CNC Model Base

We have been exploring surface relief patterns in the office for a couple of projects using Grasshopper and Rhino.  The range of forms we can create are seemingly endless, but also extremely difficult to physically model using typical modeling techniques.  Digital fabrication tools are increasingly becoming part of design education and by extension the professional design process.  A question that we’re currently struggling with is to what extent we want to integrate these tools into our design process.  Do we hire this work out to someone else or do we buy the necessary tools and do it ourselves?

A physical model that we’re currently working on is taking advantage of the 3d printer to produce a sample section of a patterned wall.  Fifteen unique tiles are arranged in a column that is repeated horizontally around doubly curved wall.  As this project progresses we’ll post some more details about how and what we are doing, but for now we can only share some of the more generic issues.  The printing of the tiles is fairly straight forward.  Once modeled, we lay them out on the XY plane, create a mesh for STL export, and print.  The construction of the support structure that the tiles attach to has been a bit more challenging.

The initial idea was to create a cardboard rib structure using the laser cutter.  The vertical base for the model is over 50″ tall which would mean splicing the model back together.  We also wanted the ability to cut holes in the base after it was finished so in the end we decided to mill it out of foam.  Luckily, we know a fabricator who was willing to let us use their CNC router.  The base was broken into two pieces to fit within the Z envelope of the router and we then generated the G-code to run the machine.

Cutting of the base was a success except for an error in the code where the bit didn’t retract far enough as it returned to the home position, leaving a nice gouge across the top.  It’s sickening when that happens at the end of the cutting process, but it was not a problem since it is covered up in the end.  Besides that amateur operating error, it was great to be able to take the part through the entire process.  Our experience with running these tools has helped us when talking to fabricators because we have a better understanding of what they do and see ways that we can better interact with them.



  • Michael McCune


    Are you planning on 3d printing each tile or will those be milled as well?

    • scrawford

      Hi Michael,

      All of the tiles were printed. There was a total of 75 tiles printed (5 columns x 15 tiles/column). We ended up cutting a number into the back of each tile which made the assemble easy.