On Making in Milwaukee: Frankie Flood Brings Design Back to Industry

Frankie Flood is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus and teaches in the Jewelry and Metalsmithing area within the Peck School of the Arts. A classically-trained jewelry artist, Flood’s interest in CNC began in the machine shop while attending the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

“In grad school, I was hanging out in a machine shop on my break and began talking to machinists. I realized what the CNC machines could do and I thought, ‘Why am I not learning this in school?’ So that’s when I decided I needed to someday set up a curriculum where students are learning aspects of production, especially industrial production. To me that’s how things are made. I want students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to reclaim the industry we used to have.” He continued, “I start to bridge the gap between jewelry and sculpture and now, within the University, I’ve begun to bridge the gap between architecture and engineering. So many of those fields have removed the making element from their respective fields and for a long time they went to computer design. Now there’s this interest on campus for students to have an entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of how they can create startups and how can they start businesses, but that requires a product.” With real-world expertise in design and solving problems through prototyping, Flood put his words into action. At the UW-Milwaukee’s Peck Schools, he founded the Digital Crafts Research Lab with the intent of exposing students to “making,” recognizing the potential PCNC inside the classroom. He purchased a Tormach mill for use inside the classroom, where students study the practical aspects of machining and metalworking in an Industrial Processes course and build upon their skills as they complete Digital Fabrication and Craft—learning elements of machining, routing, milling, and rapid prototyping. In a second-year course, students use the PCNC 1100 to produce the print bed and axis components used to build and assemble a 3D printer. Flood also uses a Tormach PCNC 1100 for his own studio art. His motorcycle-themed pizza cutters have been sold around the world and featured on the Bravo television series Top Chef. Former contestant and celebrity chef Mike Isabella was so enamored by Flood’s Pizza Cutters that they served as the inspiration for one of that tattoos prominently displayed on his forearm. Isabella has since commissioned Flood to manufacture a replica of the pizza cutter tattoo for his personal collection. With an end goal to empower his students with the real-world skills and knowledge to start a business of their own, he adds, “If you put all the tools in the right place then all these wonderful things can happen. And that’s really my goal. I really don’t care if we call it engineering or art or design as long as making is at the core of it. If students are enabled by the knowledge they’re gaining and the tools they have to use, when they get out of school they will have the opportunity to shape industry and the future of Milwaukee.”