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3D Process Diagrams and Site Maps

3D process diagrams, or site maps are a creative, informative way of introducing your product solutions in context with appropriate markets. CraneDigital has been there since the beginning helping organizations large and small present their products and solutions to a global market utilizing the world-wide reach of the web. 3D site maps are a creative, fun way to help new audiences understand what you do. They’re the equivalent of the proverbial elevator speech – you know, “tell me in 10 seconds what you do.”

3D Process diagram, site map, decision tree, virtual world or process flow diagrams are a great way to help others understand your products and solutions in context.
3D process diagram for marketing: the various high-level steps of the clean water process, illustrated for Milton Roy

Today’s Marketing Director knows that moving major marketing initiatives to the web was not a matter of if, but when and how. It became even more important due to the long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our clients often request 3D Site Maps that show their products and services in context of specific markets. CraneDigital has 30 years of marketing and communications expertise creating compelling 3D graphics and animation to help during this transition.

3D Site Maps and Process diagrams. Using fictional environments to set the stage for real-world products.
FLEXIM’s Dynamic Gas Master is a good example of using 3D Site Maps and Process diagrams to set the stage for real-world products. Using simple but recognizable 3D models to represent industry environments sets the stage for real-world products, introduced using client-supplied CAD data.
Fort Collins Animator, Fort Collins Explainer Videos
Still frame from animation showing market solutions for HACH’s products and services. Each industry is represented by a pad containing appropriate infrastructure. Pads are linked by various piping to allow connectivity between different industries.
Clean Power Graphics: 3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Munters VariMax® IFRG Process Graphic. Explaining the principles behind heat exchange technology.
Munters VariMax® IFRG Process Graphic. Explaining the principles behind heat exchange technology.

Are 3D Process Diagrams Right for You?

Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Cement”https://cranedigital.com/industrial-animation-case-study-schneider-electric/

No matter the term; Process Diagram, Site Map, Production Path, Process Flow, Decision Tree or Virtual World, these 3D Site Maps are vital tools for organizations to showcase products and solutions in a clearly fictional – but believable way. Translating complex concepts into easy to understand visuals is what these graphics are all about.

This virtual world is useful sales presentations, training, and educational purposes. Deliverables include a series of images used to customize sales presentations (think PowerPoint or Visio). Creating animations and videos from you virtual worlds is the logical next step use of these assets.

Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Mining”
Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Steel”

Working in 3D offers flexibility, but like everything there are considerations to keep in mind.

3D Site Maps, Process Diagrams
3D Site Map, Process Flow Diagram, Virtual World or Interactive Map: whatever the name, the idea is the same: to introduce your products and services quickly and clearly, in-context to a web-savvy market. In many cases colors are neutralized to keep focus on branding.

Our Approach

The environment is usually brand neutral, except for the client’s brand. This means removing excessive color or anything that could be associated with other well-known products, especially those from competitors. This ensures your organization’s branding standards, such as color treatment, logos, spacing, and application, are maintained. It also allows you to focus all your marketing efforts and budget on promoting your own brand.

Cement Crusher for Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Cement”

Accurate, Recognizable but Not Precise = PLAUSIBLE

Cyclones,Schneider Electric Solutions for Mining
Cyclones, Schneider Electric “Solutions for Mining”

The 3D environment should be accurate, but not with engineering precision. Plausible is the word we like to use. There are many reasons for this. Industry insiders should know that an organization understands its customers and the spaces they occupy. However, being too specific about the make or model of anything not directly related to your own product line implies preference for one piece of equipment over another. So, it’s important to create believable versions of things that are not distinguishable.

Smart Crane for Steel Industry
Smart Crane 3D model, built for Schneider Electric “Solutions for Steel”

Level of Detail

Level of detail is an important factor to consider. Adding too much detail to environments takes a lot of time and money. It also makes animation more complicated. The perspective from which you view a scene plays a big role in deciding the level of detail to include. For example, if you’re looking at a Municipal Wastewater plant from a high altitude you don’t need to show every small part of the facility. However, if the camera zooms in for a closer look, level of detail becomes important. It’s better to approach level of detail in stages.


