Topographic Modeling: A Digital and Precise Manufacturing Process

How can site study be conducted remotely? With advancements in technology and digital manufacturing, it is now possible to recreate the topography of Mars in a high-precision three-dimensional model. This article will take you through the exciting process of creating a topographic model using algorithms in Grasshopper and G-code generation for digital manufacturing. From generating the 3D model to the final machining, each step was crucial in achieving a stunning result.

The first step was to dive deep into the 3D model of the topography. Algorithms in Grasshopper with hybrid logics were used to generate a new surface from the mesh geometry, ensuring that the number of points (manifold) used was sufficient to achieve good resolution and detail of the topography without overloading our workhorses. Through point mapping, the outputs of the surface were cross-checked, resulting in a new surface in NURBS format. Therefore, the hexagon shape was delimited through Boolean operations, which would serve as the base of the model.

Machining included routines such as horizontal roughing, parallel finishing, profiling, pocketing, and V-carving. For each routine, tools with preset speeds and RPMs were assigned to ensure tool durability and finish quality. These presets are determined based on the desired chip size, which varies depending on the diameter of the tool and the hardness of the material.

The material used for this model was recycled wood (refurbished) with a composition similar to plywood, which allowed for the contour lines of the topography to stand out. However, not everything went smoothly with this material. There were instances where small details, such as the low relief of the model description, did not have the expected quality. In other words, some parts of the letters would chip off, hindering the proper reading of the information. If filling the gaps with a mixture of wood chips and adhesive did not work, pocketing was attempted to create a new clean surface to work on the low relief, while also adding masking tape to prevent chipping of the material.

As the process progressed, simulations could be run to evaluate the results. However, there was also flexibility to make adjustments in real-time based on the actual results obtained. Every change made to the digital model could be simulated and ultimately manufactured with a CNC router, allowing the result to be fine-tuned and ensuring model quality. Due to the generative nature of the model and the knowledge of the physical specifications of the material and tools, these decisions could be made during the process or even at the last moment.

The process of creating a topographic model using digital fabrication tools was exciting and rewarding. From the generation of the 3D model to the final machining, each step was crucial to achieve a precise and detailed result. The combination of algorithms in Grasshopper and G-code generation made it possible to optimize the process and obtain a model that faithfully represents the topography.

We offer custom design (generative model for custom mass production) and manufacturing services (CNC router & 3D printing) to anyone interested. Feel free to contact us for further information and to discuss your specific project requirements.

By Luis Armando Sanabria Rojas

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