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3d Printed Augmented Reality baseboard

Augmented Reality and 3d printing

We find the interaction between 3d printed models and mixed / augmented reality a fascinating area to explore.  An opportunity came up for us to explore this further when ASCO approached us with an exciting project for the Offshore Europe exhibition in Aberdeen this year.

A quick note on terms.  Virtual Reality (VR) is where you strap a brick to your face that completely obscures the real world.  Augmented Reality (AR) sometimes called Mixed Reality (XR) lets you see the real world while at the same time,  projecting virtual 3d objects into your view.  This can be via a tablet or phone,  or a headset like Microsoft’s HoloLens or Magic Leap

The challenge: to create a 1.2 meter diameter 3d printed and CNC machined baseboard to be used with augmented reality via tablets.  Oh, and the exhibition is in three weeks!


ASCO’s in-house design team came up with a beautiful stylised design.  Their design incorporated the main elements of their supply chain.  On land the design has a pipe-yard,  a supplier’s facility, the main ASCO base with it’s sophisticated logistics systems, an airport and the new ASCO HQ building.  On sea, an offshore installation, wind farm and shipping.

The model needed to be in colour and fit into a transit case for transport and storage.

Design brief from the client's graphics team
The challenge from the design team. 3d print this 1.2 meters across for an exhibition in 3 weeks.

A key difference between modelling for 3d printing and digital only 3d models is that we need to fully resolve all design decisions before we start 3d printing.  There is no undo button once you have committed the 3d print or started to cut material on the CNC machine.

We decided on three sections for the base.  Making the sea removable would avoid having any of the sections joins being visible on the sea surface.  Also, the offshore platform was to be removable to simplify storing the sea surface in the transit case.  Because some of the surface objects like wind turbines and cranes were fragile, we these made removable for their protection.  So that the model could be used to show a range of scenarios, we left some of the containers the vehicles and the ships unfixed 

3d Models

We took the graphics design that ASCO produced and refactored the 3d models to make them physically printable.   

Some models were simplified, but for others we added more detail.  The warehouse buildings were made hollow with door openings rather than with closed doors.  For the offshore installation, we added fine strut work to the simplified model. 

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses layers of powder which is selectively melted by a laser to form the object.  An inherent advantage of SLS is that due to the presence of unmelted powder it does not need additional support during printing.  This makes hollow buildings and intricate strut-work possible.  We used this characteristic to define fine struts for the drill tower and cranes.  These extra details add intricacy to the model without detracting from the client’s design.  Intricate details are what makes people take a step closer  for a better look – exactly what we want for an exhibition stand.

In making the offshore platform more delicate created a new risk.  Having it so close to the edge of the board made it vulnerable to damage.  To mitigate against this, we made the drill tower detachable, fixed in-place with a magnet.  So, if anyone leans against the drill tower, it detaches rather than breaks.


We chose polyurethane model board for the terrain.    We carved the model board using our CNC machine.   Due to the size of the model (1.2m diameter),  we machined it six sections.  We permanently joined these sections in pairs to create the three sections for the base.   We used a translucent blue Perspex to simulate the sea which we also cut on our CNC machine.   

CNC Machining model board

Test Version

The main deadline for the project was set up day for the exhibition.  However, it was important to test the augmented reality against the model at least a week earlier than this in-case there were adjustments needed to make the AR work properly.  Although the model had not yet been painted in it’s final colours, we took the assembled model to ASCO’s Dyce headquarters for testing.  It was reassuring to find that the AR was working as expected.

Testing the assembled board with the augmented reality software.

Final Assembly

In the final week, the last major task was painting the model and finally, adding the grass.  We were able to accurately match ASCO’s corporate colours on parts of the model and, guided by the Graphics Team, applied a limited pallet to the remainder.  For grass,  we used green flock with a few scale trees from a model maker supplier. We made water-slide decals to add the ASCO logo in a few strategic locations.

AR Baseboard


At the exhibition, the model, combined with Augmented Reality on a tablet proved as successful as we had hoped in attracting and engaging visitors to the stand.   Having a large and intricate model drew people in for a closer look.  From there the AR played it’s part in engaging and telling the stories behind the supply chain.   

In AR the viewer could see floating labels over key aspects of the supply chain.  With a tap they could bring up further detail and animations with several layers of information. 

The overall model could be used with or without the AR display as a prop to explain key aspects of the supply chain and ASCOs services. 

We have since seen some comments that people liked the model but did not realise there was an AR element to it and had moved on before finding out.  A lesson here is to perhaps add a sign or some indication to the model or nearby that there is more information available in AR.

This project successfully combined the advantages of a model in attracting interest to an exhibit with the ability of digital media to convey information. 

Check out Mark Coull’s post on LinkedIn for a look at the AR content and some reactions to it.  

If you would like to explore how a 3d printed model can help you engage your audiences, contact us to start the conversation.

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