3D Diagram of Wastewater Treatment Plant, color version
Aerial view of Wastewater treatment plant, phase 1: the 10,000 foot view.
  • Phase One might be the 10,000 foot view providing environment for context. Whether a Cement Plant, Steel Mill, a Mining Site or Municipal Wastewater facility, setting the stage with accurate, plausible environments is a first step.
Wastewater Aeration Tank-wide shot
Phase 2: Close up rendering of a Wastewater aeration tank.
  • Phase Two might be a closer look at individual areas of activity. Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are essential to ensure accuracy and detail as the camera moves closer. In phase two you’re making and refining decisions about what you’ll view next. For example, if your next PowerPoint slide or shot in a video is how equipment installs, you’ll build out enough detail to set the stage. Cameras are positioned anywhere in the scene for unique vantage points using real world photography techniques like depth of field blur are used to enhance realism.
Wastewater Aeration Tank-Close Up
Phase 3: Detailed aeration tank can withstand the close-up shot with its safety railings and detailed equipment. But for a 10,000 foot shot there’s no need for this level of detail; no one will see it. The trick is planning which is which.
  • Phase Three is where individual products are introduced into their proper setting. Environment has been established and it’s time to reveal the reason we’re looking at this world. This is where detailed, accurate product is shown. Often times CAD data sets are the best approach, eliminating the costly process of recreating something that already exists.

Wisdom and Experience

Choosing how to spend time and budget wisely is important. When beginning a scene and an idea becomes visible, requests for more detail arise. It’s not a question if more detail can be added, but should it be. It’s about staying focused on the core message. With 30 years experience we guide you through this process.

Sometimes various color accents indicating common elements, such as water, can break up the monochrome look without contaminating branding.

Building your 3D process diagram or site map animation can be approached in two ways. The first option is to overbuild the entire site, allowing for complete freedom of movement and ensuring that every part of it can withstand close scrutiny. However, this approach requires a significant amount of time and money. The second option is to approach the construction process in phases, which is more sensible. There is no point in investing time and money into detailing a part of the site that will not be seen by anyone.


One of the most challenging and enjoyable aspects of building a site is creating the machines and equipment specific to each industry. Using reference photos and descriptions, these machines are constructed to resemble real-world counterparts. However, they do not represent any particular brand or model. Instead, their final versions are an average representation of several different samples. In some cases, it is necessary to create machines that fall into specific categories. For example, there was a recent need to depict a large shipping container being transported by a flatbed semi-truck. It was important to accurately show a drop-down flatbed to accommodate the extreme weight requirements. Therefore, sometimes it is appropriate to include a certain level of detail.

Each animation piece adds to the fun and intrigue. The interactive environment makes it enjoyable for potential customers. Once your asset library is constructed, you can easily leverage models for any future marketing efforts. Making changes to individual assets will automatically update all future scenes.

Stacker & Reclaimer for Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Mining”

With over 30 years of experience, CraneDigital can expertly assist you in determining what is best for your needs. Give us a call at (970) 213-1828 to discuss how we can help you showcase your products and services on the internet. We are here to help.

3D Modeling for Graphic Design

3D Modeling for graphic design has evolved tremendously over the years. CraneDigital has been there since the early days, today putting to work 30 years of experience, creativity and wisdom on every project landing on our desk.

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Munters VariMax® IFRG Process Graphic. Explaining the principles behind heat exchange technology.

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Munters VariMax® IFRG Process Graphic. Explaining the principles behind heat exchange technology. 3D Illustration is used to graphically represent concepts without committing to a specific model of equipment. This allows the graphic a longer shelf life due to not being tied to specific piece of equipment’s life span

3D Modeling for Graphic Design is a cornerstone technique used to visualize anything by creating believable, plausible content. CraneDigital began (as Sandhill Studios) doing this right around the time the (current version of the) internet was born, using airbrushing techniques learned in art school.

