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Modeling Topography and Erosion with 3D Printing

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3D model description

"Modeling Topography and Erosion with 3D Printing" is a project that will demonstrate the effect of river erosion on the Grand Canyon. This model will act as a visual aid for studying geography and earth science.

The included 3D printable files will allow students to create a scale terrain model of this region and all the accessories needed to simulate a water source.

By using rigid plastic PLA to print the Grand Canyon and water soluble PVA to print a River Valley that fits within, water poured through the river will dissolve the PVA and gradually expose the canyon underneath. During the experiment, participants will observe natural formations that will appear and identify geographic terms to understand how and why these structures come to be.

This project is possible due to the unique properties of PVA filament. PVA is the same material from which glue sticks are made. Most 3D printing hobbyists use this material as a dissolvable support structure for complex models. My concept proposes using it as a functional end product by leveraging the water solubility of PVA to demonstrate a natural process.

Feel free to share any images, videos, tips, tricks, or suggestions from your experiment and experience with the project!

Awards and Accolades
Pinshape Create to Educate Lesson Plan Contest - 1st Place Winner
Pinshape Featured Design - December 1, 2017
Make Magazine Blog Article - December 18, 2017
Cults 3D Selection - December 2017
MatterHackers Minute - Create to Educate Design Challenge Review

Timelapse video here:

Follow me on Instagram to see more of my cool stuff! :D

3D printing settings

The attached PDF guide (in the zip) includes detailed project instructions and a print setting chart. The basic goal is to print the Grand Canyon in PLA with thick walls (3 perimeters or 1.2mm, 20% infill), and the River Valley in PVA that is completely solid to allow for proper erosion (100% infill). This will come out to around 60-70 grams of PLA and 30-35 grams of PVA.

Each brand of filament and machine is different, so make sure to use the recommended settings as a starting point and do plenty of tests before printing the final model. I have included the "testPiece_insertPVA.stl" file for small PVA prototype prints.

Using a Prusa i3 MK2S, it took me about 6 hours to print the PLA Grand Canyon and 3.5 hours for the PVA River. If you have access to a dual or multi extrusion machine, you will be able to print both materials simultaneously (not a requirement). If not, all of the models are optimized to be printed on any single extruder machine, as long as the bed is 160mm or longer.

The final Grand Canyon map will be 150mm x 125mm x 12mm, with angled stands that are 158mm long.

3D printer file information

  • 3D design format: STL and ZIP Folder details Close
    • Modeling Topography and Erosion with 3D
    • angledStand.stl
    • bottleCap_1_5mm.stl
    • bottleCap_1mm.stl
    • bottleCap_2mm.stl
    • bottleHolder.stl
    • bottleHolder_screw.stl
    • testPiece_insertPVA.stl
    • topographyGrandCanyon_basePLA.stl
    • topographyGrandCanyon_insertPVA.stl

    Learn more about the formats

  • Last update: 2017-12-21 at 21:25
  • Publication date: 2017-12-13 at 15:28





Design 1
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Followers 6

I am a 3D animator! In my free time you can find me 3D printing or flying drones.

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