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Posted 11/2/2015

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By Andrew Goodall, Project Engineer


The idea of taking a two-dimensional drawing and turning it into a three-dimensional object is something engineers have been doing for years. A new project recently completed by the Inland Navigation Design Center (INDC) at the Rock Island District is taking this concept to a new level with the help of a local university and some new computer technology.

During times of emergency repair and maintenance, navigational locks, like Emsworth Locks and Dam located just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio River are blocked off with temporary walls called bulkheads that prevent water from entering the chamber. These bulkheads must fit tightly into the lock wall and be held securely in place by a channel in the concrete wall known as a recess. In fall 2014, the INDC was tasked with designing new lock bulkhead recesses for the Emsworth Locks.

Designing the lock bulkhead recesses was not a problem for the INDC and the team completed the design in about two months. After the design was completed, operations project engineer, Bob Szemanski of the Pittsburgh District contacted the INDC and asked if it would be possible to print the project in 3D before the actual construction was to take place at the lock.

Three-dimensional printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process where a solid 3D object can be created with a specialized printer and a digital file. The INDC does not currently have the equipment or software needed to perform 3D printing but they were willing to look into options for having it done outside the Corps. Mike Lindsey, an engineering technician with the Rock Island District, did some research and found that Western Illinois University – Quad Cities could produce the print.

To begin the process, the virtual Computer-aided Design (CAD) model was sent to Jeff Rose, an engineering technology instructor at Western Illinois University. Jeff played an integral part in producing the print and worked closely with the INDC to print exactly what was needed.

"Although 3D printing is a relatively new process," said Lindsey. "It is becoming more common and more places are making it a standard in engineering design."

To create the 3D model, Rose used a robot-like 3D printer that laid down successive layers of material to build the three-dimensional version of the design. The Emsworth Lock model took a few weeks to print due to its size and level of detail but once completed was a 1/90th scale version of the downstream end of the real lock.

"The benefit of 3D printing is that it allows people to see how a finished project will look in real-life," said Lindsey. "It also allows engineers to identify possible issues before a project is built to full scale."

After the model was printed, the INDC shipped it to Pittsburgh District where they intend to use it for teaching new employees about the bulkhead installation and to show specifics on how the project works.

"I can't say enough how much help Western Illinois University – Quad Cities was during the whole process," said Lindsey. "I look forward to working with them in the future to produce more 3D prints."