Jan 28, 2015 | By Simon

One of the more interesting phenomenons to come out of the data visualization sector in recent memory has been the explosion of multiple different styles of infographics that hyper-condense pages of data into simple and easy-to-read graphical illustrations.  While the concept of displaying information graphically isn’t necessarily new, the quick-to-read format has made it popular amongst a variety of blogs.  But could 3D printed infographics be the next ‘big’ thing for data visualization?

Recently, a user by the name of ‘gkapriel’ on Instructables shared a project they did that combined a study on the social fabric of San Francisco with additive manufacturing.  The result is not only highly-informative due to its three-dimensional nature, but also worthy of being put on a wall as a piece of art, too.  

Using publicly accessible data, gkapriel chose to focus on nine different social factors that would be mapped and presented as individual 3D prints combined into one larger piece.  The goal of choosing the nine different factors was to create a wide-ranging portrait of the city in both an accessible and tangible form.  The social factors used for the project include environmental factors that are common in San Francisco today.  These include residential density, no fault evictions/Google bus stops, ambient noise levels, percentage race white, pedestrian victims, bicycle routes and paths, percentage of homeowners, driving distance to hospitals and finally, median income level.  

Starting with the found and compiled data, gkapriel created 2D georeferenced maps to accurately plot out the data with where it was reflected in the sources.  The data was collected in the form of .csv and .shp files with the primary source being DataSF, which is maintained by the City of San Francisco.  Once the data had been organized for each of the nine separate social factors, gkapriel then created thematic maps using ArcMap and ArcScene in order to more easily visualize the data.  

After the initial two-dimensional maps were filled with data, they were brought into Rhino using the Grasshopper plug-in to import the GIS data from the previously-created two-dimensional maps.  That resulting imported data was then used to create three-dimensional models based on material heights and colors that reflected the found data.  

After using various methods of showing the data in three-dimensional form using Rhino and Grasshopper...which included 3D modeling methods ranging from extrusion height to Ambient Noise Levels depending on how to best communicate the data...gkapriel then brought the final files into Autodesk’s MeshMixer to be cleaned up for 3D printing.  

Once they were cleaned up and, the final STL files were then 3D printed using an Objet Connex 500 resin printer with both Vero White and Tango Black Plus materials, which made it possible to print the files in various grey scale color combinations.

Finally, all of the nine 3D prints were mounted in a walnut veneer and birch frame display that was created on a Metabeam lasercutter.

As 3D printing becomes cheaper and more accessible, hopefully this brilliant project is just the start of a new chapter in 3D printed data visualization.   


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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