Largest ever contour map of the North West

Creating the largest contour map by combining 3D printing, large-scale digital printing, and laser cutting combined for the international festival of business.


Arup is an independent engineering and design company, who were working on perhaps their most ambitious planning project yet.   As well as working on the engineering and design, their client, Alan Torevell, tasked them with illustrating his innovative North West Squared proposals to produce renewable energy through tidal gateways along the North West coast.   Arups had created a virtual computer model, but wanted a physical model to increase accessibility and engagement with the plans across a wide range of stakeholders.  This 3D map was also required to be a key attraction of the International Festival of Business (IFB)

Key Challenges:

  • Break the boundaries of traditional architectural planning
  • Produce the largest ever contour map of the North West
  • Be 3.4m x 1.6m and fill the biggest exhibition space available at the IFB
  • Cover hundreds of square miles of an area from north Wales to north of the Lake District and from the west coast to the Peak District
  • Feature 139 renewable energy sources in the North West
  • Assist viewers to orientate and navigate themselves around the 3D map
  • Getting as much value as possible from the budget
  • To have an interactive element
  • Deadline of the opening of the festival
  • Be fairly easily to move so to have a life after the exhibition.


The best services from across the Hobs Group portfolio were required to be combined in one project.  The accuracy of the large digital printers and cutters were used to print map sections then laser cut individual contour layers out of the printed PVC foam sheets, in just 2 days.  These layers represented 50m increments in the real world.  Traditional model making techniques were then used to combine these layers to form the 3D map and add textures to forest areas.

At the same time, the power of our 3D printing made it possible to create 139 3D printed models of nuclear and coal power stations, wind farms, solar PV panels, waste incinerators, biomass processing plants and hydro turbines.  To help with orientation around the map, 10 highly intricate models of famous North West landmarks were also 3D printed.  These include the Blackpool Tower, the Beatham Tower in Manchester and the Three Graces buildings in Liverpool.  Again, all the models were 3D printed in just two days. In contrast, it would have taken up to two weeks to do the same thing using traditional model making techniques, which has saved both time and money.

The contour map and display plinths were designed to split into eight sections so after the exhibition the model can be divided and used in sections as required.  The finished project was then brought to life by overhead projectors, from Manchester based The Neighbourhood, which beam video footage and digital images onto the map to show the movement of the tides on the tidal gateways and information on the energy sources.

The Result

The model was installed on time for the start of the festival, has had many more visitors than anticipated and has been photographed and tweeted many times.

‘We are delighted with the finished model and the reaction from our team and visitors has been tremendous.  By working with Hobs 3D we’ve created a very special model that’s highly accurate, informative and visually stunning.’   Simon Mabey, Senior Designer of Arup

“The sort of display you might expect to see in London’s Science Museum.”  “Organisations… are already lining up to make use of it for projects.” Mike Cowley, The Times North


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