Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Common Misperceptions and Myths about 3D Printing – Part II

When we conducted a survey last year among architects in North America, we asked them to consider the following question – “What are the obstacles to making more physical 3D models?”

Last week, we shared with you that the number one concern was "cost," and we showed a 3D printing example to help dispel that myth. This week, we will address the number two answer which was “Takes too much time.”

Constructing physical models by hand from cardboard, chipboard, wood, etc., is very time consuming, often taking days, even weeks. Cutting 2D sections with a laser cutter, and then assembling a 3D model is also time consuming. Even a wire-cut foam massing model can eat up valuable time – time that could be spent in design development. What many AEC professionals might not yet know is the surprising speed of 3D printing, specifically thermal ink-jet 3D printing, like ZPrinters. A typical ZPrinter will create 3D printed models at speeds ranging from 0.8 to 1.1 vertical inches per hour (depends on model length and width). That means that most scale models can be printed, cleaned and finished in less than one work day. Even larger, complex models can be printed overnight, and finished the next morning. Let’s look at some examples …

This concept model below is about 7 inches long x 4 inches wide (at widest point) x 2 inches high – it printed in 2.5 hours.
Here is another interesting model from the RPI School of Architecture Rome Studio in 2008.  The model measures 9 x 6 x 5 inches.  The print time is 7 hours.
Here’s a massing model designed in Autodesk Revit.   It is 7 inches tall with a base of about 2x2 inches. The model is solid, not hollowed out.  It printed in less than 2 hours.

What’s even more interesting is that you can stack multiple models in the build chamber and print them all in one job. Four of the same massing tower printed in only 3 hours.

Oh, by the way, at about 10 cubic inches per tower, the cost per model is less than $50. With what other technology can you produce tangible 3D models in less than half a workday at such low prices? I would argue that photorealistic renderings would cost more in labor, and are not as effective for communication.

How about color models? Look at this Ecotect energy analysis of a building tower. A 2 x 2 x 5 inch model will print in 2 hours in high definition color, depicting the towers hot and cold spots over a 24-hour period.

Your client prefers a 15 inch model? Print it in 9 hours and have it ready for her the next day!

You can even run the printer for another 43 minutes and get three smaller scale models to go along with the large one.

I’d like to hear from others who have taken advantage of speedy 3D printing to help design visualization and project collaboration.  And, I would like to hear from the naysayers who still think it takes too much time to make 3D physical models.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Common Misperceptions and Myths about 3D Printing – Part I

When we conducted a survey last year among architects in North America, we asked them to consider the following question – “What are the obstacles to making more physical 3D models?”

The number one answer was “Too expensive to make.”

Frankly, this response was a head-scratcher for us. We expected more responses around model features, workflow from BIM software, scaling challenges, etc. But, too expensive?

I would argue that it is too expensive to NOT make more physical 3D models, especially in the early design stages. As with manufacturing prototypes, collaboration and iteration around physical models drives better design and faster project approvals. This has been proven over and over at many AEC firms around the world.

Let’s get down to specifics about costs (here I must use Z Corp. information since I am not expert on other 3D printers). For those users who own a ZPrinter, the material cost per model typically ranges from $2-5 per cubic inch of total materials used. For small, white models, it would be closer to the $2 cost. For large, multi-color models, the $5 estimate would apply. Consider the concept model below….

The ZPrint time estimation report calculates that 38.37 cubic inches of powder and 246.3 ml of binder and ink will be used to print this model on a ZPrinter 450. Using exact end user costs (US dollar pricing), including print heads, the material cost for this model would be $99.36. Using a salt water spray finish (good for visualization models), the final cost would be under $100; the total cost of materials for this model is less than $3 per cubic inch. The model is 7 inches tall with a base of 10 x 7.5 inches. Is this not a cost-effective way to communicate this design concept?

The alternatives include multiple digital screen renderings or asking a junior designer to spend several days trying to construct the model from other materials. The first approach includes only labor costs but will never replace a physical model for communication, especially for a design this organic in nature. The second approach, if even possible, will take too much time and just demoralize your junior staff. Did I mention that this model can be printed overnight, de-powdered and finished in the morning, and ready for collaboration before noon?

