Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Design and Modeling Workflows

In my travels and conversations with architects and engineers, I encounter many different workflows for conceptual design and modeling. Some are clean and efficient, while others are clumsy and less efficient. For example, the old-fashioned workflow went something like this – you would create a set of 2D plan and elevation drawings, send blueprints to a model shop, wait for the first phone call, clarify, discuss, compromise, edit, and repeat. Then, a week or two later comes a 3D physical model that you would be proud to show your colleagues and client … if it wasn’t already out of date! Nevertheless, it was a model that could provide some design insight, and you would display it prominently because it probably cost quite a bit, and you wanted to point to something when your finance person needed to understand what the client bill-back item was all about. For the next design iteration, you likely thought twice about how you would communicate your design changes. Maybe an artist rendering would do the trick this time?

These days, in the 3D design world, a common workflow that I see includes a 3D rendering step in between the BIM/CAD model and the physical prototype. For example, an architect might design a building in Revit, and then export the file to 3dsMax. A visualization specialist would then edit this design to create a file that can be read by a 3D printer. The 3dsMax model becomes the master visualization file for renderings and physical prototypes. This workflow is more efficient than the first example, and results in more frequent, more accurate, and less expensive physical models for design visualization and collaboration.

Sometimes, I witness an STL file export directly from the BIM/CAD software, especially in early design stages where simple white massing models are required. By eliminating the rendering step, this is the most efficient workflow, as long as the 3D digital model is ‘watertight’ and does not require much editing for 3D printing.

On the other end of the efficiency spectrum, one customer described the following workflow:

Revit Architecture-->IFC-->Bentley Architecture-->U3d-->DeepExploration-->3ds-->ZPrint-->mono physical prototype

To be fair, this was not the typical workflow used for every physical model. In this case, the project was so close to CD release that the customer did not want to disrupt the Revit process, so they took the latest design into Bentley Architecture and proceeded from there. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is the most efficient workflow, I would rank this example as a 1.

If you or your firm regularly creates 3D physical models which include 3D printed parts, please evaluate your workflows by answering the 4 questions in the survey link:
Comments welcome, as always!

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