Tuesday, January 11, 2011

3D Printing Allows Firms to Offer Clients Physical 3D Models of Projects

This week's blog is by Julie Reece.
Story courtesy Debra Wood, Constructor

Viewing a construction model on screen usually proves helpful to contractors, architects and owners, but there’s something about being able to see and touch a three-dimensional model that really clarifies people’s understanding of a project. ZPrinters allow firms to “print” colorful, physical 3D models of a project throughout the design and construction process.
Photo courtesy of HNTB.
HNTB uses ZPrinters to create 3D models to facilitate the building process.

Photo Courtesy Of HNTB
“We use 3D printing during the pursuit side to show clients what their bridge, building or highway interchange will look like once it’s constructed. Another way we use the 3D printer is to create analytical models used during construction sequencing on-site with contractors,” says Austin Reed, senior 3D visualization specialist with HNTB, Kansas City, Mo., a member of multiple AGC chapters. “They can show their construction workers exactly what they will be working on, and we will color-code the model. If the wall is [printed in] orange, that means phase one. Phase two may be in green.”

Reed says contractors can see what the work is supposed to look like when completed and what craftspeople will be working on that specific day.

ZPrinters work with various programs, including AutoDesk Revit, AutoCAD or MicroStation. HNTB will bring those files into Studio Max for texturing and cleanup for printing as a solid, watertight object, which has a hollow core to lighten the model and conserve supplies. By checking the file before printing, Reed says he avoids errors and ensures accuracy before sending the model to a client.

HNTB architects also use the model to evaluate design concepts. HNTB has opted to use a print vendor in Kansas City and other places where it has offices. HNTB will have one copy of a model printed and, if it’s good, he'll print multiple models as well as models from other projects to fill the printer’s “build bed” and maximize the 15-in. by 10-in. by 8-in. build chamber, Reed says.

The cost to print with an outside vendor runs up to $30 per cubic inch, Reed says. The cost to create a model in house on one’s own printer is $3 per cu in., or $100 to $200 for a large model. An 8-in. by 10-in. by 8-in. model weighs about 10 lb.

Reducing the cost, complexity and time to make models, encourages people who adopt our technology to use it much more often, thereby improving communication, which is critical on complex projects.