Jan 28, 2015 | By Alec

If there’s one thing you can learn from browsing the web for interesting 3D printable projects, it’s that there’s always another, even more stunning creation out that that overshadows all the others. However, a project that was posted on Thingiverse last week can overshadow other creations literally: a 1.9 meter tall replica of the famous Eiffel Tower.

This truly inspiring creation has been a private project by Swiss teacher Gregor Luetolf from Bern for most of 2014, taking him more than 1600 hours to complete. Now When you think about it, making a replica with a 3D printer is a very loaded  and endeavor; the Paris original was built in 1889 to illustrate the create strength of the Industrial Revolution, so rebuilding one with a 3D printer could be interpreted as a symbolic gesture of the latest manufacturing revolution.

As Gregor explained on his blog, however, his project was mainly fueled by curiosity, as well as a teaching responsibility: what is a regular Ultimaker 2 3D printer capable of? ‘If we are going to recommonend a certain 3D printer to schools, we should be absolutely sure it’s a good one. As long-term reliability is one of the biggest issues in printers, a large project was perfect.’ Last May, that curiosity set him on the path to build one of the largest objects with a regular FDM printer that we’ve ever seen.

And the Eiffel Tower seemed like a logical choice, as Gregor had been fascinated with its design for some time. The interaction of the various components, the level of detail and the sheer number of parts also made it a great choice for a project. Finally, Gregor had been experimenting with smaller scale prints of the Eiffel Tower for a while, so he hoped an upgrade would be easy.

But due to the sheer scale of the project, his road was lined with pitfalls and required weeks of careful planning. As he explained, ‘we bun to scale up a 3D printable model [they already had] of the Eiffel Tower in May 2014, using Netfabb Basic. Throughout the project, we have continuously kept a paper overview of all the various necessary parts and the estimated amount of components. But then we were still uncertain about actually printing due to the sheer scale and complexity of the project.’

Eventually beginning printing, all of the hundred different parts were designed to be printed without support in PLA; a 0.2 layering thickness was used on the larger parts on the bottom, while the finer details were done at 0.1, all with a 20% infill. Of course so many connecting parts need bridge components as well, which were added using Tinkercad software.

Printing itself was spread out over seven months, and consisted of many test runs as well. ‘We started out using just a single Ultimaker 2, but soon shifted tot wo. In the end, we also used a Sharebot to complete the parts, as the Ultimakers didn’t do well during the hot summer.’ Printing itself was done at temperatures of 220 to 230 degrees Celsius, with print bed heated to 80 degrees.

As their part piles began to grow, these were spread out over five different major areas of the tower to make transportation easier. These were individually assembled and glued together using a UHU PLUS Schnellfest (after tests with Ultimaker glue sticks and hairspray). ‘These could be temporarily assembled together with adhesive strips that prevented it from crashing or tipping over.’

While ultimately successful, as the pictures illustrate, Gregor did remark that everything was done under pressure and that many lessons were learned as they went along. Most significantly: ask for help everywhere you can, buy material in bulk, don’t underestimate printing times, and expect that problems with your printer will occur. Perhaps most important: ‘Good planning is half the battle.’

The final stats of the tower are impressive: 1,9 meters tall, with a standing area of 90 x 90 cm. It weighs a total of 20,5 kg, while the printing itself consumed up to 25 kg of PLA. Gregor was very proud of his project, stating that 'this is a clear indication that 3D printing should be taken seriously. The Chinese are already printing entire houses using 3D printers, so could this be the technology used to build the next Eiffel Tower in 50 years’ time?’

Gregor is currently looking into exhibition options for his amazing project, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to go to a museum to see it in real life. For Gregor has graciously shared his designs on Thingiverse and encourages everyone to reprint it themselves. You can find the files here.

A few parts being printed.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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