More on 3D printing time misperceptions in my next blog.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2010 in Review, Trends for 2011

As I look back at 2010 in the rear view mirror, objects seem much closer than they appear. What ‘objects’ you say? Is there a T-Rex chasing me like in Jurassic Park? No, in fact not dinosaurs, but fresh new thinkers who understand the value of iterative physical modeling in creative design. These objects are the inexpensive, fast-turnaround 3D prints made in large quantities by the architectural firms who understand the tangible benefits of 3D printing. And, it’s not just the big-name “starchitects” who are experiencing the value of 3D printing. Sure, Amanda Levete Architects, Antoine Predock Studio, Cannon Design Yazdani Studio, Foster+Partners, HNTB, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Morphosis, NBBJ, Pelli Clarke Pelli, Pei Cobb Freed, Populous, RTKL, SHoP Architects, Steven Holl Architects, and others (apologies to those I forgot to mention) have been 3D printing for some time now. But, smaller firms are now jumping in. Last year, while many architects experienced continued declines in their businesses, Z Corp. experienced growth in 3D printer sales to the AEC market. Imagine if the economic climate for architects were better?

The other thing I noticed about 2010 is the continued investment by Schools of Architecture in new technology to support their curriculums. Adding new ZPrinters in their architectural departments, in no particular order, were American University in Dubai, Portland State, U Texas Austin, Cornell (two), U Tel Aviv, U Kentucky, Instituto Empresa Univ, U Newcastle, Syracuse, Woodbury, Yale, Instituto Statale D’Arte, Mukogawa Women’s Univ, Royal Melbourne Institute (their third printer), Barcelona Institute, and New School of Architecture. At the same time, we experienced an increase in the purchase of consumables from other universities that have been 3D printing for some time. The big users last year included Harvard GSD, Columbia, SCI-Arc, UCLA, Arizona State, U Cincinnati, Catholic U, U Michigan, Pratt, MIT, USC, Penn, U Toronto, Florida, Illinois, Carnegie Mellon, UNC Charlotte, the Cooper Union, and on and on. Many of these schools are recognized in the Design Intelligence report of top undergraduate and graduate programs in architecture. Do you think there might be a strong correlation between technology investment and successful programs? Rhetorical question. I would even argue that this positive correlation is true in the commercial sector [see list of firms above].

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?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

3D Printing Allows Firms to Offer Clients Physical 3D Models of Projects

This week's blog is by Julie Reece.
Story courtesy Debra Wood, Constructor

Viewing a construction model on screen usually proves helpful to contractors, architects and owners, but there’s something about being able to see and touch a three-dimensional model that really clarifies people’s understanding of a project. ZPrinters allow firms to “print” colorful, physical 3D models of a project throughout the design and construction process.
Photo courtesy of HNTB.
HNTB uses ZPrinters to create 3D models to facilitate the building process.

Photo Courtesy Of HNTB
“We use 3D printing during the pursuit side to show clients what their bridge, building or highway interchange will look like once it’s constructed. Another way we use the 3D printer is to create analytical models used during construction sequencing on-site with contractors,” says Austin Reed, senior 3D visualization specialist with HNTB, Kansas City, Mo., a member of multiple AGC chapters. “They can show their construction workers exactly what they will be working on, and we will color-code the model. If the wall is [printed in] orange, that means phase one. Phase two may be in green.”

Reed says contractors can see what the work is supposed to look like when completed and what craftspeople will be working on that specific day.

ZPrinters work with various programs, including AutoDesk Revit, AutoCAD or MicroStation. HNTB will bring those files into Studio Max for texturing and cleanup for printing as a solid, watertight object, which has a hollow core to lighten the model and conserve supplies. By checking the file before printing, Reed says he avoids errors and ensures accuracy before sending the model to a client.

HNTB architects also use the model to evaluate design concepts. HNTB has opted to use a print vendor in Kansas City and other places where it has offices. HNTB will have one copy of a model printed and, if it’s good, he'll print multiple models as well as models from other projects to fill the printer’s “build bed” and maximize the 15-in. by 10-in. by 8-in. build chamber, Reed says.

The cost to print with an outside vendor runs up to $30 per cubic inch, Reed says. The cost to create a model in house on one’s own printer is $3 per cu in., or $100 to $200 for a large model. An 8-in. by 10-in. by 8-in. model weighs about 10 lb.

Reducing the cost, complexity and time to make models, encourages people who adopt our technology to use it much more often, thereby improving communication, which is critical on complex projects.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Conceived and Projected in 3D: 3D Printing Helps Architects at Sagrada Familia Follow Gaudi’s Methods

Guest post by Julie Reece, Z Corporation Director of Marketing Communications.

At the end of 1883, Antoni Gaudí was commissioned to carry on the works of The Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Familia, a task which he did not abandon until his death in 1926. Since then, different architects have continued the work following his original idea.

