China’s military has unveiled its first topographic map using advanced 3D printing technology.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said on its official website that it had produced a terrain map of a Lanzhou city, capital of north-west China’s Gansu province, in conjunction with research institutes and universities.
The measuring and mapping information centre at the Lanzhou Military Area Command (MAC) produced the map last November, although the PLA only announced the development in February on China Military Online.
Researchers said 3D terrain maps were a great visual and practical tool to gain a better understanding of a geographic area, and would be useful for military planning, emergency services and civil engineering.
An official of the Lanzhou MAC said the 3D topographic map had excellent military application values as it could provide an accurate and reliable basis for military topographic analysis, for commanders to make decisions and for troop units to carry out their missions.
The map is lightweight and easily transportable compared with traditional manmade sand tables, the PLA said. It previously needed 12 hours to prepare for sand table training but the new technology had halved this time.
Thousands of tonnes of obsolete maps were used instead of expensive printing materials such as gypsums, resins, plastics and metal powders, reducing costs.
Wang Mingxiao, director of the research team, said the researchers had recently improved the precision of the A4-sized topographic map, which had been accurate to 1mm, making it accurate to 0.1mm, and had also expanded the scope of the map. They had also reduced the printing time from 24 hours to eight hours.