One of the technologies that’s still getting a lot of press lately is 3D printing; it seems new articles appear daily describing some fresh and novel use. Everything from home construction, food preparation and industrial applications, 3D printing continues to find new applications in a wide range of disciplines. Mining engineering is no exception.
In a previous blog “3D Printing – A Simple Idea”, I discussed the helpfulness of printing 3D topographic models for the team members of a mining study. I was recently contacted by a consulting firm from Texas that, amongst other things, specializes in the 3D printing of mining models. Here is their story and a few model images as provided to me by Matt Blattman of Blattman Brothers Consulting. (www.blattbros.com/3dprinting)
Their 3D printed models are used in the same way geologists and mining engineers have employed models for decades. We’ve all seen the physical models made of stacked mylar or plexi-glass maps, wood or foam core. We all recognized that there is value in taking two dimensional sections or plan maps and making a 3D representation which provides more that those viewed on a computer screen. Physical models convey scale, interactions and scope in ways that no other method can. 3D printing improves the model-making process by allowing for the addition of high definition orthophotos, reducing the model building cost, increasing its precision, and its delivery time.
The current 3D models can be made in a variety of materials but the primary three are extruded plastic, gypsum powder, or acrylics.
  • Plastic models (ABS or PLA) are cheap, fast and can created on relatively inexpensive, hobbyist printers. The downside to these models is that the number of colors available in a single model are limited, typically a single color.
  • Powder-based printers can typically print in 6.5M colors, allowing for vibrant, photo-realistic colors and infinite choices for title blocks, logos and artistic techniques. However, gypsum models can be as fragile as porcelain and require some care in handling.
  • Acrylic models allow for translucent printing (“looking into the ground to see the geological structure”) and are more durable than the gypsum. Nevertheless, acrylic models are significantly more expensive than the other two types and the color palettes are limited.
Here are some example models.
Leapfrog 3D Geological Model
Acrylic Based Geological Model
3D Mine Model - Powder based
3D Mine Site Model
Besides having another toy on your desk next to the stress ball, why print your mine plan, the geology shapes or the topographic surface? It’s all about “communicating highly technical data to a non-technical audience”, whether that audience is a permitting authority, the general public, or company management.
The ability to understand a map or technical drawing is a learned skill and not everyone has it. If you’ve just spent $20M on a feasibility study, why trust in the assumption that the attendees in a public consultation meeting will fully appreciate the scale and overall impact of your proposed project? That message can be better conveyed with a model that is easily understood. One of Blattman’s clients, Luck Stone, recently described how they use their 3D printed models in this video.
Blattman’s models are created from the same 3D digital data already in use by most companies involved in geological modeling and mine designs. Other than the units (meters versus millimeters), the triangulated surfaces created by mining software are theoretically no different than those created by mechanical or artistic 3D modeling programs.
While many 3D printing services are available on the market, not all of them are able to speak “mining”. They may not be able to walk the skilled geologist or mining engineer through the process of creating the necessary digital formats and that’s where Blattman comes in. With more than 20 years of mining experience and having already gone through the 3D printing learning curve, they can assist any natural resource company through the process, either as a full-service/turn-key project or just to advise the client on how to prepare their own files.
Recently, Blattman announced a contest to give away a custom model of the winner’s own data, a $5000 value. Not every data set is ideal for printing, so each entry must be accompanied by a screenshot of the model (no need to upload the actual data). Anyone is eligible to enter; the entry form can be found here: www.blattbros.com/contest/. They will announce the winner just after PDAC, in mid-March 2016.
My bottom line is that 3D printing is here to stay, so go ahead and check out the technology. Maybe enter the Blattman 3D model contest if you have something worth modelling.
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3 thoughts on “37. 3D Model Printing – Who To Contact?

  1. hardrockminer

    Very interesting! I can see applications for dam design, among other aspects of mine planning. Plans and sections are just paper representations of reality. A 3d map would be a much better and more accurate representation.

    However I still like my bench plans when I visit the pit!

  2. Ken Kuchling Post author

    Maybe someone needs to invent a mine site pop-up book like the kids have. Hand them out at public meetings or take them out in the field. Open the book and up pops the topography, plant site, waste dumps, TMF all overlain on an orthophoto.

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