Wednesday, December 28, 2011

3D Printing in 2012 and Beyond

This week's blog post is by John Kawola, Z Corporation CEO.

2011 was an eventful year for Z Corporation and the 3D printing/additive manufacturing industry worldwide. There is continued strong demand for prototypes, tools, fixtures….all the parts that this industry has been about for the past 20 years. But perhaps more importantly, 3D printing/additive manufacturing is beginning to really make a move to users and applications outside of the engineer trying to see if two parts fit together.

We see architects building a model of a new project, walking into the selection committee and winning the business. We see sales and marketing folks using printed models to attract new clients. We see printed parts being used for real end-use medical applications. We see consumers beginning to experience this industries capabilities through access to parts on-line or with very low cost 3D printer kits. We see 3D printing/additive manufacturing transforming the way that industries think about design, both functional and aesthetic. 2011 was a year where 3D printing/additive manufacturing really started to capture wider public awareness. Unlike any prior year, 3D printing/additive manufacturing really made its way into the mainstream press and consciousness.

In 2011, Z Corporation agreed to be acquired by 3D Systems. This transaction is expected to close early in 2012. We embrace the efforts by the 3D Systems team to think beyond one technology and beyond being simply a machine manufacturer. For 3D printing/additive manufacturing to continue to grow, new applications and new users will need to be continually brought into the mix. They will require software to learn and be creative. They will require printers that are affordable and easy to use. They will require on-line service providers that will deliver parts through the mail as easily and simply as ordering digital photographs today. We are excited to be part of this revolution, to bring our style of 3D printing into the mix and to contribute in any way we can.

We expect that all of the trends that we saw in 2011 will continue to grow and expand in 2012. The use of 3D printers in education and architecture will become a normal part of what people expect. A custom 3D printed part will become common as birthday, anniversary and workplace gifts. New engineers for the first time will really begin to optimize their designs based on the fact that AM removes practically all manufacturing constraints. All of these trends bode for a strong and bright future for this industry.

I am excited to be a part of it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Create more' Business in AEC … A Look Back at 2011

Last year in this blog I made the following predictions for 2011:

What does Professore DeMarco foresee for 2011?
  • Continued strong interest in the AEC community in 3D printing, with spending catching up later in the year to drive market growth.
  • AEC firms doing 3D printing stretching the limits on build sizes to accommodate larger scale models.
  • Software vendors will deliver better tools to make physical models from their BIM software.
  • Reprographic suppliers, now entrenched in 2D solutions, begin to understand the business opportunity for 3D printing.
  • More engineering and construction firms investing in 3D printing (a trend we see in Japan).
  • Continued consolidation in the AEC reseller community with larger firms offering more complete solutions including both digital and physical prototyping.
  • More guest blogs from sharp minds in our community … volunteers?

Let’s look at each of these predictions to see how the ‘Professore’ did …

Continued strong interest in the AEC community in 3D printing, with spending catching up later in the year to drive market growth. With still two weeks remaining in the year (as of this writing), Z Corp. increased system sales into the AEC market segment worldwide by more than 22% (units) and 40% (revenue) YoY. These growth numbers include commercial and educational business for architectural, engineering, and construction firms and schools. The year started out comparable to 2010 in terms of units shipped, but picked up considerably in the second half, especially in Q4 in which sales have almost doubled Q4 of 2010. In addition to healthy growth in new commercial business, we experienced quite a bit of repeat business with customers upgrading from their old workhorse Spectrum Z510 printers to the newer generation ZPrinter 650. We also witnessed a few accounts purchasing more than one ZPrinter 650, and two multinational architectural firms buying ZPrinters for multiple locations. This indicates that 3D printing has become a strategic component in their design processes, not just a tool for final presentation models.

Aside from the actual sales numbers, another measure of community interest this year was the high activity level at trade shows and conferences such as SmartGeometry, ACADIA, RAPID, imagina, BeTogether (Bentley user group), Autodesk University, Revit Technology Conference, ArchiFuture, and the Construction Industry Institute conference. In March, Z Corp. and authorized ZPartner Microsol Resources hosted a panel discussion at The Cooper Union in NY featuring four prestigious AEC firms talking about how 3D printing is used in their respective design processes. Initially, we expected 50 to 100 attendees in the new building auditorium at 41 Cooper Square, but interest level was so high that we had to move the event across the street to The Great Hall where almost 300 people attended!

