Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Common Misperceptions and Myths about 3D Printing – Part I

When we conducted a survey last year among architects in North America, we asked them to consider the following question – “What are the obstacles to making more physical 3D models?”

The number one answer was “Too expensive to make.”

Frankly, this response was a head-scratcher for us. We expected more responses around model features, workflow from BIM software, scaling challenges, etc. But, too expensive?

I would argue that it is too expensive to NOT make more physical 3D models, especially in the early design stages. As with manufacturing prototypes, collaboration and iteration around physical models drives better design and faster project approvals. This has been proven over and over at many AEC firms around the world.

Let’s get down to specifics about costs (here I must use Z Corp. information since I am not expert on other 3D printers). For those users who own a ZPrinter, the material cost per model typically ranges from $2-5 per cubic inch of total materials used. For small, white models, it would be closer to the $2 cost. For large, multi-color models, the $5 estimate would apply. Consider the concept model below….

The ZPrint time estimation report calculates that 38.37 cubic inches of powder and 246.3 ml of binder and ink will be used to print this model on a ZPrinter 450. Using exact end user costs (US dollar pricing), including print heads, the material cost for this model would be $99.36. Using a salt water spray finish (good for visualization models), the final cost would be under $100; the total cost of materials for this model is less than $3 per cubic inch. The model is 7 inches tall with a base of 10 x 7.5 inches. Is this not a cost-effective way to communicate this design concept?

The alternatives include multiple digital screen renderings or asking a junior designer to spend several days trying to construct the model from other materials. The first approach includes only labor costs but will never replace a physical model for communication, especially for a design this organic in nature. The second approach, if even possible, will take too much time and just demoralize your junior staff. Did I mention that this model can be printed overnight, de-powdered and finished in the morning, and ready for collaboration before noon?

More on 3D printing time misperceptions in my next blog.