineering ingenuity and art.
“It’s not only beautiful and functional, but will serve as an educational tool,” said York. “People of all ages will get a hands-on look at how solar functions, all while celebrating their favorite teams.”