Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Common Misperceptions and Myths about 3D Printing – Part II

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?”

Last week, we shared with you that the number one concern was "cost," and we showed a 3D printing example to help dispel that myth. This week, we will address the number two answer which was “Takes too much time.”

Constructing physical models by hand from cardboard, chipboard, wood, etc., is very time consuming, often taking days, even weeks. Cutting 2D sections with a laser cutter, and then assembling a 3D model is also time consuming. Even a wire-cut foam massing model can eat up valuable time – time that could be spent in design development. What many AEC professionals might not yet know is the surprising speed of 3D printing, specifically thermal ink-jet 3D printing, like ZPrinters. A typical ZPrinter will create 3D printed models at speeds ranging from 0.8 to 1.1 vertical inches per hour (depends on model length and width). That means that most scale models can be printed, cleaned and finished in less than one work day. Even larger, complex models can be printed overnight, and finished the next morning. Let’s look at some examples …

This concept model below is about 7 inches long x 4 inches wide (at widest point) x 2 inches high – it printed in 2.5 hours.
Here is another interesting model from the RPI School of Architecture Rome Studio in 2008.  The model measures 9 x 6 x 5 inches.  The print time is 7 hours.
Here’s a massing model designed in Autodesk Revit.   It is 7 inches tall with a base of about 2x2 inches. The model is solid, not hollowed out.  It printed in less than 2 hours.

What’s even more interesting is that you can stack multiple models in the build chamber and print them all in one job. Four of the same massing tower printed in only 3 hours.

Oh, by the way, at about 10 cubic inches per tower, the cost per model is less than $50. With what other technology can you produce tangible 3D models in less than half a workday at such low prices? I would argue that photorealistic renderings would cost more in labor, and are not as effective for communication.

How about color models? Look at this Ecotect energy analysis of a building tower. A 2 x 2 x 5 inch model will print in 2 hours in high definition color, depicting the towers hot and cold spots over a 24-hour period.

Your client prefers a 15 inch model? Print it in 9 hours and have it ready for her the next day!

You can even run the printer for another 43 minutes and get three smaller scale models to go along with the large one.

I’d like to hear from others who have taken advantage of speedy 3D printing to help design visualization and project collaboration.  And, I would like to hear from the naysayers who still think it takes too much time to make 3D physical models.


  1. You can stack several models in the chamber construction and print them all for a job. Four of the same tower massing printed in just three hours.
    full color brochure printing

  2. In spite of the high resolution of the printing, printing a smooth-surfaced model in this printer is impossible, so if that's needed, some post-printing operations have to be done to acquire the smoothness of the model , like sanding and clear coating. And some models need to have transparent elements in order to communicate their ideas, using this printer this is unachievable. Finally the scale of the model's always been an issue, 35x25x20? this is really small, and joining the parts of a fragmented model to reach the desired scale is extremely difficult to achieve without affecting the form.

  3. Hi Obai, thank you for your thoughts. Typically ultra-smooth surfaces are not needed for AEC models, and when they are, they can certainly be achieved, as you mentioned, with some post-processing. All 3D printing technologies require post-processing, even those offering ultra-smooth finishes, so that shouldn't be too much of an issue. You are correct in noting that transparent elements would not be achieveable through ZPrinting, however, again, that requirement is fairly rare in AEC models. In fact, more common is the need for either pure white models or multicolor models (which can only be achieved through ZPrinting). The correct build size that can be achieved with a ZPrinter is 254 x 381 x 203 mm, quite large, and even larger models (several feet in all dimensions) have been achieved by our AEC customers by creating models in pieces. Doing so does not at all negatively impact the form because the form is ZPrinted precisely as it was designed in the 3D software.

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