Wednesday, April 20, 2011

3D Printing Critical to Symmons Industries’ Design Studio Live Virtual Design Studio

Today's guest post is from Julie Reece, Z Corporation Director of Marketing Communications.

Bathrooms matter in the design world. The room itself is a canvas for architects and interior designers to showcase their talents in a way that helps set a property apart from the pack. More fundamentally though, the bathroom “experience” is a critical factor in the discriminating consumer’s willingness to spend and select one property over another.

For these reasons, bathroom fittings – the faucet, showerhead, towel rack and even the doorknob – are too important to overlook when building or remodeling hotels, luxury condos and high-end homes. Property owners are increasingly demanding one-of-a-kind fittings to deliver a unique experience.

Symmons Industries, 70-year-old manufacturer of commercial and residential plumbing products, has long served this market with custom design and manufacturing services. The company broke new ground with the launch of a first-of-its-kind virtual design studio for architects, designers and property owners, called Design Studio Live.

Design Studio Live is a Web-based program that allows users to create their own products and receive color 3D physical concepts of their designs within four days, metal prototypes in approximately 15 days, and delivered product for their property in as little as 16 weeks. With the help of this innovative new tool, architects and designers can create unique ideas that translate into exclusive fittings for their projects right from their desks. Users can begin by digitally paging through a virtual catalog of ready-made designs, dragging them to a virtual light box, and modifying them with Google SketchUp™, Adobe® Photoshop®, SolidWorks®, or any other 3D CAD program.

Eric Spear, Symmons’ director of custom services said, “Symmons is the only manufacturer offering fully customized plumbing fittings, and Design Studio Live makes it easier than ever for a designer to complete their bath design with products tailored for each project. We’ve built a process in which we can execute a custom design in the time it takes to flip through a catalog.”

Symmons design consultants are available for program guidance or design advice. However, users are encouraged to experiment as much as they’d like because the tool is designed to encourage creativity. The Design Studio program is also a tool for tracking and managing the progress of a project.

Challenge: fast-turnaround concept prototypes

Critical to the Design Studio Live formula is the ability to quickly and affordably churn out physical 3D models at high volumes. With this demand, handcrafting models was out of the question due to the time and labor involved. For Symmons, a 3D printer was the answer to creating a great custom service for its customers.

Long before Design Studio Live was conceived, Symmons owned a Dimension® 3D printer. Design consultants only used the printer intermittently because it took too long to get a prototype. Spear said that a single faucet took 15 hours to print.

Solution: ‘ZPrinting’

A local Z Corp. reseller told Symmons it could fix the turnaround problem with a printer from Z Corp. Symmons designers said, “Prove it.”

They did just that; instead of taking 15 hours to print a single faucet, Z Corp.’s 3D printer printed 12 models in 3.5 hours at half the price of the single model produced by the Dimension machine. Put another way, the ZPrinter could produce 48 prototypes in the time it took the Dimension machine to print one. Convinced, Symmons purchased the ZPrinter to create prototypes on demand, giving them the final piece of the puzzle they required to realize the vision of Design Studio Live.

Results: a thriving Design Studio Live

The ZPrinter and its 3D printed prototypes are turning out to be the driving force behind Design Studio Live.

Spear said, “The design process itself is exciting, but there comes a point when it’s really helpful to see a tangible, physical example of it. By ZPrinting 3D models, designers can stop looking at their screens and see what the part really looks like in context and feels like in their hands.”

The Z Corp. 3D printed prototypes also strengthen the relationship between an architect and a property owner. Spear said, “Architects can slide a set of ZPrints across the table – perhaps faucets of different sizes and shapes – along with a red pencil. The property owner gets a rare opportunity to handle the models and mark them up. The architect comes back with revised models a couple of days later, and the owner is blown away by the architect’s responsiveness.”

3D printing has also helped enable Symmons, known for the superior workmanship of their internal plumbing parts, to show their design capabilities. For example, the Mandarin Oriental, New York wanted a distinctive look and feel for its bathrooms, and their design firm turned to Symmons to help create the details of the design. The bath design called for a shower system that incorporated fittings with a ceiling-mount drench showerhead and a Roman tub filler that was both stylish and simple to operate. Symmons developed custom concepts for its client with an elegantly simple, single control for on/off, hot/cold operation, a feature that helped to overcome the language barrier many international guests experience. ZPrints helped Symmons communicate a range of options to the client, which enabled the team to quickly close on a final solution. It was the same story at a Miami hotel where ZPrints helped Symmons refine the design of a vertical showerhead surrounded by chandeliers. Other satisfied Symmons clients include the Wynn Resorts, Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton, to name a few.

The Z Corp. 3D printer was printing at full tilt five days a week, 20 models a run, according to Spears. In the first four months of use, Symmons produced 4,000 prototypes for a wide range of applications. Most were for client projects, but models also went to tradeshows, “lunch and learn” seminars with designers and architects, and to Symmons industrial designers. “You can push the print button during morning coffee break and be passing around prototypes at lunch. Z Corporation is enabling the kind of speed and part quality that is indispensable for Design Studio Live and all of our design work here,” said Spear.

The ZPrinter and its unique color capabilities have also produced other surprising benefits. They help Symmons stretch design concepts and prototypes beyond conventional stainless steel, using color to accurately represent the popular finish of Onyx. Color prototypes also make great promotional handouts – for instance, a brightly colored faucet model with an architect’s name on it. Symmons even brings its ZPrinter to tradeshows and prints nonstop, making its booth a popular stop for designers and architects witnessing the possibilities of both Symmons designs and instant prototypes.

Whether at tradeshows or in Design Studio Live, 3D color printing enhances Symmons’ business and brand by helping the company focus as much on the aesthetic considerations as the internals. The company is now able to prove that it can make the most beautiful “facades” – or better yet, help customers make them.

Spear said, “It’s a great experience to be the first in market to do this. Our unique ability to host a full-service virtual design studio with 3D printing capabilities, and do it so painlessly, is a real differentiator and a powerful one that keeps us in top of mind to our clients. Z Corporation’s unique speed, color and affordability make this possible.”


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