It took Gustave Eiffel and company a little over two years to complete the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris. During the fundraising that preceded the construction of the then very controversial structure, Eiffel referred to his creation as a testament to the capabilities of “the modern engineer, but also [to] the century of Industry and Science” in which they were living. It seems only fitting that an impressive, small-scale, 3D printed replica of the famous tower should symbolize the industrial revolution in the midst of which we now find ourselves.
126 years after the Eiffel Tower announced the opening of the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) of 1889 in Paris, avid 3D printer Gregor Luetolf of Bern, Switzerland, took on his own ambitious construction project with a central objective: To test the limits of his Ultimaker 2 3D printer. A teacher as well as a maker, Luetolf decided that if he was going to recommend the Ultimaker 2 to schools, he must do so “with the greatest possible certainty.”
Luetolf began the project in May 2014 using netfabb Basic to begin designing the model, shared photos and a running log of his process on MakerBot Thingiverse as well as his own blog, 3D Drucken: Unsere Erlebnisse mit dem 3D-Drucker (3D Printing: Our Experiences with 3D Printing). Plenty of sketches on paper accompanied the digital design phase. He began by making a list of the various parts of the tower and creating a spreadsheet to organize his system. Because of the build volume limitations of the 3D printer, considerable planning went into cutting the 3D model and coordinating the separate prints and eventual assembly of the many components. The cuts were first made in netfabb and subsequently using Tinkercad, explains Luetolf, “to obtain bridge components,” since they needed to be cut at an angle, which isn’t possible with netfabb basic. The railing of the tower was also cut in Tinkercad. “Through clever cutting and turning,” boasts Luetolf, “we were able to print all parts without support,” which is no small feat.
An initial test print was made using PLA in a neutral color, although the final model was printed using the colors of the French flag, known as the “Tricolor” — red, blue, and white. The trial run allowed Luetolf to calculate how well the parts fit together, the ideal temperature of the print bed, and several other considerations. The final model was printed at 220° to 230° C with the table at 80° C. He also kept the temperature in the printing room at 20° to 23° C to “keep the parts adhering closely to the table until the pressure was over.”
Overall, Luetolf estimates that he used around 25 kg of PLA to produce the entire Eiffel Tower model. The tower weighs 20.5 kg; it is 1.9 m tall and stands on an area of 90 x 90 cm. The scale of the model to the actual tower is about 1:171. It took around 1600 hours to print all of the components, with 100 successful pieces and 58 misprints. Luetolf used an epoxy called UHU PLUS Schnellfest to connect the smaller pieces, leaving five major parts — the blue section, two separate portions of the white and red sections, and the level one railing — unattached so that the model could be transported easily. When the entire replica is assembled, those portions are connected using adhesive strips.
The project was definitely a learning experience for Luetolf but one that convinced him of the efficacy of his Ultimaker 2 printer and, moreover, of 3D printing in general. He seems to concur that he is working at the forefront of this new Industrial Revolution and seems determined to push the envelope in his own, ambitious way, sharing his findings along the way. We look forward eagerly to his next project. Perhaps Luetolf should begin by undertaking the 3D modeling and printing of yet another iconic structure in a series of world monuments!
If you would like to download all the 3D files used in this model or simply wish to view them, Luetolf has uploaded all the files to Sketchfab.com. Let us know your thoughts on this landmark recreation over in the Scale Model of Eiffel Tower forum thread at 3DPB.com.