Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Instant Arch: Self-supporting masonry with Vasari and Z Corp 3D Printing

Today’s guest blog is from Zachary Kron, Architectural Designer and Software Analyst for Autodesk.

Have you ever seen those elegant, light masonry arches that seem impossibly thin? Along with a little mortar to just help things stick together, they only use gravity and careful form making to stand up. How can you find that kind of arched form where the bricks are held together by gravity? And how could you make a cool 3D model of it?

I did a little masonry experiment in Autodesk® Project Vasari, a design tool for creating building concepts that is freely available for download as a Technology Preview from Autodesk Labs. Along with integrated analysis for solar, energy, and carbon data, Vasari includes a physics based form finding tool called Nucleus. This feature allows designers to simulate gravity, wind, constraints, and collisions on surfaces with different physical properties. Combined with the paneling tools in Vasari, I was able to simulate a compression masonry structure.

Starting from a rectangular surface, you can turning gravity upside down and making “hanging chain” models. These structurally efficient catenary curve based forms function entirely in compression.

If you break the surface down into individual “masonry bricks” with tiny gaps between them, you can 3D print out the results and test if the form is operating in compression.

The result of such a study should be a single form made out of many unconnected pieces.

In most fabrication scenarios, assembling this sort of structure out of individual pieces would be a nightmare of numbering, finding neighboring pieces, and creating temporary scaffold structures. In this experiment, however, the entire assembly was printed out on a Z Corp ZPrinter 450 pre-assembled, and the “scaffolding” was simply vacuumed out from underneath. No assembly required!

The biggest problem I encountered was that the joints were a little too perfect. They were so tight that I needed to sprinkle a darker pigment into the joints to demonstrate that it wasn’t actually a monolithic form.

I couldn’t find any instant coffee, so I used hot chocolate mix.

This form was relatively conservative in terms of stressing the compression system and creating tight joints. Next time we run this experiment, we’ll try creating a more pronounced gap on a more dynamic form.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

3D Printing Critical to Symmons Industries’ Design Studio Live Virtual Design Studio

Today's guest post is from Julie Reece, Z Corporation Director of Marketing Communications.

Bathrooms matter in the design world. The room itself is a canvas for architects and interior designers to showcase their talents in a way that helps set a property apart from the pack. More fundamentally though, the bathroom “experience” is a critical factor in the discriminating consumer’s willingness to spend and select one property over another.

For these reasons, bathroom fittings – the faucet, showerhead, towel rack and even the doorknob – are too important to overlook when building or remodeling hotels, luxury condos and high-end homes. Property owners are increasingly demanding one-of-a-kind fittings to deliver a unique experience.

Symmons Industries, 70-year-old manufacturer of commercial and residential plumbing products, has long served this market with custom design and manufacturing services. The company broke new ground with the launch of a first-of-its-kind virtual design studio for architects, designers and property owners, called Design Studio Live.

Design Studio Live is a Web-based program that allows users to create their own products and receive color 3D physical concepts of their designs within four days, metal prototypes in approximately 15 days, and delivered product for their property in as little as 16 weeks. With the help of this innovative new tool, architects and designers can create unique ideas that translate into exclusive fittings for their projects right from their desks. Users can begin by digitally paging through a virtual catalog of ready-made designs, dragging them to a virtual light box, and modifying them with Google SketchUp™, Adobe® Photoshop®, SolidWorks®, or any other 3D CAD program.

Eric Spear, Symmons’ director of custom services said, “Symmons is the only manufacturer offering fully customized plumbing fittings, and Design Studio Live makes it easier than ever for a designer to complete their bath design with products tailored for each project. We’ve built a process in which we can execute a custom design in the time it takes to flip through a catalog.”

Symmons design consultants are available for program guidance or design advice. However, users are encouraged to experiment as much as they’d like because the tool is designed to encourage creativity. The Design Studio program is also a tool for tracking and managing the progress of a project.

Challenge: fast-turnaround concept prototypes

Critical to the Design Studio Live formula is the ability to quickly and affordably churn out physical 3D models at high volumes. With this demand, handcrafting models was out of the question due to the time and labor involved. For Symmons, a 3D printer was the answer to creating a great custom service for its customers.