When work began on the church in 1882, architects, bricklayers and masons were using a very traditional two-dimensional approach. Gaudí realized that the geometry they were dealing with required a different methodology. The 2D charts were not useful, except for axis and column layout purposes.

The complexity of Sagrada Familia’s forms forced Antoni Gaudí to switch to a three dimensional approach. The Sagrada Familia design required 3D models to visualize architectural solutions and analyze structural feasibility. From the very beginning, Gaudí gathered a team of expert model makers and sculptors to study solutions that were either later discarded or are displayed today.

In the words of Chief Architect Jordi Coll, “Due to the complexity of surfaces and forms working with Gaudí’s designs in 2D does not make sense from an architectural point of view,”

Gaudí was a visionary and an innovator who experimented with forms and concepts, and he always used the latest technology available at the time.

Since Gaudí’s death in 1926, seeing a finished Sagrada Familia has been the dream of all his disciples, architecture lovers, and the Catalan people — even more so since during the Spanish Civil War, Gaudí’s workshop was vandalized and most of his writings, drawings, photographs and 3D models were destroyed.

Numerous materials and documents were saved by collaborators, along with pieces of the shattered models, which became the starting point of a great challenge: finishing the construction of the temple, just as Gaudi would have wanted.

The present Church Technical Office and management are charged with studying the complexity of Gaudí’s original project, a task that involves:

• Inventory and organization of plaster model fragments from the remains of the original shattered models.

• Developing hypotheses to figure out the missing parts.

• Producing 3D models in plaster prior to the job projection.

• Projecting and verifying the construction plan of the church.

• Constructing the real parts (concrete, stone, and Catalan vaults).

The moulds and the models that survived, as well as photos, documents and drawings, help guide the project. Gaudí’s original models are restored, reproduced, revised and modified as many times as necessary, in order to guarantee fidelity to the original project and technical feasibility.

For decades, this task was carried out in a hand-crafted manner. However, producing all of these parts manually was a long and costly process. It had also generated very high costs in material stock, since the human hand could not produce appropriate models in scales smaller than 1:25.

Since funds for the construction of the temple come solely from donations, the completion of the Sagrada Familia seemed, at times, like a very remote dream.

Architects Jordi Coll, Jordi Faulí, and Mark Burry began researching cutting edge technologies used in aeronautic and automotive engineering, such as 3D CAD software.

After interpreting the data, they generated a 3D file of the target part. That allowed them to better understand the mathematics and proportions inherent to Gaudí’s designs, slowly revealing, through years of study, the secrets that lay therein.

A true revolution arrived with the introduction of 3D printers, which allowed the materialization of 3D CAD drawings in an automized way, with unprecedented detail, accuracy, and in only a few hours.

The Sagrada Familia technical studio acquired two ZPrinters, which are making the team’s task much easier. The staff can devote most of their time to research and recomposing shapes, in order to calculate and solve the overall puzzle. As a result, 3D CAD files of the parts are generated, and the ZPrinters continue to print impeccable parts.


Better models: The ZPrinters are able to reproduce small details effortlessly and with better accuracy than the human hand.

Less material: The machines can print an initial process at 1:50 and 1:100 scales (and at Gaudi’s scales of 1:10 and 1:25) and the leftover material from printing sessions is reusable.

More models, faster: Large build chamber and fast print jobs (2-3 cm in Z axis, per hour).

Better communication: Increased understanding between the technical office and the constructors of the final concrete or stone parts.

Fewer errors: Saves time and money.

Functional parts: The plaster-like material from Z Corporation is similar to the one utilized for the original models, which allows for assemblies between historic and contemporary parts. The Sagrada Familia is expected to be complete before the end of the first third of our century.

Just as Antoni Gaudí would have done, the best technology is being applied to accomplish the construction of the building, with excellent results. Thanks to the introduction of 3D CAD and 3D printing, the production of 3D models has become a fast and affordable task. Speed has been a crucial factor in expediting the error-testing process, and therefore, the incremental progress of the construction.

One hundred and twenty-five years later, thanks to the wonders of 3D technology and the vision of Sagrada Familia’s present chief architects, the interior of the cathedral is close to being finished true to Gaudí’s original vision and method concept.

“If Gaudí was alive today, he would have brought 3D technology to its maximum exponent, since much of his work was already conceived tri-dimensionally,” said Coll.

Interestingly enough, many are not surprised by the fact that the genius of Gaudí would fly on the wings of 3D technology.