AEC firms doing 3D printing stretching the limits on build sizes to accommodate larger scale models. As you may have surmised from the higher revenue growth (versus unit growth), we sold more large printers this year; the top-of-the-line ZPrinter 650 became the most popular model, even among the colleges that bought this year. In fact, the ZPrinter 650 accounted for more than half the shipments in AEC -- in 2010, the ZPrinter 650 accounted for a third of the AEC shipments. The ZPrinter 650 total was double the total of the next most popular model, the ZPrinter 350. The primary reason that AEC users prefer the ZPrinter 650 is the large build size (15x10x8 inches). Larger scale models can show more design detail. Also, users can stack up several smaller scale massing models in a single build, thus being able to do quick design studies and concept iterations with the project team, clients, and regulatory boards.
Software vendors will deliver better tools to make physical models from their BIM software. Sadly, this blogger was wrong on this one (or just too optimistic). As the economy trudged through the recession, the CAD/BIM suppliers focused on other areas to improve their digital solutions and differentiate themselves from competitors. Some design tools like Rhino, form*z and bonzai3d already have robust ZPR export which can be read directly by ZPrinters. Many users that I visited in 2011 use these tools for conceptual design before using their BIM tool for design development and CDs. For the most part though, users made do with the tools they knew to help prepare files for 3D printing. On a positive note, the new AMF standard moved forward with approvals, and this will enable users to export more than just geometry (STL format) by adding color, texture, and material properties.

Reprographic suppliers, now entrenched in 2D solutions, begin to understand the business opportunity for 3D printing. Once again, your Professore was overly optimistic. On the plus side, some reprographic houses took on 3D printing as service providers. A few acted as facility managers for architects who wanted ZPrinters installed and operated at their sites. On the down side, most reprographic firms remain entrenched in their existing 2D business model and are reluctant to enter the 3D market.

More engineering and construction firms investing in 3D printing (a trend we see in Japan). This happened in 2011, but not to a large degree. In addition to Japanese firms, we added large engineering/construction customers in Taiwan, Russia, and Canada over the past year. Applications included plant models, site planning, 4D construction, and marketing models for pre-construction sales. Z Corp exhibited at the Construction Industry Institute in July, and there was quite a bit of excitement over the possible uses for the technology in the field. Let’s all stay tuned on this emerging segment within the AEC industry.

Continued consolidation in the AEC reseller community with larger firms offering more complete solutions including both digital and physical prototyping. Well … there was consolidation in the industry, but not so much with resellers as with the 3D printing suppliers. Most readers know that Z Corp. is in the process of being acquired by 3D Systems, the original rapid prototyping manufacturer founded in the late 1980s. 3D Systems has acquired several technology and service suppliers over the past two years, and is well positioned to offer customers a wide breadth of solutions for their design process needs. With very little overlap in products and distribution channels, the combination of Z Corp. and 3D Systems (once the deal is completed) should result in more solution options for AEC, Manufacturing, Education, and other markets going forward in 2012.

More guest blogs from sharp minds in our community … volunteers? Your Professore nailed this one. With a little prodding, we had so many good volunteers step up in this space in 2011, both from the academic and commercial community. The applications for 3D printing were exciting to read about. If you haven’t kept up, please take this opportunity to scan some of the past guest blogs to read what our users are doing with ZPrinting.

If you are one of those sharp minds out there, I am certainly looking for more guest blogs in 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Tradition of 3D Printed Holiday Ornaments

This week’s blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.

Last week Z Corporation hosted its annual employee holiday party. It’s always a great event, filled with the generous spirit of giving, good food, laughter, and the camaraderie of wonderful colleagues.

One of our holiday party traditions is a Z Corp. 3D printed ornament that every employee receives at the party. The ornament is always a tightly kept secret until its much anticipated unveiling during the party. David Russell is one of our most senior engineers and for many years he has volunteered to design and print these ornaments for every employee.

You’ll find below a chronology of Z Corp.’s ornaments. It is interesting to observe that, over time, color was introduced and features became smaller and more delicate to correspond with enhancements in both the hardware and materials technologies.











Photos above and below of 2011 3D printed 2011 ornament

On my tree!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Create more' Disruptive Technology - Digital Fabrication with 3D Printing

Autodesk held its annual worldwide user meeting, known as Autodesk University, last week at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. Approximately 8000 people attended. Z Corp. was among the 50 exhibitors on hand, and we were very busy in our booth this year. Here’s what the booth looked like before the crowds converged.

The event is largely intended for user education with hundreds of live classes held over 3 days plus more than 200 ‘virtual classes’ in 20 different tracks that can be viewed online free of charge. For the AEC community, in the Advanced Visualization track, there is a class titled Design Process Improvement with Fast Inexpensive 3D Printing (course number AV5500)
My colleague, Julie Reece, also prepared a virtual class titled Physical and Digital Prototypes Belong Together (course MP6661)
3D printing continues to gain momentum year after year at AU. During the main stage presentation, Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski talked about the Five Waves of Disruption:

1. Access and Experience

2. Business Unusual

3. Digital Fabrication

4. Ambient Intelligence

5. Infinite Computing

Here is the AU Blaug summary on Digital Fabrication:

Wave #3—Digital Fabrication

3D printers are making it easier to design and create things. This ability to create (literally “on the fly”) is being tested in gravity-free environments so parts can be created as needed in outer space. Other efforts are being directed at intergenetic engineering competitions where students are taking on the problem of global malnutrition or teaching bacteria to heal cracks in concrete or grow bricks.
Architect Jeffrey McGrew of Because We Can took the stage to talk about his design-build studio which he runs with his wife Jillian Northrup. They use digital fabrication to design and build just about anything. Jeffrey said that they are able to make things that use very little materials and almost assemble themselves.

Next, Mark Hatch CEO of TechShop explained how today the largest untapped resources are free time and disposable income. TechShop is taking people off the street and giving them tools—and they are launching products in just a few weeks. For example, Square enables small businesses and other users to accept credit and debit purchases by swiping cards through a small dongle that plugs into a mobile device's audio jack. Solum designed a measurement system that allows growers, service providers, and agronomists to make immediate and accurate measurements of soil nitrate levels,

What does this mean? Open innovation “just went nuclear.” More than 60% of innovations today come from the consumer.

For the entire blog, visit:

For Kowalski’s talk and the entire Keynote Session, visit:

This was my 6th AU since 2005 (two with Autodesk and four with Z Corp.). All in all, it felt much more upbeat than the past few years. Our heightened booth traffic was indicative of the activity and energy level. Perhaps the economy has turned the corner? If you were at AU last week, let me know what you thought of the event.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

3D Printing Ultra Thin Architectural Models...Sometimes Less is More!

This week’s guest blog comes from David Munson –

Fund-raising concerns for the construction of Palm Beach Day Academy's new expansion in Florida, designed by HMFH Architects, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, lead to a large 3' square at 3/32” = 1' scale, finished architectural model to communicate their vision. We were hired to make a finish model and it was primarily 3D printed in many pieces and assembled on a wood base along with traditionally made elements like the ground and roof planes. The facades, canopies, awnings, cars, people and brick sidewalk, were all 3D printed.

All elements were very thin including the facades which had hidden structures behind them. This allowed for handling during depowdering and infiltration which prevented warping and provided a structure to glue the foam core roof to. The facades here are really being treated as a curtain wall for 3D printing.

