Mission Design & Automation Parade Float in Tulip Time 2024 Parade, Bicycles & Blooms.

The Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan, is an eight-day celebration featuring over six million blooming tulips throughout the city. Occurring each spring, the festival includes various events and festivities, culminating in the annual Tulip Time Parade, typically held on the last Saturday of the week-long celebration. On May 11, 2024, Mission Design & Automation participated in the parade, merging technology, art, and nature with a float design that showcased a giant robotic tulip being watered and then rising to bloom.

The Vision: Bringing Innovation to Bloom

Mission Design & Automation Tulip Time 2024 Parade Float, Bringing Innovation to Bloom.

While this wasn’t Mission’s first time in the Tulip Time Parade, the project team aimed to create something different, more whimsical, and innovative than the previous year’s float. The solution: a FANUC CRX-10 robot holding a watering can, watering a FANUC CRX-5 robot dressed as a giant tulip, causing it to grow tall and bloom.



The Design Process for the Blooming Tulip

The key challenge was designing the mounted end-of-arm tool for the CRX-5 and the attached petals simulating the opening tulip bud. Gary Wallace, lead mechanical engineer at Mission, spearheaded the design using SOLIDWORKS, a 3D CAD design and engineering software.

Wallace began by creating a skeleton of the design, mapping out the tulip’s motion with sketched shapes similar in size to the final parts. This iterative process involved testing different dimensions and tweaking numbers to perfect the flower’s mechanics and movement. The program’s parametric modeling capabilities allowed the skeleton to update automatically as Wallace refined the design and inserted specific parts.

The visual aesthetic and functionality of the blooming tulip were critical design considerations. Wallace focused on the length, opening degree, spacing, and angles of the petals. Originally, the tulip was designed to open much wider, but adjustments were made to more accurately reflect a real tulip’s bloom.

Blooming Tulip Bud Design. Mission Blooming Tulip CAD DesignMission Design & Automation Blooming Tulip CAD Design

Assembling the Tulip Design

Central to the tulip display is an actuator that drives the movement. Attached to the actuator is a fixed yellow piece, and attached to that was linkage connected to the petals. The linkage pieces were set to a specific length to intentionally move the petals: when the actuator is down, the petals are pulled inward to form a closed bud, and when it is up, the linkage pushes the petals outward to an open bloom formation.

Unique to this design, the petal mount was directly attached to the actuator rather than a base plate, as the actuator provided sufficient strength. The tulip mount was crafted from aluminum, and the linkage mounts were 3D printed for precision and cost-effectiveness. The petals were router-cut in individual pieces from quarter-inch-thick ABS plastic sheets that would interlock together to form each petal’s frame. These router-cut ABS pieces were a generous donation from Top Line Engineering based in Holland. Other components were commercially sourced.

“I honestly was energized by doing something unique, and feeling like there was a challenge and saying, ‘we are not content just doing what we have done before,’” Wallace said.

“It’s what brought me to automation, working on something dynamic, so it is fun to have a project that is more than just moving an end of arm tool around—to have something that is living and breathing.”

Finalizing the FANUC Robots for the Float

Once the design was completed and all the float’s components were physically built, other float design team members at Mission worked to cover the “stem” of the flower (the CRX-5 robot) with green tulle and adorn each individual petal with hot pink sequined fabric coverings.

The CRX-10, holding an orange watering can, reused components—like a 3D printed end of arm tool and 1 ¼ inch Condit brackets—from Mission’s first Tulip Time Parade appearance in 2023, needing only a new program to interact with the blooming tulip robot.

Dale Schaap, lead controls engineer at Mission, wired both robots on the float, wrote the programming, and ensured smooth operation during the parade. He noted that his favorite part of the process was working with his 15-year-old son Lee, who works as a shop assistant at Mission and participates in FIRST Robotics on the Black River Rats team.

“[Lee] helped write some of the program, but his biggest contribution was providing ideas in the process, tweaking, and retesting until it was good,” Schaap said.

One major challenge, according to Schaap, was synchronizing the robots. The watering can robot had to water above the tulip robot and move away as the tulip grew. Schaap adjusted the actuator’s air pressure and fine-tuned the programming to ensure the correct timing for the watering, tulip growth, and wilting stages.

Preparing for the Parade

Before the parade, the team decorated the float with painted wooden tulips, a sequin green skirt lining the edges, and the Mission logo. Final testing and adjustments ensured the robots’ movements were as planned along the parade route. The generator went through testing to avoid faults and shims were added to the robotic tulip’s end-of-arm tool to prevent rattling.

Mission team members painting tulips on company's 2024 Tulip Time Parade Float

Mission team member working on Tulip Time 2024 Parade Float

The Reaction

Mission team members who walked in the 2024 Tulip Time Parade reported overwhelmingly positive reactions from spectators, including comments like “best float ever” and curiosity about the float’s operation. The team was thrilled with the float’s success.

“We shot for a high target and I felt like we hit it, especially having changed our concept three weeks out from the parade,” Wallace said. “It was a fun process, and I am looking forward to next year.”

Mission Design & Automation Team at the 2024 Tulip Time Parade