Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Powder vs. Plastic … Redux

When we first started writing in this space almost two years ago, one topic we covered was ‘Plaster vs. Plastic’ in 3D printing. Now that ZPrinters are part of a broader 3D Systems content-to-print solution portfolio, it seems like a good time to revisit this topic.
Previously I wrote …"In my travels around the world to various architectural firms, I occasionally see plastic models on display mixed among the wood, chipboard, and Plexiglas models in lobby exhibits. When I ask why that material was chosen, I get a variety of responses. Some say that their service bureau had an SLS or SLA machine, so this is what they delivered. Others say that clients perceive the plastic models to be more durable for long term display. "

While architects are happy to pass on their costs to the client for a one-time presentation model, most agree that there is no substitute for inexpensive, fast turnaround composite material (gypsum-based “plaster”) models during the early conceptual design and design development process. These are the times during the project when designers want immediate feedback and designs change quickly. How does your firm incorporate physical models into their design process, and what materials are preferred and why?

Two years later, we find that ZPrinters (powder and binder technology) are still the preferred tool for low-cost, fast-turnaround concept design models, such as this urban study model from Pelli Clarke Pelli below.
Having said that, we still see demand for fine detail, sharp edges, and smooth surfaces during later design development.
These features are also desired for final presentation models, and designers are willing to pay more (in time and materials) to get what they want, especially if they can bill their clients for models.
Model courtesy of Fonco Fabrication and Design
In a nutshell, AEC users typically want 3D printers capable of building big white models with fine detail and smooth surfaces. Color can be useful in later design stages. Users also want easy-to-use printers with reasonable operation costs.

Powder or plastic? Sometimes you need both!