Topographical Modelmaking In A Nutshell!

With millions of data points and tolerances tighter than some high-powered engines, topographical modelmaking, or digital elevation modeling, is a learned art requiring a keen eye for details.

Topographical models are frequently used by a variety of industries including geologists, architects, construction firms and land developers. They are often seen in museums and visitor centers, and are a great way for people to get a “Bird’s eye view” of a large area to analyze anything from geological changes to potential construction sites.


We recently had a chance to speak with topographical model maker Donn Arrell, owner of Clinton Systems, about some of the beautiful models he has made over the years. Donn’s first step before building a model is securing an accurate data source. This can be in the form of a CAD drawing provided by the customer, or a drawing acquired from a source like the National Elevation Dataset (NED).

After selecting the resolution and scaling the drawing (which is a lot more work than it sounds), Donn will run a simulation which will indicate how long it will take to CNC machine. It’s then a matter of selecting the material (Donn uses Precision Board Plus), and starting the CNC on its course.

Most of the models Donn produces can be finished in a day or two, but occasionally large projects require a week or more of running the router day and night! (Which didn’t surprise us after seeing some of the models!) Many of these models will then go onto another professional Modelmaking shop who may paint it and add LED’s or even moving parts.

Mars HiRise images of sites in Gale Crater at 600 data points per inch. Models represent areas of about 3 miles x 8 miles (8″ x 22″).


Donn prefers using Precision Board Plus HDU for his topographical models because:

“Precision Board offers a broad density range. Hard to damage touchable models can be made with the higher density foams. Cost sensitive projects gain cost benefits with lower density foams. Having a single source provider for these materials is a great advantage.”

Clinton Systems has been in business for over 20 years and specializes in high quality, high-resolution topographical models. Be sure to take a look at their website for more info:

All of these models are made out of Precision Board Plus HDU.

Model of a recent NASA Mars Rover landing site in the Gale Crater. Carved into Precision Board Plus PBLT-20 at 600 data points per inch resolution. Using high resolution data from a Mars HiRISE image.



The “Couteau”, a region of North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. Made using Precision Board Plus PBLT-20.



A site study model for new construction in in Guam from survey data. Made using Precision Board Plus PBLT-10.HDUTopographicalModel


A 15′ rendering of Sinnemahoning State Park based on the USGS 3 meter high resolution Lidar data. Made in 3 height matched sections from Precision Board Plus PBLT-20.PrecisionBoardElevationModel

Small architectural base model for easy transport. Note the recess for inserting a 3D building model in the lower right hand corner. Steps clearly show drainage and grading. The data source is an architectural CAD rendering. Precision Board Plus PBLT-20.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Ski resort with some vertical exaggeration to emphasize the ski slopes. Data from the USGS National Elevation Database. Precision Board Plus PBLT-20.


Base for a site development presentation model, 8′ x 12′ made from Precision Board Plus PBLT-6 in 3 height matched sections.
Precision Board Plus HDU

Behind The Scenes With Dwyer Kilcollin, USC Grad Student

When we were contacted by Dwyer Kilcollin, inquiring about whether we could help her bring an art concept to life with a donation of Precision Board Plus HDU, we were only too happy to help. Especially when she told us about the complex project she had planned.

As part of the thesis for her MFA, Dwyer wanted to explore the role of volume and mass in sculpture. To bring this idea to reality, she decided to build a thesis exhibition titled “Stein is Sein”, which is German for “Rock Is Being.”

Part of the exhibition consists of a cornerstone piece named “Winter”, which was made from Precison Board Plus. The first thing she did was design a 3-d model in RhinoCAM using a combination of algorithms and built-up shapes. Dwyer then had the Precision Board PBLT-15 CNC milled to the CAD file.


The unique pattern was created by using a projector to map the contours onto the Precision Board Plus with a pencil. After that, Dwyer used the pencil lines as a guide to apply the urethane/sand mixture to specific areas to come up with the pattern. Next, she coated the milled piece with Johnson paste wax, which also doubled as a mold release, and used it as a mold to cast a mix of urethane resin and silica sand.


“I am interested in understanding how our physical relationship to objects is affected by the language of images and the increasing accessibility of virtual space. The title of my show, Stein is Sein, posits the philosophical assertion that material (stone, or stein), is the root of existence (sein). In the work, I attempt to restructure the role of mass, surface and pigment in both physical and virtual sculptures so that they might build a new relationship to these objects.” -Dwyer Kilcollin

Be sure to take a look at Dwyer’s website, to see more amazing art!




Racing In The Mud: The Baja SAE Experience

As far as school clubs go, it doesn’t get much cooler than the Baja SAE off-road vehicle team. Earlier in the year we wrote about Cal Poly Pomona and the rugged BAJA SAE car they built for this year’s competition. We have since been in touch with Jessica Ghareebo, Cal Poly Pomona Baja SAE President, who was able to update us on what makes the 2013 vehicle tick.


The goal of this year’s project was to lower the car’s center of gravity and decrease total vehicle manufacturing time by 30%. To start, students created a vehicle model in SolidWorks and analyzed it for aerodynamics. After finalizing the design, CAD models were sent to local company ADM Works, who donated time on their massive CNC machine to cut out molds using Precision Board Plus donated by Coastal Enterprises.


