CNC Routing Topographical Maps Saves Time & Money over 3D Printing

Are you currently spending the time and money to 3D print topographical maps and wondering if there is a better solution? That’s just what a customer asked Techno CNC Systems to look into.  Bob Valentine, an applications engineer at Techno, did a time study using one of their Titan CNC machines on Precision Board HDU from Coastal Enterprises with excellent results. In this week’s guest blog, Bob walks us through their process and results, including speeds & feeds information for producing this really unique looking topographical map.


In Bob’s own words…

Techno CNC Systems latest 3 dimensional project endeavor was the complex routing of a topographical map of Mexico City. This proof of concept challenge was from a customer looking for a CNC router that could handle the production volume and reduce the material costs of their topographical maps. Their goal was to conduct a time study of routing these maps versus their current method of 3D printing them, which is timely and costly.


Having a good understanding of the project and the demands of the customer, Techno application engineers looked to use Precision Board high density urethane provided by Coastal Enterprises. The foam-like material is perfect for high speed machining, allowing the user to clearly delineate the complex contours and shapes that a 3D application requires. No sanding is required, like most wood and plastic materials, and the variety of different densities and thicknesses offered gives a shop the versatility to take on both 2D and 3D applications. Techno’s Titan CNC Router cut out the topographical map using Coastal’s 20 lb. density (PBLT-20). Though this type of density is one of the lighter ones offered by Coastal Enterprises, it effectively captured the varying complex levels and contours that were included on the map and Techno’s video.

Techno’s Titan Series CNC Router includes a 12HP HSD high frequency automatic tool changing, vacuum t-slot table, and is controlled by an easy to use handheld controller. The controller is an open architectural controller which therefore runs from any CAD/CAM programming software that outputs G&M codes. In this first prototype, only two tools were required. A ¼” two flute endmill was used to rough out the part and was run at 18,000 RPM and 300 IPM. This roughing strategy helps in clearing the majority of excess material, reducing the cutting forces produced as the machine transitions to smaller cutting tools. The finishing tool path was achieved by using a 1/8” 3 flute tapered ball endmill running at 15,000 RPM and 265 IPM.

Being able to rout a complicated and flattering piece such as this a topographical map using Precision Board High Density Urethane is the norm for Techno CNC Systems as Coastal Enterprises offers us a number of solutions and guides for finishing any and all of their products. As a CNC manufacturer, Techno chooses to let the cut quality and run time speak for itself. If you would like a time study conducted by Techno, we welcome the challenge!


Techno has sold and serviced thousands of CNC machines worldwide. Here at Techno CNC Systems, quality is defined as the precision components and workmanship built into each and every machine. High quality ensures reliable cutting and machine longevity. We know what our customers need and keep up with their demands, while remaining price conscious and delivering CNC solutions with creative design. We are continuously studying technology and designing our own equipment to better serve our customers. Whether your business is sign making, woodworking / cabinetry, plastic fabrication, musical instruments, education, foam, or general fabrication, we are ready to serve you. We produce a vast number of machine models to meet any and all production needs and budgets. Our full line CNC routers and CNC plasma cutters consist of large format and small table top sizes with a vast assortment of accessories to meet any production need. Our current family of CNC routers represent over 32+ years of CNC research and development. Contact them today at 631-648-7481 and talk with one of their sales engineers about your production needs.

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane material used extensively in the tooling industry.  It is a closed-cell, rigid, dimensionally-stable substrate that is ideal for use in a number of different tooling applications.

Request free samplesget a quote or sign up for weekly e-blasts packed with helpful information.

Creating a Topographical Map of Mars using Precision Board HDU

Coastal Enterprises, manufacturers of Precision Board HDU, is proud to host guest blogs written by some of the signage industry’s biggest movers and shakers, posted to the Precision Board Blog.  Adam Carlson with CNC Tahoe wanted to do a fun project, so he created a topographical map of the surface of the planet Mars, using 15lb Precision Board high-density urethane.  Below he walks us through the steps, including speeds and feeds settings, and shows us the finished product!

topographical map

In Adam’s own words…


topographical map

This was a random project I wanted to do. I never seem to have “fun project” time, and had a small window, so I seized it. First I took a topographical MOLA dataset of Mars surface from NASA, converted it into a grayscale height map, imported it into Aspire, created the CAM file and then exported it to my Shopbot Buddy.

I secured the Precision Board (PBLT-15) sample from Coastal Enterprises to the spoil board with some CA glue. The PBLT-15 was factory flat and sat flush on the table. The small chunk I removed was easily done on my bandsaw, the Precision Board cut like butter! Next I zeroed out Amana Tool #46282-K I received from Tools Today. Normally on topographical carvings I zero to the table but It wasn’t necessary since I only had to run one file. Since the PBLT-15 is a lower density and cuts smooth, I was able to run the 4 flute, 1/16″ ball nose bit for a finishing pass right away and at a faster than normal feed rate.

The large “bump” is Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system. Towering 16 miles high, 374 miles in diameter and surrounded by a 4 mile cliff. Roughly as large as Arizona and 4 times taller than Mount Everest…now that’s big. I love how the Precision Board gave high detail on the surface, which is easy to see in the right light, and the 15lb. density is good for topographical testing, holds great detail and can be cut at faster rates.

This 4″ x 8″ x 1″ piece was machined in approximately 3 hours at 195 IPM feed rate, 165 IPM plunge rate and spindle running at 18,000 RPM. Using an 11.1{afbea94bd31582343c3017644f03ec8d7d8fa2386ecb82c250661e06c0c6e111} (.0069″) step-over to keep the detail fine and tool marks zero made for a clean outcome, but a longer cut time. For topographical carvings, true end products, I’m sticking with 30lb and up, though. PBLT-15 is a recommended density if you reference the Precision Board Material Selection Guide (Ed note: suggested densities for topographical and architectural models on our chart range from PBLT-10 all the way up to PBLT-75), but I like dense material for a final product.  This was perfect for prototyping.

My next project is a topographical map of another location. This time near central California and will be done using PBLT-30.  Follow me on Instagram to see the next story very soon. Also, I have another idea in mind.  We’ll see if we can make this one a reality with Precision Board HDU!

Adam Carlson runs CNC Tahoe, a shop where he does design, woodwork and machining.  He also runs PLUS Skateboards.  You can contact him via email.

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane material used extensively in the tooling industry.  It is a closed-cell, rigid, dimensionally-stable substrate that is ideal for use in a number of different tooling applications.

Request free samplesget a quote or sign up for weekly e-blasts packed with helpful information.

Low Density – High Accuracy – Making it Happen with PBLT-4

From the snowy mountains of Colorado, Donn Arrell, owner of Clinton Systems and topographical model maker extraordinaire, sent in a picture of his latest creation.

Donn CNC-machined this topographical map using Precision Board Plus PBLT-4, which is the  lowest density of Precision Board that we manufacture, because his customer was interested in a highly-detailed model, but was very cost-conscious.


It’s interesting to note that despite the low density, the level of detail on the model is magnificent. A DWG CAD file containing the contour lines was the source for deriving the 3-D model, and the flat area on the far left is due to missing data from the NED file given to Donn for this project.

Additional information about the topographical models crafted by Clinton Systems can be seen at: