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D-Lib Magazine
July 2005

Volume 11 Number 7

ISSN 1082-9873

Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library

Contributed by:
Kizer Walker and John M. Saylor
Cornell University Library

Cornell University Library (CUL), with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), has built an innovative digital library for learning and teaching about kinematics -- the geometry of pure motion -- and the history and theory of machines. The Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library (KMODDL) is an open access, multimedia online resource developed by CUL in collaboration with Cornell faculty in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics and the Museum of Science (MoS) in Boston. KMODDL is a pedagogical space designed for use by teachers and researchers, as well as students at a range of educational levels, and other learners, young and adult.

Image from the collection: Rolling Cones Image from the collection: Circular Guide Slider-Crank Mechanism

Models from the Reuleaux Collection

Left: Rolling Cones

Right: Circular guide slider-crank mechanism

Courtesy of Cornell University Library, Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library (KMODDL): <>. Used with permission.


The core of KMODDL is the Reuleaux Collection of Mechanisms and Machines, an important collection of 19th-century model machine elements held by Cornell University's Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The Cornell team is currently working with MoS to digitize the museum's Clark Collection of Mechanical Movements, an early 20th-century set of mechanical models, and incorporate these models as KMODDL's second collection. The website allows users to see and manipulate the mechanisms in motion in several different ways, and provides rich informational context for their mechanical, mathematical, and historical significance. KMODDL contains:

  • still and interactive moving images of kinematic mechanisms, with systematic descriptions
  • tutorials that employ the models and simulations for classroom instruction at the undergraduate, high school, and middle school levels
  • computer simulations of mathematical relationships associated with the mechanisms' movements
  • key historical and contemporary texts related to the history and theory of machines and mechanisms
  • stereolithography files for "printing" working physical replicas

Initial development of KMODDL was funded by a 2002-2004 National Science Digital Library (NSDL) collections grant from NSF. KMODDL shares descriptive metadata with the NSDL central metadata repository via the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) Protocol for Metadata Harvesting and is also searchable through the NSDL portal (

A 2004-2006 research grant from IMLS's Model Programs of Library-Museum Collaboration program is enabling KMODDL to expand its mechanism collection in collaboration with MoS. But beyond developing the collection, the IMLS project is studying the potential of rapid prototyping ("3D printing") technology for sharing and teaching with physical artifacts. The project will also advance knowledge about the description, storage, delivery, and preservation of 3D objects in digital libraries.

Cornell engineers on the KMODDL team are using rapid prototyping technology to reproduce working physical models as 3-dimensional "prints" from digital files. These replicas are based on computer-aided design (CAD) drawings of the Reuleaux and Clark models, captured in stereolithography (STL) format. STL files can be exported for printing on a rapid prototyping fabricator. Rapid prototyping builds a working physical object in a sequence of thermoplastic layers from a filament-wound coil that is heated and extruded through a nozzle.

Ratchet mechanism.

Left: original Reuleaux model from the Cornell Collection.

Right: "Printed" model from stereolithographic file.

Image from the collection: Ratchet mechanism Image from the collection: Ratchet mechanism

Courtesy of Cornell University Library, Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library (KMODDL): <>. Used with permission.


The 3D-printed plastic reproductions of the original models are designed for incorporation into hands-on exhibit interpretation activities for museum visitors, and for teaching purposes in middle school science and technology classrooms. Project researchers are studying the pedagogical and usability issues surrounding the use of the 3D prints artifacts in both learning environments.

Structuring a multimedia digital library around physical artifact collections has presented distinct metadata and information organization challenges. KMODDL has extensively documented the project team's approaches to date; metadata documentation is posted at the KMODDL site. An important facet of the present IMLS-supported project is the investigation of best practices for the integration of 3D digital objects of all kinds into digital library collections. One product of the grant project will be a white paper addressing questions of taxonomy, description, access provision, asset management, and preservation for 3D digital objects of various formats. 3D content is utilized in diverse applications including medicine, architecture, archaeology, land use planning, and simulation, although access and exchange across disciplines is hindered by a lack of standards. This is still a relatively new area of research, and the project team expects the white paper will be a welcome contribution to the digital library community.

KMODDL will expand to include more collections and new formats, and the project team is seeking additional collaborators. The current focus on 3D printing technology stems from the project team's understanding of this technology as one that converts between information and artifact, thus exemplifying an intersection of library and museum work. The team sees one role of 3D printing technology, in the near future, as a means for non-destructive exchange of working replicas of valuable or rare physical objects between museum and library collections, or for direct dissemination to users for educational and research purposes.

The Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library is located at < >.

Copyright© 2005 Cornell University Library, Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library (KMODDL)

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