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M12 - Plastic mold for Moving Cubes of the Universal Constructor

Project No.: M12

Project Title: Plastic mold for Moving Cubes of the Universal Constructor


The Universal Constructor is a three-dimensional implementation of John von Neumann's original project of the same name. It was originated in 1990 as a new programmable virtual-physical interface by John Frazer and his research team at the Architectural Association in London. The new model seeks to demonstrate the applicability of software-programmable cubes both as a new type of interface within the field of Human-Computing Interaction (HCI) and as a computational calculation and control mechanism. This project is now continued in SD, PolyU and the prototype is being manufactured by the Industrial Centre, PolyU.

The project combines theories of HCI, parallel processing, cellular automata and decentralised fine-grain computing. The mapping of von Neumann's concept from two to three dimensions was implemented as a homogenous topology of communicating cubes. Each cube acts as a control, storage and communications device: a hardwired 3-bit code allows a semantic function to be associated with a cube, while LEDs on each cube allow the system to communicate visually to the user the information data stored within the cube. This data may represent an information pattern reflecting the state of the system, or an instruction for the user to modify the model itself by moving cubes around. Finally, each cube channels information up and down the stack to the cubes above and below it, using bit-wise shift-register techniques.

This project is to design and manufacturing the plastic mould for moving cubes of the Universal Constructor. The final products will be assembled in an automatic assembly line by robots.


Generally, a plastic mould consists of the following parts:

1. Mould base

The mould base is a standard part purchased from the mould base suppliers. It holds all the other mould components together. The trainees are required to open up pockets for the mould inserts by CNC machining.

2. Cavity and Core inserts

The core and cavity are the main part of the mould. The trainees are required to decide the part line of the product and machine mould parts into these two steel blocks. Trainees are required to used different machining methods that they had learnt in the training to produce the parts. It includes, basic machining, EDM, wire-cut, CNC machining, High speed machining, hand fitting and mould polishing.

3. Cooling system

Trainees are required to design and make a suitable cooling system to cool down the mould during moulding.

4. Running and gate system

Suitable runner and gate system is required to feed the plastic material into the trainees can use the flow simulation software to facilitate the design of the gate location.

5. Ejection system

Trainees are required to design and make a suitable ejection system to remove the molded parts from the mould.

6. Trail run

The mould produced will be trail run in an injection-moulding machine in the Plastic workshop. It is required to complete 10 good shots from the moulds.


The Moving Cubes consist of three main parts:

  1. A top plastic casing;
  2. A PCBA to store the data
  3. A bottom plastic casing.

In this project, the trainees are required to design and manufacture a plastic mould with two cavities to produce two different shape plastic moving cubes. A SLA prototype is made for trainees' evaluation and the trainees are required to modify the design of the plastic parts to suit the automatic assemble in the Automation workshop using the automatic assembly line. The preferred shapes of moving cubes are cubical and hexagonal.

Figure 1 Samples of the Moving Cubes produced by SLA


Trainees are required to:-

  • Design and manufacture plastic mould for the moving cubes based on the given outline and specifications;
  • Schedule the manufacturing process;
  • Prepare a bill of materials and a budget estimation for the whole project;
  • Conduct commissioning and testing;

Upon the completion of the project, a group presentation and a group report are also required.