Data Center 3D Model: two-story, 48MW ITE data center is a complex image to digest. Using visualization techniques like before and after we're able to provide a better look at what's going on under the roof.Data Center 3D Model: two-story, 48MW ITE data center is a complex image to digest. Using visualization techniques like before and after we're able to provide a better look at what's going on under the roof.
Data Center 3D Model: two-story, 48MW ITE data center is a complex image to digest. Using visualization techniques like before and after we’re able to provide a better look at what’s going on under the roof.
A brief assortment of graphical logo treatments for clients over the years.

Then one day walking through an Albuquerque, NM bookstore, I stumbled upon something that would alter the course of my career – and life. Deep in the computer software section there was a software box with catchy illustrations that looked similar to what I was creating with an airbrush – only better. I showed it to my wife and we both winced at the price: $300 – which was a lot of money to a couple of artists trying to make it in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the mid 90’s. After a brief discussion we decided it was worth the risk, and my first 3D Illustration program, Ray Dream Designer was purchased.

3D explainer video
CAD Translation opens up an entirely new realm for the 3D modeler/illustrator. If an object already exists as a result of R&D/Engineering, it makes no sense to waste time re-modeling it. The 3D illustrator is able to then use truly accurate digital twins and do things otherwise impossible in real life. Slicing through exterior housings to see interior features, for example. Created for long-time client Informa-Engage these industrial-strength power products are from CAD files.
3D Modeling for Graphic Design.
Ant Acid, where it began almost 30 years ago. Dusting off a project from art school and using it to teach myself 3D modeling, Ant Acid went on to win notoriety in the New York Society of Illustrators. The makers of Ray Dream Design initially couldn’t believe their software was used to create such a complex, detailed model.
3D Model of Well Head.
Using photographs as reference, virtually anything can be built by a skilled 3D modeler. Extreme attention to detail is essential to creating believable objects that appear as they would in the physical world. A firm grasp of photographic techniques translates well to working with the sophisticated virtual cameras of 3D.

With computer skills young and undeveloped, but a firm understanding of the essentials, I loaded the software on my Mac – which barely met the basic system requirements. Immediately it became clear I needed a new computer. The journey had begun.

BioCycle-D from Enviromix: Optimized Aerobic Digestion for waste water technology explained
BioCycle D Optimized Aerobic Digestion. Part CAD file translation, part re-modeling/optimizing for animation, this image is a good example of using client-provided information as a base, then altering various components for optimum presentation.
Land diagrams and plot maps.
Created for Shell Oil’s S.U.R.E (Shell Unconventional Resource Exploration) team, 3D illustration was used with GIS data to accurately represent a real plot of land in western Colorado.

Fast forward 30+ years and many, many hours later, learning many, many 3D modeling software packages – here we are, the end of 2023. The potential of 3D graphics packages far exceeds the wildest imagination of yesteryear. Today, virtually anything can be created, visualized, invented – and animated – on the computer, bringing an entire new level of potential to visual communications.

With 30 years of examples 3D Modeling for Graphic Design to show, it’s tough to decide which images should be on this page. As well, styles change over time. Initially my color palette leaned towards brighter, more vibrant colors. Over time I’ve become more understated, focusing instead on the nuance produced by subtle shifts in lighting, allowing an object’s natural character to emerge. This is also attributable in part to more advanced lighting techniques.

Cut-away illustration of blow out preventer.
After the Deep Water Horizon’s catastrophic failure, Royal Dutch Shell executives were in damage control explaining to share holders why this could not happen to their equipment. 3D illustration from CraneDigital helped convey that message in high-stakes meetings with the CEO.

