Tag Archives: 3D printing

A New Exhibit: The 1914 Campus in 3D

Taking a look at the items and exhibits included in our centennial project, For the Centuries, visitors will discover that we uncovered and aggregated a wide range of materials for the site. While many of the digital objects on the site tell stories or have special significance all by themselves, other objects and data needed a bit of interpretation. Take graduate hometown data, for example: a spreadsheet of dates and places doesn’t say much, but if the locations are mapped and interactive as they are in our hometowns exhibit, patterns of student geographic distribution can easily be seen over time. This post is about another example of such interpretation – the conversion of a number of physical items into digital files, and the creation of something new.

The good folks at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society pointed us toward an undated topographic survey map of the campus area. Based on the building footprints present on the map, we believe that it dates to 1911, the year following Ralph Cram’s initial General Plan.

A portion of the campus area topographic map at the VBHS.

A portion of the campus area topographic map at the VBHS. While many of the footprints here represent buildings that were not constructed, North Court can be picked out on the left, and Ryland Hall is at the bottom center.

We quickly realized that this single item provided the foundation for something impressive, and that when combined with data from other materials we’d gathered from University Facilities and elsewhere, we’d be able to use it to generate a three-dimensional model of the 1914 campus, complete with the initial buildings. Three departments in Information Services, Discovery, Technology and Publishing (DTP) in Boatwright Memorial Library, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT), and the Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL), had the expertise and ability to work together to pull this off.

Production of the model involved a variety of techniques and technologies. The topographic map, blueprints and photographs were imaged by DTP staff using a Phase One P65+ digital back. Students and staff in DTP and DSL then worked together to digitize the map’s topographic lines and render an elevation map file using ArcGIS. The blueprints and photographs provided the information needed to create three-dimensional models of the campus’ buildings using Sketchup. (Be sure to check out this post, by Justin Madron of the DSL, about the techniques used to accomplish this.) In the CTLT, the elevation map and building models were merged into a single 3D object using Sketchup Pro and printed on a 3D Systems ProJet 460Plus printer.

Several student employees contributed in important ways to this project. Stefan St. John (DSL) georectified the maps used for this project. Jackie Palmer (DTP) digitized the survey map’s topographic lines and campus features. Jackie and Lily Calaycay (DSL) worked together to model the campus buildings from data embedded in source documents. Selmira Avdic, Francisco Cuevas, Lisa Hozey and Umurcan Solak (CTLT) assisted with the 3D printing and tile finishing process.

The completed model, now on display on the second floor of Boatwright Library, depicts the campus as it was on opening day in 1914, and serves to demonstrate the relative scale of the buildings and topography of the grounds. Reproductions of contemporary photographs of each building are distributed around the model. Come by Boatwright to see the results of our collaboration.

The completed model is displayed on the second floor of Boatwright Memorial Library.

The completed model is displayed on the second floor of Boatwright Memorial Library.

Also visit the library’s centennial celebration site, For the Centuries, at http://centuries.richmond.edu.

Photos by Angie White and Nate Ayers.

3D Printing Primer, part 1

Wondering about 3D printing?  The CTLT has answers for you, and several printers!  You can follow their blog, Thinking in 3D for insights into 3D printing at UR and for tutorials.

When people think about 3D printing, they tend to think in terms of finished objects but have a hard time fathoming how you get from a digital file to an actual thing.  So, how, exactly, does a 3D printer work?  There are many different ways, but here are three models to consider:

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fused_deposition_modeling

FDM is the additive technology many consumer-grade 3D printers are built around.  You can think of it as the “smart hot-glue gun” model of rapid prototyping.  Plastic (or other material) filament is heated, melted, and extruded through a nozzle and laid down in layers to create an object.  Stepper motors drive the nozzle on vertical and horizontal axes and a build plate is lowered on the Z-axis as the layers of extruded filament are built up.  Objects printed using this method are not solid but, rather, made up of “shells” that define a surface.  Often there is a honeycomb structure which makes up the interior of FDM objects.  Makerbots and Rep Rap printers utilize FDM.  There are limitations on the number and size of overhangs this process can accommodate, but it is possible to print models with overhangs by using a support structure akin to scaffolding that is printed on the outside of an object.  There tends to be a fair amount of post-processing with FDM to get satisfying models.

Makerbot Replicator 2

Makerbot Replicator 2

FDM objects printed with supports

FDM objects printed with supports

Granular Materials Binding  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing#Granular_materials_binding

Granular Materials Binding fuses a powder with dots of glue, also in layers and also moving the build-area downwards until an object is built up. Models made with this method have interiors of solid powder, unless you design space into your object, but overhangs are easier to accommodate as you will always have support where you need it from the loose powder outside your object.  Granular Materials Binding is faster than FDM and allows for a higher resolution.  Color information can be included in models, as color from cartridges can be delivered at the same time as the binder (i.e. glue) and unused powder is never wasted as it can always be reclaimed and color is only included in the binder.  Post-processing of models is less time-consuming, but they are heavier than models printed in plastic because they are solid.

