Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Model Transformation: Revit, Google Earth and 3D Printing

Today’s guest blog is from Dolly L. Haardt, LEED AP, Architectural BIM Specialist, Microsol Resources, New York City.  Microsol is an Authorized Reseller for Z Corporation. 
It’s amazing what you can do with a Revit project, from publishing it into Google Earth to printing a 3D model, the capabilities seem endless. Some of the most powerful aspects of Revit are the Add-Ins, which essentially are plug-ins to the software to expand its functionality. I’m going to walk you through the Globe Link and STL Add-In tools, so that you can familiarize yourself with how to publish a Revit mass into Google Earth and how to export an STL file to print a 3D model.

First let’s talk about Revit and Google Earth. For those of you that understand the basics of Revit, you know that Project Location is extremely important and can cause havoc down the road if ignored. The beauty of linking your model to Google Earth is that you can import the latitude and longitude of a particular location into your Revit Project. To start you need to make sure that you have the Globe Link Add-In tool; it can be downloaded at This is a free tool if you are an Autodesk subscription customer. Once you download and install the Add-In, you will see the commands listed under the External Tools Menu. Then, locate your project in Google Earth and simply ‘Acquire’ the location in your Revit Site view. Once you mass out your design, confirm that you are in a 3D view and ‘Publish’ your model to Google Earth via the Add-In menu. It’s basically that simple. Here is a link to a video I created showing you the process.

Now let’s discuss Revit and 3D Printing. There is a free Add-In tool that you can get at called STL Exporter for Revit Platform. This gives you the ability to take any Revit model and export it out to an STL format. The 2011 Autodesk tool has new features that the 2010 tool did not include, so it is well worth the upgrade. Similar to the Google Earth process, you will want to make sure that a 3D view is active before exporting. I do want to clarify one important point, similar to the process for photorealistic rendering, for 3D printing there is pre-processing work that needs to be done. Your model needs to conform to standards depending on the final output. For example, let’s say you want to bring this model into ZPrint, which is software provided by Z Corporation for printing on their various 3D printers, you will need to adhere to certain guidelines: a water tight model, no inverted surface normals, and minimum element thickness. Once you have gone through this process, you can bring the STL file into ZPrint and then check it in ZEdit Pro for any issues that may need repair. Once you get the ‘Congratulations’ dialog box you are ready to print. Here is a link to a video I created showing you the process.

Both the Globe Link and the STL Export tools are quick to install and master. With a little bit of guidance from my videos, I hope you have the opportunity to test out these latest features. I have found that showing clients their project in Google Earth and printing out 3D massing models helps communicate design concepts most successfully. Keep in mind that these are just a couple of the latest tools out there to enhance your workflow.