While CraneDigital has worked with large, multi-national corporations over the last 30 years, we’ve also had the privilege of working with those just starting out, trying to help get ideas out of their head for the rest of the world to see. The work below was created for start-up company Cahill Services, providing heat to construction sites around the world through use of portable, jet-engine powered heaters they somehow figured out how to mount in trailers and ship to some of the coldest, most remote sites on earth. We worked closely with Cahill Heating to understand their value proposition, then advise visuals that best supported core messaging. The result was a explainer video concisely summarizing Cahill’s value proposition.

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Conveying complex value propositions is a key benefit of using 3D graphics for marketing. Being able to visually illustrate concepts relationships between elements eliminates confusion and clarifies messaging.
3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Conveying complex value propositions is a key benefit of using 3D graphics for marketing. Being able to visually illustrate concepts relationships between elements eliminates confusion and clarifies messaging.

One trailer model (below) was represented by CAD engineering. The other needed to be constructed as a 3D model by CraneDigital. Can you tell which is which in the image below?

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: We illustrate and animate using 3D models either provided by client as CAD files, or by building the model from scratch using visual reference.
We animate and illustrate using 3D models either provided by client as CAD files, or by building the model from scratch using visual reference.

This last image is an example created recently for a project that has not yet been fully realized. The initial ask was for a series of images relating to Clean Energy. Though the project didn’t materialize due to deadline constraints, it seemed a good enough idea to explore anyway. As a result we’ve embarked on modeling various components for future projects. Below is a DAC Hub, created as a 3D model allowing 360° views for future projects. After 30 years of doing this, our model library is extensive.

DAC (Direct Air Capture) Hub
Direct air capture, or DAC, is a carbon dioxide removal process that separates carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere. The separated CO2 can then be converted into components of products like concrete or stored safely and permanently deep underground. DAC, and other forms of carbon removal, is a critical tool for reaching net-zero emissions and cleaning up the legacy carbon pollution that is already in the atmosphere, causing significant climate change related damage.

So no matter the project, CraneDigital has 30 years of experience creating custom imagery for an enormous variety of applications and clients. Give us a call at (970) 213-1828. We’d love to help on your next project. Thanks for reading.

Industrial Animation Case Study: Schneider Electric

Over the years we’ve had the privilege of working on some fun projects. One of them was a series of industrial animation created for industry giant Schneider Electric. The goal for these projects was to provide a high-level view of each industrial process where their products and solutions were applicable.

Three primary industries were spotlighted: Steel, Mining and Cement. We began with Steel, following a corporate approved style. Over the next several years the other two projects were created to match. As style evolved, each animation was updated to reflect consistency.

  • Industrial Animation: Schneider Electric, Solutions for Cement.
  • Industrial Animation: Schneider Electric, Solutions for Mining.
  • Industrial Animation: Schneider Electric, Solutions for Steel, Solutions for Mining.
A brief collection of out-takes from 3 different industrial animations created for Schneider Electric: Solutions for Cement, Solutions for Mining and Solutions for Steel.

These were challenging projects. Some of the challenges included identifying the correct pieces of machinery to include in the right locations. Each process was specific and required a good bit of research to accurately represent. It’s a delicate balance: the incorrect piece of equipment and too little detail conveys incomplete knowledge. Too much detail suggests undesirable specifics.

3d model of cement crusher for solutions for cement industrial animation
3d model of cement crusher for solutions for cement industrial animation

A significant challenge was modeling. Each piece of equipment was built from scratch to represent accurate, real world machines recognizable by industry insiders – but not directly promoting brands. Creating individual parts and pieces with real world motion in mind was important. Because the scenes were so large it was vital to create clean, efficient models requiring the least amount of overhead.

Industrial Animation modeling: simplifying complex objects into visually accurate, animatable 3D models is a specialty at CraneDigital.

One core strength at CraneDigital is using 3D CAD models when available. There are times however, this is not the right approach. Sometimes CAD models are not available. But more importantly, 3D CAD models require extensive optimization, given their size and complexity. Essentially, they’re not the most efficient models to work with – but they are the most technically accurate.