For the paper thin canopy which has a minimal structural design, we created a temporary structure to protect during depowdering and hold it so it didn't lose shape during infiltration:

Since this model resides under a dust cover and no one will be touching, it opened up the possibility of going so thin and delicate. I've noticed that as long as the whole part is light and perhaps has a temporary structural support, we can even simulate canvas like we do here in the main canopy. The only trick is getting it through the depowdering stage because after it has been infiltrated, it’s quite strong. The awnings in this project are also ultra-light and the curved ones had special structural temporary elements which protected it until it was infiltrated. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How to 'Create more' Efficiencies in Graphic Production Workflows for 3D Visualization Using 3D Printing

This week’s guest blog comes from David Munson,

In the 3D visualization business we look for efficiencies in our graphic production workflows. The recycling of 3D data is a good place to find such time savers. We take the Building Information Model into 3dsMax Design, eliminating the initial step of creating the basic 3D model. In 3dsMax we texture map, light, render, animate, export to GoogleEarth, etc. and most certainly, we 3D print. When one is working on the visual model it’s best to plan for 3D printing as well and work in solids rather than surfaces. Then the fun can start! Visually rich, well crafted 3dsMax models come out 3D printed as visually rich, well crafted physical models. While we are used to thinking of THE model as in one, the ability to reproduce multiple copies at varying scales brings new opportunities. Where there are efficiencies there are opportunities! For most of our large architectural projects we also create a very small scale version which is able to be reproduced very inexpensively with ZPrinter technology. For the Monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Harvard Square, Cambridge, we have produced thus far one large model, four medium sized and about 50 very small versions.

For Tsoi/Kobus and Associates we created one model of their UPENN Proton Accelerator project following a team members’ hunch. So we crafted a model, printed one and the client loved it and asked for nine copies with no adjustments.

Taken to the urban scale is our New World Trade Center model which has been reproduced at three different scales. The largest resides in the Fire Museum of New York and measures 17” square (each of three) and the smallest is 4” square.

 Using high resolution texture maps allows one to print large scale as well as small. Here is the Woolworth building separated out and printed a foot tall. There is much detail which just keeps coming out the more you enlarge when you start with high resolution images.

Below are photos of small and large versions of the same base 3d data with only minor geometric differences between them. This efficiency allows for our clients to get multiple small versions for a low enough cost that even if they weren't planning to make them, become interested. Our Palm Beach Day Academy client is using these models for fund raising in order to realize their expansion. We made the large model first and then the small versions.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Today’s guest blog is from Andrew Saunders; Saunders is a practicing architect and an assistant professor in the Rensselaer School of Architecture.

FLATCUT_ACADIA 2011 Design+Fabrication Competition Winner: Lighting
The Luminescent Limacon is a lighting design based on research from the Equation-based Morphologies workshop taught by Andrew Saunders. The project was chosen winner for lighting, one of three prizes in the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) 2011 Design + Fabrication Competition. As part of the prize, the design was manufactured in the Brooklyn studio of FLATCUT_ design, and the completed lamp is on display at the annual ACADIA conference in Banff, Canada. In addition the design was also printed by Z Corporation on their ZPrinter 650 and exhibited as part of their ACADIA sponsorship.

Borrowing from the affects of the Dutch ruff as renderd by Flemish baroque painters, the Luminescent Limaçon, integrates equation-based geometry, material performance and sartorial fabrication techniques to produce unique diaphanous and volumetric lighting affects.

1. Dutch Ruff

The portraits by Flemish baroque painter Cornelis de Vos (1584-1651) and his contemporaries are renowned for their precise articulation and illumination of the flamboyant linen collars considered fashionable during this period. In relationship to performance and affect the Dutch Ruff is transformed into a vehicle for manipulating light. This occurs at two levels, both as an ephemeral reflective source and as a figural volume with a material presence. This dense accumulation of light is achieved through a combination of the chiaroscuro painting technique, which uses dramatic contrast of light to build volume, and by trapping light through a process of periodic folding that creates a deep translucent ruffle.

2. Equation-based Geometry

One of the advantages of a script-based, computational approach to design is that it enables geometric parameters to be defined with variables. The changeability of these flexible relationships allows quick, fluid, and iterative design evolution.

The global geometry of the Luminescent Limaçon is defined by the polar equation-based Limaçon curve. This roulette curve rolls at varying speeds to generate precisely choreographed self-similar profiles that are combined vertically to construct a number of volumetric formations.