Long before Design Studio Live was conceived, Symmons owned a Dimension® 3D printer. Design consultants only used the printer intermittently because it took too long to get a prototype. Spear said that a single faucet took 15 hours to print.

Solution: ‘ZPrinting’

A local Z Corp. reseller told Symmons it could fix the turnaround problem with a printer from Z Corp. Symmons designers said, “Prove it.”

They did just that; instead of taking 15 hours to print a single faucet, Z Corp.’s 3D printer printed 12 models in 3.5 hours at half the price of the single model produced by the Dimension machine. Put another way, the ZPrinter could produce 48 prototypes in the time it took the Dimension machine to print one. Convinced, Symmons purchased the ZPrinter to create prototypes on demand, giving them the final piece of the puzzle they required to realize the vision of Design Studio Live.

Results: a thriving Design Studio Live

The ZPrinter and its 3D printed prototypes are turning out to be the driving force behind Design Studio Live.

Spear said, “The design process itself is exciting, but there comes a point when it’s really helpful to see a tangible, physical example of it. By ZPrinting 3D models, designers can stop looking at their screens and see what the part really looks like in context and feels like in their hands.”

The Z Corp. 3D printed prototypes also strengthen the relationship between an architect and a property owner. Spear said, “Architects can slide a set of ZPrints across the table – perhaps faucets of different sizes and shapes – along with a red pencil. The property owner gets a rare opportunity to handle the models and mark them up. The architect comes back with revised models a couple of days later, and the owner is blown away by the architect’s responsiveness.”

3D printing has also helped enable Symmons, known for the superior workmanship of their internal plumbing parts, to show their design capabilities. For example, the Mandarin Oriental, New York wanted a distinctive look and feel for its bathrooms, and their design firm turned to Symmons to help create the details of the design. The bath design called for a shower system that incorporated fittings with a ceiling-mount drench showerhead and a Roman tub filler that was both stylish and simple to operate. Symmons developed custom concepts for its client with an elegantly simple, single control for on/off, hot/cold operation, a feature that helped to overcome the language barrier many international guests experience. ZPrints helped Symmons communicate a range of options to the client, which enabled the team to quickly close on a final solution. It was the same story at a Miami hotel where ZPrints helped Symmons refine the design of a vertical showerhead surrounded by chandeliers. Other satisfied Symmons clients include the Wynn Resorts, Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton, to name a few.

The Z Corp. 3D printer was printing at full tilt five days a week, 20 models a run, according to Spears. In the first four months of use, Symmons produced 4,000 prototypes for a wide range of applications. Most were for client projects, but models also went to tradeshows, “lunch and learn” seminars with designers and architects, and to Symmons industrial designers. “You can push the print button during morning coffee break and be passing around prototypes at lunch. Z Corporation is enabling the kind of speed and part quality that is indispensable for Design Studio Live and all of our design work here,” said Spear.

The ZPrinter and its unique color capabilities have also produced other surprising benefits. They help Symmons stretch design concepts and prototypes beyond conventional stainless steel, using color to accurately represent the popular finish of Onyx. Color prototypes also make great promotional handouts – for instance, a brightly colored faucet model with an architect’s name on it. Symmons even brings its ZPrinter to tradeshows and prints nonstop, making its booth a popular stop for designers and architects witnessing the possibilities of both Symmons designs and instant prototypes.

Whether at tradeshows or in Design Studio Live, 3D color printing enhances Symmons’ business and brand by helping the company focus as much on the aesthetic considerations as the internals. The company is now able to prove that it can make the most beautiful “facades” – or better yet, help customers make them.

Spear said, “It’s a great experience to be the first in market to do this. Our unique ability to host a full-service virtual design studio with 3D printing capabilities, and do it so painlessly, is a real differentiator and a powerful one that keeps us in top of mind to our clients. Z Corporation’s unique speed, color and affordability make this possible.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

3D Printing Helps Architects of African American Museum Save Time and Money

Today’s guest blog is from Julie Reece, Z Corp.’s Director of Marketing Communications.

