Advantages of 3D Printing
By now, nearly everyone knows that 3D printing can increase the chances of a successful architectural project. This is because successful design projects require input from many sources. To this end many large AEC companies on the forefront of leading edge technology purchased in-house 3D printers early on. This lead to their design teams being able to review concepts earlier with other team members for feedback. These large corporations have found that fast collaboration with engineering, marketing and quality assurance can empower designers to make adjustments throughout the design process and follow-up testing, leading to better products faster.
But is a large budget and in-house printers the only way to make use of this technology?
Even Smaller AEC Firms Can Afford 3D Printing
For those companies who realize the importance of 3D printing, but who lack the budget or the expertise for in-house model printing, outsourcing is a great alternative. This is especially true when you rely on a global reprographics firm who already has a relationship with the AEC community, as well as plenty of local shops.
Outsourcing 3D printing can result in models equal in quality to those printed in-house, without the necessity of the internal infrastructure to support it. In fact, sometimes the result can be even better, because of the expert file preparation that an experienced 3D Printing service can provide.
The Important Outsource – File Prep
The one issue with 3D printing that most newcomers to the technology fail to realize is that you can’t just print a 3D CAD file. In fact, it can be quite difficult to make traditional cad files ready for 3D printing. The process can be time consuming, labor intensive and in some cases impossible.
This is because, a typical file, when first exported from a CAD format to an STL format (WRL for files with colors and textures maps), often has a variety of problems. These issues, which some refer to as not being “watertight”, include objects such as gaps, shared edges, inverted normal, non-volumetric geometry, small features and other unprintable geometry. Making matters worse, thicknesses created when making a scaled model are often too thin to print. The challenges along with limited time and resources are too often the reason for not printing in 3D, especially for those wanting to make scaled models and scaled prototypes.
Fix 3D Printing Problems Before they Occur
Outsource services that specialize in preparing CAD files for 3D printing have developed a variety of work flow options. By using specialized software tools and lots of experience and training, a good 3D Printing Reprographer can repair most of the original file issues that will prevent a good print. One especially difficult issues is the control of fine details or undefined thicknesses so that the model prints correctly and looks right. This detail alone can be a major challenge.
A good AEC Reprographic 3D Printer will be familiar with setting a minimum a thickness parameter and can generally assure that all entities of the model will print on the printers they use. Additionally, they are usually familiar with the 3D CAD programs that you use.
Looking at the Future of 3D Printing
With the use of 3D printing expected to grow by more than 31% per year between now and 2020, it is well on the way to becoming commonplace and expected for AEC modeling. This is a high incentive for Architects, Design Firms, Construction Project Managers to incorporate 3D printed models in all of their project design and presentation workflows.
As 3D printing technology becomes more and more sophisticated, materials become more durable, we may not be too far away from creating full-sized habitable printed structures. But, AEC is ready to transform the way we build, let’s all embrace the transformation of design and model building.