Feb 15 2013

3D Printing for River Engineering? (Video)

It must have been over four or five years ago when I first heard about 3D printing at a GIS conference I was at. It seemed pretty amazing in the demonstration but I was skeptical about the complexity it could actually handle and figured it had to be wildly expensive at the time. Since then, I stopped hearing about the technology and never heard much more about its’ use by any civil engineers. That was until this past week when I ran into this video, another clip put together by the Corps of Engineers Sacramento District. It shows how they’ve used 3D printing for use in the construction of the Folsom Dam spillway.

The example in the video shows that their 3D printer can indeed handle a level of complexity (notches, multiple connected pieces). However, it’s still a relatively simple use (only the dam, almost no environmental features). And is there a place for 3D printing when 3D rendering and the use of scanning is getting easier and more widespread, allowing for computer visualizing that is better and better?

We’ve found that doing our bank protection and other river engineering and restoration designs in 3D is more efficient and easier to see flaws in the office as opposed to later in the process. The other benefit is, of course, the visualization, which is especially nice when you need to show multiple layers (rock, soil, vegetation, etc) and different perspectives.

Levee bank protection

Will 3D printing get even easier to use? Will it even be necessary as everything becomes more and more connected and wired? My vote is for computer visualization. Most of our projects are unique and vary in size with the need to envision the environmental features and existing conditions and the interplay with our design. This is not very easy with either route. We’re constantly mixing the use of aerial imagery, georeferenced field photography, and our topography and design. 3D printing might simplify this too much and water down the design.

Do you have any experience with 3D printing? 3D rendering and visualization in a riverine situation? What are your thoughts?

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