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.