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In The Lab
Comic Challenge Case Mod: The Stark IMD
by chris

Body armor for the case?
I wanted this case to incorporate aspects of several types of Iron Man armor, starting with his original dull gray steel. Although rivets were not always in evidence, these would add to the effect of heavy plate on the panels. Starting with the case itself, I anchored short lengths of aluminum angle (L brackets) to the top and front edges of the chassis. These were used as anchor points to attach two curved steel panels at the bottom front and top rear of the case. To strengthen the sheet metal, I riveted ribs of aluminum bar stock to the outer edges using two rows of heavy nickel wire for the pins.

Armor Elements
PVC over steel for an articulated armor look

To create a layered articulated armor on the top, sections of PVC plastic were cut and then anchored to the aluminum angle with sheet metal screws. A final PVC panel was attached to the front and a piece of foam rubber trimmed to fill the gap between the sections. The foam was trimmed to a smooth shape with a razor blade, and then covered with a layer of epoxy thickened with powdered talc.

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Aluminum support strap under the PVC panel

A steel sheet was bent and fitted to the front, before being riveted to the support straps. You can see one of the aluminum straps which was added for support under the edge of the PVC panel.

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PVC joined with layers of epoxy

Several layers of shredded fiberglass-reinforced epoxy were built up over the surface of the PVC with only a light sanding in between. I wanted a slight ripple effect to simulate hammered metal. I prefer to add pigment to the epoxy so that if the surface gets scratched, there is a solid color exposed. The color layers also make it easier to visualize the final effect and in some cases, can be used as the final finish instead of paint.

Some comments on epoxy resin: I prefer two-part epoxy over polyester resin, since there are little or no fumes, and being relatively colorless, it can easily be tinted. Aluminum powder added to the epoxy gives a silver appearance. Bronzing powders are available in various copper, bronze, and gold tones. Dry tempera paint can be used for bright primary colors. Powdered charcoal or even laser printer or copier toner can be used for a solid black coating. Check out John Greer and Associates for marine epoxy, mold compound, and filler materials that can be used to thicken the epoxy into a Vaseline or putty consistency. Talc gives a very smooth texture. Shredded fiberglass thickens and adds strength. I also use glass sandblasting beads as filler as it tends to give a sand-like texture in large amounts, but also adds weight.

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A layer of epoxy paste over PVC

For the drive bay section, I wanted the effect of the cutouts seen in some of the more recent Iron Man comics. To start, a section of thin PVC was fitted in the opening between the upper panel and the lower steel one. Thick, reinforced epoxy paste was spread over the surface. After the layer cured, it was sanded, and another thick layer applied.

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Drive access hole

After another sanding, a hole was cut for access to the drives. An adapter frame was installed in the upper bay to give me an idea of width and position of the drives when mounted.

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Brass inserts

A brass insert was created to fit the opening, and two cross-plates soldered on the back to cover the unused bays. Plugs for the openings on either side of the 3.5" bay were made with a USB header installed in the one on the right. With the drives in place, the insert was positioned and centered properly, and then more epoxy was used to smooth fill the gap around the insert and secure it in place.

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After removing the drives, the edge was ground level, everything sanded smooth, and several thin layers of epoxy were added to smooth out any surface imperfections.

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Ribs made from strips of half-round wood trim were cut to fit the drive bay opening. Two at the top were glued in place; one was attached to the front of the DVD drawer; the fourth rib was attached to the front of the DVD drive using foam mounting tape (this allowed the rib to flex; pressing on the right edge opens the drive tray).

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For the bottom ribs over the floppy/card reader, I elected for simplicity over some sort of fancy hinge system. The ribs were backed with a piece of the steel sheet from the side panel, with a strip curled up as a handle. Two strong magnets were glued to the surface of the insert, which holds the lower section tightly in place.

Wood Ribs

The side panel over the system board got a clear 1/5" clear acrylic window held in place with plastic panel fasteners. More wood ribs and two blocks of 3/4" MDF simulated the belt assembly of the early Iron Man comics. The wood trim was attached using some leftover epoxy. Once set, I masked out the window, and seal-coated the wood with a couple of thin layers of aluminum-tinted epoxy.

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The panel behind the system board also had a hole cut, but was filled with pierced aluminum mesh, attached to the panel using copper rivets. Here you can see the acrylic and mesh masked out for painting with silver color hammered-finish paint.

Baseplate
Baseplate
Baseplate

The 1963 introduction of Iron Man had a ribbed belt and deep-treads on his boots

The base plate for the case was patterned after the chunky-style treaded boots of the original costume. The foot plate had to wait until the final steel panel was attached to the front to get the dimensions and the curved edge to match. Strips of 3/4" MDF were cut, beveled on the router, and then glued to the upper plate. The treads were sealed with a couple of layers of aluminized epoxy, then painted with more hammered-finish silver paint.

