Last month saw the commencement of the Birmingham 2022 Queen’s Baton Relay – a journey which sees the Baton travel approximately 90,000 miles, visiting all 72 Commonwealth nations and territories over a period of 294 days. Launched by Her Majesty The Queen from Buckingham Palace on 7 October 2021, the Baton features an intricate, mechanised message chamber which contains Her Majesty’s message to the Commonwealth, which will be read out by the Queen at the opening ceremony of Birmingham 2022 next July.
The task of designing, engineering and manufacturing a Baton - which reflected the host city of Birmingham and the spirit of Commonwealth - was a complex one, undertaken by Mechanical Engineers and Product Designers at Raymont-Osman Product Design, with engineering specialists at Kajul, Coventry-based fusion artist network, MAOKWO, and technologists from BOM (Birmingham Open Media).
With Birmingham 2022 making history as the first major multi-sport event to award more medals to women than men, the team were keen use the Baton to celebrate the strength and fortitude of women across the Commonwealth. The shape of the Baton differs from those seen in previous editions of the Queen’s Baton and is manufactured using accessible and relatable, non-precious metals: copper, aluminium and brass.
Following a working group session with artists and engineers, initial sketches were drawn up by industrial designers at Raymont-Osman ahead of the creation of block-models of the Baton internals and electronic layouts. Using SolidWorks, the team then generated detailed designs, ensuring optimal manufacturability and functionality of each component. One of the greatest challenges at this stage was the design of a mechanised message chamber which could be easily opened at the opening ceremony, whilst being able to withstand the rigours of global travel.
The desire to fuse cutting-edge techniques with tradition has heavily influenced the manufacturing methodology and final aesthetics of the Baton, along with a wish to celebrate West Midlands’ industry. As part of the Design for Manufacture process, a range of innovative manufacturing techniques were identified and local manufacturers sourced. 3D printing proved crucial to the project – within both the prototyping and manufacturing stages, with the Raymont-Osman team using a Formlabs Form 3L to 3D-print clear resin parts which were then encapsulated in nanocrystalline copper to form the distinctive outer leaves of the Baton. A team of talented casters from A. Wardle & Co in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter employed the traditional method of lost wax casting to create the central aluminium chassis, which was then TIG welded at Qualitig in Coventry, drawing upon the centuries of local expertise and craftsmanship that give Birmingham its reputation as the city of a thousand trades.
Kajul’s use of conventional tool making techniques, combined with modern CNC machining and CAD and CAM software, were also responsible for many of the internal working parts, including the central brass stamen. Furthermore, the use of precision diamond-cutters recreated the iconic circular design of the Library of Birmingham onto the display stands.
Designers and artists were keen to ensure that the Baton evolves in appearance as it undertakes its global journey around the Commonwealth, reacting with its environment as it is passes from Batonbearer to Batonbearer. Engineers employed an accelerated oxidation process, using vinegar, salt and ammonia, along with time and temperature, to develop a striking blue-green film onto the vapour blasted copper surface.
As the Baton continues to travel and capture stories from Commonwealth communities, the warm copper tones of the Baton will develop, further enhancing the patina that forms on the material after exposure. Lining the length of the Baton is a platinum strand, paying homage to Her Majesty The Queen in her Platinum Jubilee year. Here, selective platinum electroplating has been applied to the polished copper.
A synergy of engineering, technology, science and art, the Queen’s Baton represents the very best of the West Midlands - as both the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and a forward-thinking region which looks forward to welcoming visitors for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
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