Moody•Nolan, an award-winning architectural firm designing the International African American Museum, is using Z Corp.’s 3D printing technology to accelerate the design cycle, save money on concept models, and help ensure the building properly expresses the story of Africans in America. Moody•Nolan architects streamline design and review by printing physical 3D models using a ZPrinter 650.
The Charleston, S.C., edifice will reflect the fact that more slaves entered North America through the city than any other. Now in the conceptual design stage, the $80 million museum will also chronicle African American progress in the ensuing centuries. It is slated to open in 2015.

“We’ve considered the entire African American narrative, the bad and the good, as we select materials, conceive the spaces and forms, and review our work with the project founders,” said Michael Woods, Moody•Nolan, Inc. associate and one of the project designers. “ZPrinting enables us to quickly create early massing models and produce presentation models with accurate detail we never could have obtained even after weeks of handcrafting. The steering committee, mayor and city planners were simply amazed by our most recent models.”

Moody•Nolan, Inc. uses Z Corp.’s ZPrinter® 650, because it delivers the industry’s biggest models, highest throughput, highest-quality color and finest resolution.

The museum is intended to be a “window” into the African American story, a concept embodied in the glassy façade overlooking Liberty Park. During gatherings in the park, guests will be able to see glimpses of the museum’s interior. The East-facing facade can also be viewed as a window looking back to Africa.

Courtesy of City of Charleston Website

“This is a sophisticated building with a lot to say, and ZPrinting helps us convey concepts and details to numerous audiences, each in a way that makes the most impact,” said Woods. “We can ZPrint a new model from any of our four software packages – MicroStation, Revit, form•Z, and Google SketchUp – 10 times faster and at a fraction of the cost of handcrafting. The more complex the models, the greater the savings.”

ZPrinting helps audiences fully understand the building that is being proposed, unlike on-screen renderings. “You can touch a ZPrint, pick it up, turn it over and really see it,” said Woods. “ZPrinting allows us to move the design process forward more quickly, iterate more effectively and more deeply involve clients and other stakeholders. It’s a great tool and everyone benefits.”

Moody•Nolan is collaborating on the project with Antoine Predock. Architect PC, who also uses Z Corporation’s ZPrinting, and actually introduced Moody•Nolan to the technology.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Design for Manufacturability in AEC?

From WikipediaDesign for Manufacturability (also sometimes known as Design for Manufacturing) - (DFM) is the general engineering art of designing products in such a way that they are easy to manufacture. The basic idea exists in almost all engineering disciplines, but of course the details differ widely depending on the manufacturing technology. This design practice not only focuses on the design aspect of a part but also on the producibility. In simple language it means relative ease to manufacture a product, part or assembly.

The design stage is very important in product design. Most of the product lifecycle costs are committed at design stage. The product design is not just based on good design but it should be able to produce by manufacturing. Often an otherwise good design is difficult or impossible to produce. Typically a design engineer will create a model or design and send it to manufacturing for review and invite feedback, this process is called as design review. If this process is not followed diligently, the product may fail at manufacturing stage.
If these DFM guidelines are not followed, it will result in iterative design, loss of manufacturing time and overall resulting in time to market. Hence many organizations have adopted concept of Design for Manufacturing.

What if we substituted the word ‘building’ for ‘product’, the word ‘designer’ for ‘design engineer’ and the word ‘construction’ for ‘manufacturing’? Could we apply DFM today in the AEC industry? Maybe the acronym becomes DFC?

Given the recent collaborative trend with Integrated Project Delivery, and the use of BIM as a vehicle for producible building designs, it certainly seems that the AEC market is moving to DFC. Moreover, with research projects like that at Loughborough University, there is a longer-term trend toward the production of 3D printed components which can be assembled to produce the design intent. Another data point – at SmartGeometry2010 conference, the theme was ‘Working Prototypes’. In one workshop last year, components were 3D printed at full scale and then assembled to form the design structure.

I would love to hear from AEC industry professionals about whether the market is ready for DFC now or in the near future.