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My metallic red paint had not arrived yet, so it was time to improvise. First a layer of metallic silver was used over the armor.

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Next, a layer of transparent red "stained glass" paint was used, giving a dark, but very nice red metallic appearance.

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The diamond-shaped shield was cut from 1/5" acrylic sheet with a thin white plastic lens glued to the back. After painting, the outline of the shield was marked on the front of the case, and a hole cut through the surface. A nickel and brass insert was made to fit the opening. A high-intensity one-watt white LED was mounted to the bottom of the insert and held in place with two plastic fasteners. Thermal compound on the rear of the LED assembly conducts excess heat into the insert. The silver-color sides reflects the light forward and will minimize any light getting back into the case. A 100 ohm resister limits the current when the LED is attached directly to one of the 12 volt drive Molex connectors.

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Iron Man Extremis

For the mask, I went to a recent version of Iron Man - the 2005 and 2006 release of "Extremis" (also available as a graphic novel of the same name). I used the circuit-style lettering in the title for the IMD plaque. To make the case more than just an armored shell, I wanted to give it a purpose - even a fictional one. Readers rarely see Tony Stark testing his armor. He always seems to rush off, slap something together that works perfectly and is well finished, miniaturized, and usually violating several laws of physics - but hey, it's fiction, right?

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Stark Industries Iron Man Diagnostics

But what if he had to troubleshoot something? That's what we do in real life... so I came up with the concept of an Iron Man Diagnostic Unit. Since Tony no longer keeps his identity secret, it means we needed to identify that the unit came from Stark Laboratories. Letters were cut from sheet brass, then dots drilled, edges filed, and lines chiseled. The background was printed on a laser printer, then glued between two sheets of 1/8" high impact plastic. The brass letters received a soft satin finish, then were glued to the plastic. Four small magnets (Tony has always been big on magnets, although his are usually transistor-powered) were glued to the back to allow placement of the plaque on any flat ferrous surface. I was going to stick this on the top of the CPU heat sink, but there wasn't enough clearance between it and the side panel. So that became the title - Stark Industries IMD.

But what to run diagnostics on? The Iron Man mask is probably one of the most characteristic parts that while frequently changed still has similar features, such as no nose, slitted glowing white eyes, and a slash of a mouth.

To build a quick 3/4 scale mask, I started with a block of foam rubber and carved out the general shape.

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A coat of epoxy sealed the surface and stiffened it for a fiberglass layer (run, it's the mummy!). After this layer set, a coating of epoxy smoothed out the textured surface.

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A quick sanding revealed lots of irregularities, and I had not yet received my thickening fillers.

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Mixing in glass sandblasting beads as a thickener worked for heavy rounding and defining the shape. Lots more sanding followed.

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It started to look familiar. Some talc and fiberglass filler arrived, and promptly got tested on smoothing out the surface. A bit too much talc in this batch left brush streaks.

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Ribbing was added by cutting a slot in the side of the mask, and gluing three sections of ribbed wood trim. When filled in and smoothed over with more epoxy, it was just about ready for painting. I performed a light hand sanding to smooth out minor imperfections, then it was off to the garage to prime, mask, and paint with gold paint.

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After the gold paint layer dried, the masking was removed and the gold paint was covered with masking tape. The primed area received the same as the case, a silver coating, followed by a single coat of transparent red. More thin white plastic was cut for the eye slits and glued in place. Threaded nuts were glued to the inside edge of the rear of the mask, these were to be used to anchor the mask to the side of the system panel.

Clamps to "hold" the mask in place were created from short sections of MDF, and lengths of 1/2" threaded steel rod cut and glued into holes drilled in the "clamp" and "actuator" pieces.

Finishing up
The mask was attached to the mesh panel, then the clamps positioned and anchored from the rear with short screws. Two holes were drilled in the mesh behind the eyes. A pair of white LEDs were hot glued onto the mesh to cause the eyes to flicker when the hard drive is accessed. A heavy duty stainless steel switch was located in the side panel, presumably to open and close the clamps (or turn on the power in reality). The bottom of the case was anchored to the base plate treads. The rest of the system components were installed, and cables organized a bit, but spiffed up with some chrome convoluted (AKA split loom) tubing. Then it was time to tear it all down and switch out the stock Intel heatsink with a big blocky Peltier cooled one. Then I stuffed it all back together, and took these final pics.

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Armor Elements

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