Wednesday, September 29, 2010

“Britain’s best architect”

I came across this article in Building Design recently “Gove waxes lyrical over Amanda Levete” by Elizabeth Hopkirk. The article describes how Britain’s Education Secretary, Michael Gove, called Amanda Levete “Britain’s best architect” during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Globe Academy in South London, which the firm designed. Gove went on to say, “So much care and attention and the work of Britain’s best architect has gone into providing you with the best possible building in which to spend the next few years.” He said everyone involved in the design had “shaped a building which is impressive on the outside and beautiful on the inside.”

Why did this article catch my attention? Amanda Levete Architects is a Z Corp. customer. They use a ZPrinter 450, multicolor 3D printer. 

It’s gratifying to know that Z Corp. technology is being used by the best architectural firms to quickly and cost effectively create the most innovative designs in an iterative manner, and then have those designs validated by such a prestigious, independent third party. But it also makes me wonder why some architectural firms have not yet adopted 3D printing. If physical modeling is used to complement digital modeling in design practice (as most architects do), then firms without 3D printing in their competitive arsenal are at a distinct disadvantage.

From the Levete company Website profile page…"The ethos of the office is rooted in design research and a commitment to exploring the transformative potential of space. Developments in digital fabrication have allowed the office to challenge conventional notions of form and space alongside the continued value placed on hand-drawings and hand-crafted models. The team's collaborative approach to the design process extends clients' ambitions for their projects and produces groundbreaking work."

The best AEC firms combine laser cutting, CNC, and hand-crafting with modern 3D prototyping technology to create visualization models for their design team, clients, and regulatory agencies. I’d like to hear from you. If you have not yet adopted 3D printing into your architectural firm, why? Are you considering it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bentley 2010 Design Competition Winners

Today’s guest blog was contributed by Fran Rabuck, Director of Technology Research for Bentley Systems. Fran is responsible for the lab, and he works with RFID, Sensors, Visualization tools, Next Generation Input devices, mobile and wireless gadgets, and 3D Printing technologies.

At the Bentley 2010 BE Conference, Bentley hosted a competition for three teams, each consisting of two end users paired with a Bentley employee Microstation expert. This Iron Chef-like bake-off challenged each team to design and build a new Philly related iconic-like item that would represent some unique part of Philadelphia. All of their work would be projected onto a large screen live. Talk about pressure! First, the teams needed to choose what they would design, and then they had about an hour to model it. When the teams started their design, there was no mention of 3D printing of their work. Below you can see the results of the teams who designed: 1) The New Liberty Bell, 2) The Cheese Steak Trophy and 3) The Love Shack. The first two, most people are familiar with the association with Philadelphia. The Love Shack is a reference to the famous LOVE statue in Love Park across from City Hall. It’s a reference to the City being known as the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Now, even with the Microstation tools and help of experts, it can be a real challenge to design anything in an hour. The surprising result was all three models were loaded into ZPrint/ZEdit Pro and required very little preparation. Of course, these models were relative simple in structure and that might be expected. But so often, I hear that models need to be “designed from the start with 3D Printing in mind.” I’m not sure this is always true. Recognizing that more complex Digital Terrain Models (DTM), Building Structures and even Digital Plants can be very complex for 3D printing, there are several commands added to Microstation to aid in the preparation of a model for 3D printing.

For example a Civil DTM may include a set of unrelated triangles. These can be converted to meshes using the tool “Stitch into Mesh” or “Construct Mesh from Contours.” Or a B-Spline surface can be converted to meshes using the tool “Mesh from element” using a selection set. Solids can be created from a curved object using the “Solid by Extrude Along” tool. Surface objects can be fixed with the “Solid by Thicken surface” tool and the “Mesh from Element” tool. Sizing problems of Solid Objects can be handled with the “Remove Entity by Size” tool to remove small, print-challenged scaled objects. There are many other tools now in Microstation v8i like: “Add Thickness by Vortex offset”, “Add Flat Base”, “Mesh – Unite, Intersection and Subtract” and “Decimate and Cleanup Mesh” and more.

The last step, of course, is export to a 3D format acceptable by Z Corp. or other 3D printers. STL is the base standard and has been an option in Microstation for years. For color – VRML output can be used. But the lesson here is that exporting or saving models to STL or other formats should be the last step of the process for 3D printing. Don’t let any software vendors or 3D printer services lead you to believe that 3D printing is simply a single push-button solution.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Frame Models

Today’s guest blog was submitted by David Munson of Munson3D. David has worked with a variety of clients to model frame structures in Revit, AutoCAD, and 3dsMax Design. The following examples show a variety of interesting architectural designs printed on Z Corp ZPrinters. You can see more of David’s work on

Subject: Proton Accelerator
Client: Tsoi/Kobus & Associates
Software: Revit and 3dsMax Design
ZPrinter: model Spectrum Z510

Subject: Radar Dish
Client: a Massachusetts research lab
Software: 3dsMax Design
ZPrinter: model Spectrum Z510

Subject: BMW Automotive Show Room
Client: Autodesk
Software: AutoCAD and 3dsMax Design
ZPrinter: model ZPrinter 650

Subject: Park Canopy
Client: Sasaki Associates, Inc.
Software: AutoCAD and 3ds Max Design
ZPrinter: model Spectrum Z510

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

STL Exporter for Revit Family 2010

Recently, Autodesk announced that the Revit STL Exporter has been retired from Autodesk Labs -

This means that enough users have downloaded the utility over the past two years to give Autodesk enough confidence to ‘graduate’ the technology preview. The STL Exporter for Revit Family 2010 is now available on the Autodesk Labs Graduates web page -

I would love to hear from those Revit users out there who have downloaded the STL Exporter and used it for 3D Printing. Have you been successful? Or, do you prefer other data paths such as exporting a DWG Solid file and pushing that geometry through 3ds Max Design for ultimate export as a 3DS or VRML file for 3D Printing? Or maybe you are exporting FBX files? What’s working best out there?