Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Create more stronger, colorful 3D printed models

Today’s guest blog comes from Charles Overy of LGM Model in Colorado

The start of the academic year is, for me, a benchmark for how fast things change. I just sent my youngest kid off to kindergarten, and walking back from the school is one of those moments when you try to get perspective. At LGM we have been 3D printing architectural models since 1999, and we bought our first of 5 Z Corporation machines in 2001. Pushing the analogy this makes us high schoolers in the 3D printing community. When I look at 3D printing, and particularly the applications to Architecture, there is always a great deal of discussion about this machine or that machine. However the underlying technologies by which parts are built up have not changed that much. What have really changed recently are the materials.

I stopped by the Z Corporation booth at the SME RAPID show this year and immediately latched on to some benchmark models. Many of these were run from the same files that I had seen for years. What caught my eye this time were the materials that made colors jump, fine features finer, and edges crisper. My local rep had actually been trying to get us to move to the new zp150 powder for a while but, like most high schoolers, I thought I knew it all. I was sure we did not need to invest the time and effort into re-evaluating materials. We had become used to making primarily monochrome models, and we are good at running our bank of printers with efficiency and high yields. I got back from the show, ordered a pail of zp150 material, and got our team to run some benchmarks of our own. That quickly gave us the confidence to sell color when the call came a few weeks later for a particularly challenging job.

For the Aspen Burlingame model the designer, Oz Architecture, needed to show a proposed housing development.

Great -- that is what we do and do well.

Then there was the “but...”

The plans would require 54 buildings

On a 4' x 8' base

With trees

And grass

On a steep site

With a river

And ponds

In 3 weeks for a sales launch

And most of the buildings needed to be in COLOR.

(And did we mention that the plans aren't quite done yet and we have a tight budget.)

In the past I would have said that it could only be done in monochrome, but I stalled and we ran a test. The geometry was in Autodesk’s Revit which provides great geometry for 3D printing and which we are good at processing . For the quick test we ran one side in monochrome:

and one side in color:

The client signed off on the color.

We spent a week preparing the surface mesh for the site and revising the color scheme with Oz. We 3D printed a sample board for final approval and the approved colors (row C) were the ones sampled directly from the PDF screen colors.

In other words, the on screen to final 3d print color is very close; something that eludes many 2D print processes! It is also something that could not have happened two years ago and saved hours, if not days, of time.

After we had a composited digital model that included the terrain and buildings, CNC Machining of the terrain and 3D printing ran in parallel, almost. With our three ZPrinters the buildings took one night to run and ½ a day to post process. Machining took longer, but to be fair the terrain had to be machined from 48” x 96 “x 18” stock.

Assembly took place over 5 days actually ending on Friday. The model was delivered on Monday. No weekend work!

The customer was thrilled. Many thanks to the new zp150 material!

3D printing is a tremendously successful technology for architectural modeling. We use it every day and have provided thousands of models to clients including Fentress, Gensler and HOK, as well as regional and local firms. It provides the ability to rapidly demonstrate design intent and provides the opportunity to communicate with clarity and detail. Please feel free to contact us at LGM if we can be of any assistance as you explore 3D printing for your next project.