After receiving the machined molds, they were primed and sanded to a smooth finish. Students then applied a mold release before creating negative molds using a fiberglass layup technique. Finally, carbon fiber was laid up onto the fiberglass to create the finished body panel part. All molds for the body panels were made using Precision Board Plus PBLT-6, while PBLT-40 was used to create the mold for the fuel catch.


According to Anthony Cerrato, Electrical and Composites Captain, “Working with Precision Board saved the team a lot of time. After receiving the molds back from ADM Works, the cuts were so clean that finishing time was reduced.” At the time of competition, the project goals of lowering the vehicle’s center of gravity and decreasing manufacturing time by 30% were successful.


The Baja SAE competition is quite popular among university/college students. Many, many teams compete in the strenuous competition that includes uphill races and rock crawls. Cal Poly Pomona managed to do quite well in both competitions, placing 11th overall out of 100 teams in the Baja SAE East competition, and 6th overall out of 87 teams in the Baja SAE West competition. Coastal Enterprises would like to congratulate all students involved and wish them luck again for next year!

after race



Precision Board HDU



Combining a Late Model Corvette with a 1967 Stingray: How It's Done

Classic Reflections Coachworks is proud to announce the newest addition to their lineup: the legendary 1967 Corvette Stingray. Redesigned to provide the comfort and technology of today’s Corvette while maintaining the classic look from 1967, CRC has succeeded in making an authentic-looking masterpiece.

The first step in combining a C6 Corvette and a 1967 Corvette Stingray is the concept rendering. The original Stingray Corvette and a new C6 chassis’ are individually scanned into a 3D CAD program and morphed together.

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 3.35.33 PM

After the datasets are combined and morphed, a design is created. It’s then time to create a physical prototype to see the new “retro” Stingray in a physical 3-D form.

Starting with a 17″ x 4′ x 10′ block of Precision Board Plus PBLT-4, CRCoachworks machines the block with their 5-axis CNC router into a 1/2 scale prototype:


Precision Board Plus PBLT-4 is then coated with Duratec for a hard surface:


A coat of U-Pol Automotive Primer is sprayed over the Duratec:


Next comes a Spies Hecker Marina Blue base coat:


The finished prototype sports a Spies Hecker clearcoat. (It’s hard to believe this entire car, including the sidepipes and windshield, is made out of Precision Board Plus HDU!)


After completion, the final design is fine-tuned based on a visual inspection of the prototype.

According to Ron Marsden, General Manger at CRC, they chose Precision Board Plus HDU because our large block sizes and superior machining qualities offered a high-quality, cost-effective tooling solution.

Trinity Animation of Lee’s Summit, MO put together this C-6 to Corvette Stingray animation using and V-Ray software.

The first full-size CRC Corvette Stingray is currently 90% finished. Once complete, we will be posting pictures of what we are sure will turn out to be a beautiful car!

For the complete turnkey package, a 2013 CRC Corvette Stingray can be your very own for the grand price of $205,000. Have questions? Visit

Previously, CRC specialized in turning late-model Corvettes into primarily 1958-1962 new “retro” Corvettes. Be sure to take a look at our previous blog if you would like to see the step-by-step transformation.

CRC currently produces 2 CRC Corvettes a month and is in process of moving to a larger location to increase production capability.

Coastal Enterprises would like to thank Ron Marsden for providing information, photos and insight into this innovative process.

Kenworth Truck Hood. Nice Rig!

There’s a saying around Diversified Manufacturing of California, Inc.’s facility in Vista California. “You say it, we make it!” That’s the kind of “can do” attitude Thane Rivers, Founder, President and CEO of DMOC has instilled in his highly accomplished team of designers, programmers and fabricators. They’ll not only make it, but make it right.

Take the DMOC customer who produces body parts for Kenworth big rigs. They needed a highly precise mold to cast their FRP hoods from. The DMOC team created a 3D drawing to customer specifications with all the “hard points”. Next, they mocked up the general shape of the model by bonding sheets of PBHT-20 Precision Board Plus and mounted the tooling block on their 5-axis milling machine.


After a few hours of machining, the completed part was “digitally” inspected using approximately 200 sample points. The result? A finished pattern that is within 1/10 of a millimeter at all points of the CAD drawing! Molds are then cast from this “validated” pattern, from which hundreds of Kenworth FRP hoods will be made and shipped around the world. And due to DMOC’s careful process, not to mention the high degree of dimensional stability of Precision Board Plus, these parts are sure to fit properly every time.


Did You Know?

All Precision Board Plus densities possess excellent dimensional stability. The CTE for PBHT-20, the material used on the project above, is a very low 27×10-6 F, making Precision Board Plus an excellent choice as a tooling substrate when tight tolerances are required. For CTE specifications on other Precision Board Plus densities, see our product data sheets.

In addition, Precision Board Plus does not out-gas during the curing process, so it’s ideal for layup tools and mold patterns (see autoclave ramping procedures). To learn more about the capabilities of Precision Board Plus, go to

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