Wednesday, May 12, 2010

3D Printing and 3dsMax

Today's blog posting was contributed by David Munson, principal of Munson3D, experts in virtual and physical 3D solutions for AEC.

For those who have invested the time and effort to learn Autodesk’s 3dsMax (or 3dsMax Design), there are special benefits. We can think of 3dsMax as a great receptacle for graphic information. It can act as a bridge, uniting the various software products we typically use. Be it from CAD, BIM, Google Earth, SketchUp, Illustrator, or Photoshop, 3dsMax is a place where all that information can find a home. Virtual models can then be expanded upon for not only on screen visualizations and renderings, but via 3D printing technologies, for physical model creation as well.

Awareness of how to prepare files for 3D printing needs to be understood when translating from one format to another, in order to be able to make the 'virtual' – 'physical' bridge happen. Crafting physical models was traditionally done with an isolated, independent process. Now physical models are made from the efforts put into making the virtual model. The physical model simply becomes a physical instance of the virtual model. Conversely, once you have prepared a model for 3D printing, you then have a virtual model which can be used for visualizations.

For efficient preparation for 3D printing, one needs to build the virtual model with solids rather than faces. So, new geometry creation should be with solids rather than faces and imported geometry should come in to the 3D printing software as solids. For that to happen cleanly, export settings need to be set properly. Also, one may think about how to thicken elements for the 3D printed model when creating your virtual model. Walls that may be best to have at true thickness for on screen visualizations may need to be thickened up when preparing files for 3D printing. This typically means extruding a face that is on the inside of an exterior wall.

Actually, the best example to consider may be a pane of glass. For small scale models, we usually print the glass such that the scale model meets the minimum thickness recommendations for the 3D printer. The answer to how one does that will lead you to the best procedure. For your process, that could mean editing a Family in Revit and re-exporting the model [e.g. directly to STL for 3D printing], or working with Instances in 3dsMax, or creating new glass on one facade as one entity spread out over the whole face. There typically are a few valid ways to produce similar results. The key is to understand the needs for both virtual and physical modeling, and to manage those needs along the way. Efficiency and a high degree of aesthetic control are then achieved, enabling you to communicate your design better, both virtually and physically.


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