During the First World War, the Belgian coastline played an important part in German defense strategies. The German army established a number of bunkers which were meant to stop allied ships from embarking, one of which was the Aachen Battery, which is still visible today at the Atlantikwall Museum. Using old aerial photographs taken during 1914-1918, researchers at the museum have precisely recreated an exact digital model of the coastline, faithfully replicating the details down to the last artillery unit. 3D Printing was an obvious choice for realizing the model – compared to hand-made scale models, 3D Printing allowed the museum to obtain an exact, sturdy, perfectly detailed model in a minimum of time.
At Materialise, our Design and Engineering team received a basic 3D model of the coastline, which they then had to prepare for 3D Printing. There were a few challenges which needed to be overcome, such as the fact that the model also required various textures. Dunes are not just made up of sand; they have a rich and diverse ecosystem with its own plants and dune grasses which needed to be rendered on the model, not to mention the inclusion of details from the German artillery and outposts. Our design engineers used Materialise 3-matic to apply diverse textures directly on the STL file of the model, which required intense collaboration with the museum to get the right textures in the right place.
The model was 2500x450mm, meaning it would take a really large machine to realize the entire structure. To lighten to load, the model was split up into several sections which could later be reassembled, and was strengthened with the application of a honeycomb structure on the inside of the model with Materialise Magics.
Then came the biggest challenge of the project. As the only existing photos of the coast during WWI were in black and white, our in-house coloring expert needed to figure out the exact gradations and colors of the coast without any visual representation. Together with experts from the museum, he tried to achieve the most historically correct coloring based on the available resources and research.
Mathieu de Meyer, Director of the Atlantikwall Museum, says
“The model is an exact historical replica of the coastline during WWI, and the product of months of research and collaboration. When visitors to the exhibition see it, I am confident they will be transported back in time and get a very real idea of how the coast must have looked like 100 years ago during the war.”