At the local level, a similar roulette curve is plotted using the surface domain of the Limaçon variants. These produce profiles for folds that are nested diagonally and can be interconnected when they meet flush. Extension lengths of the folds alternate periodically to blur the profile of the global geometry and mimic the diffused lighting affects of the Dutch Ruff.

4. Sartorial Fabrication Techniques

All individually folded ruffles used to compose the Luminescent Limaçon are constructed as ruled, developable surfaces. Just as a tailor constructs and measures two-dimensional patterns on rolled fabric, pieces of the fixture can be unrolled flat and cut from planar material.

For fabrication and assembly, these surfaces are embedded with a number of parameters including placement of apertures for connection points, material thickness, tabbing and indexing. Each individual unrolled developable surface contains a unique and specific location and assembly instruction. This piece-specific DNA ensures a precise and accurate re-construction of the global equation-based Limaçon.

5. Integration

The Luminescent Limaçon is the product of an integral design process that combines computation, mathematics, material performance and fabrication. The process privileges neither of the predominant design approaches of bottom-up (internally driven) nor a top-down (deterministic). Instead, it is emblematic of an emerging design process of multiplicity, characterized by an intelligence that is motivated to generate difference through repetition in order to accommodate and respond to both intrinsic and extrinsic criteria simultaneously.

Z Corporation

As part of the exhibition, finalists in the competition were printed by Z Corp. In order to print, the developable surfaces were offset to thicken to the build tolerances. These surface overlap slightly so that the entire model is linked structurally in one build. The 3D print is one in a number of prototypes that have been developed for this project. The model will serve as three-dimensional reference for the exact geometry of the digital model and will guide future full-scale fabrications.

At this phase in the project, Saunders is pursuing multiple fabrication techniques to produce a version that involves less manual assembly (full-scale mock-ups require a lengthy and intricate assembly) in order to mass-produce the lamp at an affordable price point. One of the options being pursued is three-dimensional printing a working lamp in a variety of materials.

Andrew Saunders

Fabrication Research:
Andrew Saunders
Caressa Siu

Computational Geometry Research:
Andrew Saunders
Florian Frank

Equation-based Morphology Seminar Participants:
Florian Frank
Kate Lisi
Travis Lydon
Luca Tesio
Andrea Uras
Olesia Kruglov
Stefano Campisi
Alex Rohr

FLATCUT_Project Team:
Tomer Ben-Gal
Daniel Ramirez
Michael Licht
Francis Bitonti 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

'Create more' Photorealistic 3D Printed Models; Natural Color in Architecture

This week’s blog comes from David Munson –

While the point at which an architectural project gets into photorealism is an ongoing debate for every design team, all projects do eventually. More engaged owners may request it at the onset or early in design development. At the very latest, when the building is being built, all want to see it realistically, in a reproducible medium in order to promote it. This was the case for the new Federal Courthouse in Jefferson City, Missouri with Kallmann, McKinnell and Wood as the lead designers, for which dozens of 4” diameter, 1:1000 scale 3D printed models were made.

Historically, color in 3D printing started out as a palette of primary colors for mechanical parts in engineering. When I started 3D printing in architecture five years ago, the quality was already well enough along to use for architectural finish models. Today it is simply a fantastic tool in reproducing natural color for physical model creation. At Munson3D we have produced scores of such models over the years. Below is our model of the Monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Using 3dsMax Design we work with the same texture mapped model that we use for visualizations. Then we print small test pieces to nail down the final color definitions. Generally we build custom color palettes which are 3D printed to then pick what feels right. For solid colors we make coded bars which depict families of colors:

For texture mapped elements we do the same type of color bars representing textures of larger elements in the model. Each swatch has slightly different settings of hue, saturation and/or brightness:

This specific effort yielded a large, multiple pieced, 3/32” = 1' scale full color 3D printed model. Note that the glass is not monochromatic, just like in real life. One of the most common aesthetic errors made is to define glass as a solid blue color which gives an unnatural feel. Glass is reflective and therefore full of many colors and is perceived to be lighter towards the top than the bottom of a building.