Exploring Cocoon

I first heard about Cocoon last fall from my Rapid Prototyping professor, Stanley Lechtzin. He mentioned this spray on coating that was developed locally for the preservation of the ships from World War II at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. At that time, I was looking at 3D printing structures and perhaps using fabric to cover the forms. It sounded very interesting, but I couldn’t find much about it online and my project at the time moved in a different direction anyway. It culminated in a neckpiece made with paper-reinforced fabric bellows and two lighted “camera eyes” on either end.

Early in the Spring 2015 semester, however, my lamp project was headed in a different direction. Recently my work has been following the idea of creating lightweight structures using unusual techniques  Stanley again mentioned Cocoon and sent me some website links he had found. With a little more digging I was able to make a phone call to Andek Corporation where I spoke with Harvey Liss about my idea of using Cocoon over a 3D printed form. He put me in touch with their customer service folks, the Doyle brothers. He also pointed out about a company in Canada producing lamps using Cocoon, Nelson and Garrett.

But first of all what is Cocoon? The following is from the Andek website:

Cocoon is an extraordinary, liquid polymer coating that sprays cobweb-like filaments that form a tough, waterproof, flexible, monolithic membrane that will conform to any surface. Cocoon can be applied as a waterproofing coating on new installations as well as over traditional existing systems. The polymer coating will adhere to most common construction materials. Sunlight, rain, wind and marine atmospheres have little or no effect on Cocoon. These coatings are resistant to water and water vapor and possess a low water absorption rate. Cocoon is relatively non-chalking, available in a wide range of colors and has excellent color retention. Cocoon coatings can be applied to interior and exterior structures to protect against the penetration of water, dust, gas and oil. The tough, flexible web structure ensures the efficient and effective sealing of walls, including wall penetrations, regardless of changes in substrate. Cocoon resists all forms of corrosion and prevents surface deterioration caused by acids, fats, greases and fungi, as well as by chemical laden fumes and vapors.

In my conversations with Keiran and Sean Doyle, visualizations of Spiderman came up several times. The idea of spraying these filaments at a framework and eventually forming a waterproof membrane is an idea right out of science fiction. But it is real and there are plenty of possible applications for this product. The technology is often used in architectural applications, like clean rooms or waterproofing.

Of course my idea was a much smaller scale. My 3D modeled lamp wasn’t quite ready to be printed and we set a time for a demo at school. I made a few test pieces out of wire and boxes, along with some laser cut acrylic based on one of my “Ripples” jewelry designs. Stanley saw this as an opportunity for students to experience a new material, so he allowed the entire RP class and other MJCC students to observe the demo.

We took over the plastics fume hood in the main studio. Kieran and Sean set up the compressed air system to the Cocoon application equipment. The application system uses very a specific high volume low pressure air bypass gun and Kieran made the necessary adjustments and soon was spraying away in the fume hood. The Cocoon comes out of the nozzle in threadlike filaments that stick to the frame work and also to each other. As the spraying continues it builds up to become a textured sheet. I was particularly interested in the light transmitting properties of the completed sheet. The test pieces went well and I planned to use at least one on a finished light. Here is an album of images from the Cocoon Demo as well as in progress images of these two lamps.

I modeled a base for the cut acrylic piece in Rhino and submitted it for printing on our ZCorp gypsum printer. Although the ZCorp printer has the capability of full color printing, I decided on just white to match the Cocoon. I finished it with a 110v LED light with a white cloth cord.


Meanwhile I finished the 3D modeling work on my original idea and submitting the file for printing in ABS plastic from the Dimension printer in Tyler’s digital fabrication service downstairs. I wanted the lamp to look as if some aggressive plant was growing inside and about to puncture through the surface. It had a small round seat designed to hold another 110v LED like on the one I used in the first lamp. I planned the LED to sit below the surface of where I estimated the Cocoon surface would be. I made an appointment and met up with Sean Doyle in April to spray in my garage. We suspended the 3D printed framework from a string and Sean sprayed away. The Cocoon material began to stick in a way I wasn’t expecting and soon the entire piece was coated. It looked really interesting, but the area where I had planned for the LED light was completely covered. Since the piece was so small, it was a quick installation. Sean cleaned up his tools and went on his way. I let the piece hang in the garage until it was cured and then started to work on my design issue.

Testing the #3dprinted #cocoon light. A little more maneuvering and it's all done. It's my 3rd light object this semester.  #mjcc #rapidprototyping

After looking at how the Cocoon had formed over my strange alien-like structure, I had to reconsider how I was going to light it. There were three open spaces that were perfect for some kind of small LED lighting, but I was going to have to create a back on which to anchor them. Using the Rhino software and measurements from online lighting vendors, I was able to determine what I needed as well as how to power it and submitted another file to print the back in ABS plastic. The final assembly was, thankfully, straightforward.

When lit, the small lamp exhibits an otherworldly presence as the LED light projects through the mottled material. Last week, I had the opportunity to exhibit “The Moment Before” at a pop-up exhibit in Boston for the Society of North American Goldsmiths annual conference. As the day darkened into night, the small strange glowing object attracted a number of people interested in this interesting material.


I think both of these lamps were successful pieces. I am very grateful to Andek, Kieran and Sean Doyle for the opportunity to explore this material in my work as well as to Stanley Lechtzin, for not only his suggestion, but his encouragement of using different materials in my work.

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