Industrial Animation modeling: simplifying complex objects into visually accurate, animatable 3D models is a specialty at CraneDigital.

Fortunately another core strength is building 3D models of anything – from scratch. Accurate 3D models may be created from nothing but reference material to represent any object with sufficient detail. These models are easier to manage and animate in large scenes. Often times for large projects this is a better approach.

Solutions for Steel Industrial AnimationSchneider Electric

Another challenge was camera movement. Not too fast or too slow; not too high or too low. Positioning the camera to dive and dip through complex scenes while not making the viewer nauseous, as if on a roller coaster.

Solutions for Cement Industrial Animation-Schneider Electric

One of the greatest challenges was particle systems. As the camera passed each conveyor belt moving material to the next station, the size and composition of the material needed to appear visibly different. Each process along the way altered the material essentially making it smaller and changing color until finally resulting in the end product. Because the camera moved close to each conveyor, detail needed to be accurate.

But perhaps the greatest challenge of these projects was the sheer file size and complexity of each scene. The Mining animation alone contained over 154 Models, nearly 5,000 separate objects, more than 1,200 different animated objects, and over 5 million polygons. Keeping track of this all required some attention to detail and good strategy.

One of the goals for these animations was a long shelf life because the processes don’t often change. For industries such as this, the ROI is very appealing.

Industrial Animation Case Study: Cahill Heating

At CraneDigital we get to work on some really fun projects, but sometimes aren’t able to share them right away. One thing is for sure: one of the greatest parts of this job is learning something about every industry that walks in the door. It’s an established fact that most communication happens at about an 8th grade level, so “talk to me like I’m in 8th grade” is my typical request to new clients explaining their business.

Not long ago we had the privilege of working with a new client, Cahill Heating, to introduce their revolutionary flameless, portable heating technology. It’s pretty impressive: essentially these guys figured out how to put a jet engine in a trailer, then transport that trailer to the coldest places on earth to use the heat from the engine to keep job sites warm.

Cahill Heating Jet Heat Micro Turbine

“CraneDigital did a fantastic job in a timely manner, on budget, creating a marketing video that perfectly captured our value propositions. It was clear that they did a lot of research on the industry and our business to create a unique and powerful marketing message. Throughout the project, John was very communicative and responsive and he was great to work with. We recommend Crane Digital to any specialty company trying to set themselves apart from their competitors.” – Cahill Heating Services

Comparing one Cahill heater to the competition illustrates how efficient the Cahill heating system is.

There were a few important aspects about Cahill’s value proposition it was important to make clear. One, it’s flameless. In combustible environments flameless heat is a must. Anything risking explosion or fire is a show stopper. The second – fuel consumption. In the rented heat business, fuel represents one of the most significant expenses. You have the cost of the rental unit itself, then the cost of the fuel on top for total project cost.

Industrial animation explains technical concepts in visually understandable terms

So whatever can be done to minimize fuel consumption saves money. One of the value-adds of the Cahill system is it burns less fuel. Cahill’s value prop was they could heat your work site safer, faster, more fuel efficiently and cost effectively, with fewer heaters and less equipment repositioning than anyone else. In fact, no one else was even close.

Cahill Heating portable trailers.
Whether you have CAD files or not, we can help. Only one of the above trailers leveraged available CAD data. The other needed to be modeled to round out the solution.

So how to get that across in a short, to-the-point video. That’s where CraneDigital comes in. Helping refine the message, then craft visuals explaining the process is our thing.

We set about working with the script generated to come up with shots supporting each idea. The shots were roughed out, approved, then moved to production. The net result was a final marketing message explaining the business, the value proposition, and the solution to some difficult problems. The process took about 6 weeks from start to finish.

Stylized approach to showing how Cahill Heaters heat construction sites.

Let CraneDigital help present your unique message to your target audience with compelling, informative media. We have a 24 year track record of intimate, client-focused listening, working hard to understand your business, then recommending and executing. Give us a call. We can help.