Projet 460 professional 3D printer uses granular materials binding

Projet 460 professional 3D printer uses granular materials binding

Object printed using granular materials binding

Object printed using granular materials binding

Stereolithograpy (SLA) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereolithography

SLA is also an additive process that uses light (usually a laser) to cure a liquid (resin) to create a model.  There is a $100 3D printer currently being manufactured and beta-tested, the Peachy Printer, that uses this process, and was funded by the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter.

Stereolithography method of 3D printing

Stereolithography method of 3D printing

These additive processes can accommodate manifolds, where every surface is connected to another surface.  The surfaces are mesh surfaces, in which every plane can be approximated with polygons.  3D models must be prepared for 3D printing using a software specific to your printer, which translates the digital model into a format your printer understands.  This is referred to as “slicing,” where the software slices a model and creates cross-sections which approximate curves.  This is how the printer will make shapes.  The code behind 3D models is G-code, a numerical control programming language that instructs machines how to move and delineates which paths to follow.  There are massive amounts of code that go into creating 3D printed objects.

Stanford bunny manifold, a widely-used test print for 3D printing

Stanford bunny manifold, a widely-used test print for 3D printing

Form rendered with a polygon mesh surface

Form rendered with a polygon mesh surface

But how do you make a 3D model to print?  Well, that’s another post!  Look for that in 3D Printing Primer, part 2.

Considering open data

Libraries have always been about open data, haven’t they?  Well, yes, in a way.  Aside from the notion of a free lending library, our bibliographic data is freely available and shared, if you know where to find it and if you know how to read it.  We do offer our users a lot of data that may appear to be “open,” i.e. free, but, in reality, we pay a premium to offer said data.  Publishers snatch up primary source materials and then sell it back to us, as if they’re doing us a favor.  A recent example being the Readex collection of documents related to slavery in the United States, The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922.  John E. Drabinski has written a thoughtful essay about the inherent dilemma in charging for access to documents that make up our own cultural heritage.  Even our own faculty members are unable to free their research data due to agreements with publishers and the “publish or perish” nature of tenure.

We have been promised a future of linked data, which will make up the semantic web, where point A will lead to point B in such a way that is both novel and accurate.  Serendipitous discovery will live alongside the assurance that the John Smith you are interested in is the John Smith you are following through the tangled Web.  Which is great!  I can’t wait!  But we’re not there yet.  There has been encouraging work, most notably, for librarians, with the Virtual International Authority File, which integrates a number of national library authority files for names and provides a single numeric identifier for each, a URI or Universal Resource Identifier that can then be used across the web.  You can see it at work in Wikipedia by scrolling down to the bottom of biographical entries and checking out the “Authority Control” box.  Still a ways to go (subjects, anyone?), but it’s a start.opendataSo, want to get started freeing some data?  There are lots of ways you can start small.  As library folks, we are used to thinking about ways to make our data useful and transparent.  The rest of the world is really into this now, too, but we’ve been doing it forever.  So, consider contributing your talents!

I’ve often said I wished our library catalogs worked as well as Ravelry, the free database for fiber arts.  It’s interesting that Ravelry views itself as a community rather than a database, making the data it presents personal, and thereby relevant to its users.  Libraries have struggled with how to do this.  It’s something we’d like to do, but we’re, honestly, afraid of what it means for our stated aim of objectivity.  And that’s a serious concern.    Still, Ravelry manages to combine a materials database, a pattern database, and forums along with a personalized user experience.

Are you interested in 3D printing?  There are a lot of amazing repositories for free data files you can print yourself, the highest profile database of late being that of the Smithsonian’s own 3D modeling project, Smithsonian X 3D, which allows you to download and print models of artifacts from the Smithsonian’s collection.  Thingiverse allows you to browse, organize, and customize models contributed by other users and to contribute your own models.  Other museums have made their 3D scan files available to download, including The Met, which encourages creative use of their files to make new art, or mashups.  Want to get started?  You can find open source options for all the software you need to start creating your own 3D models. (TinkerCad, OpenSCAD, SketchUp, Blender)

There are also many citizen science projects you can contribute data to as well.  Perhaps one of the longest standing, the annual Great Backyard Birdcount, just happened earlier this month.  Maybe you’d prefer culling through radio signals to help SETI in the search for extraterrestrial life?

On the local front, there is a new group in Richmond formed as part of Code for America, called Code for RVA , which is a “civic hacking brigade” that works to “improve our city through better technology.”  Their next civic hack night, where they work on civic projects and hack open data, is Tuesday March 25th at 6pm and they’ll be working on a project using real-time data to build an app that lets parents and students know exactly where their school bus is.

Know of any other open data projects?  Share them in the comments.