Monday, 24 June 2013

Architects - beware of consumer 3D printers!

Recent discussions at Lee 3D with architects investigating 3D Printing of architectural models have shown a disturbing trend towards architects buying consumer 3D printers that just don't work for them.

Three practices of different sizes illustrate the experiences encountered with these machines: 

Firstly, a one man band approached Lee 3D annoyed that his machine was not working and that when it did it was unable to produce the geometry he wanted to print - his machine was a single material machine that meant there was no support material and therefor the machine is entirely limited to certain geometries. He asked if the ZPrinter/CJP machine we use can print lolly pop style trees at 1:1000 scale - which of course it can - and in colour too.

Secondly, a small rural practice had their duel extruder machine back in the box it was delivered in. The complaint here was that the machine was much too slow to print anything of any substance and again the geometry was a problem. This machine can print support material so in theory it can print overhangs etc. However the support material needs to be broken away from the model which meant their delicate models were damaged in the process. In this case the ZPrinter parts we made for them impressed in both level of detail and speed of delivery.

Thirdly, a large 100 strong practice where the model maker has built a 3D printer from a kit. This involved a large investment in time and effort and ultimately only lead to very limited parts that needed significant finishing to include in models.

Despite these three seemingly entirely negative experiences I can report that owning a machine did enable all of these users to work out how to create suitable 3D software models that would, if their machines were capable, 3D print successfully.

I would suggest that the £1,000 - £2000 and time invested would be much better invested in working with a good bureau (Lee 3D) to understand the software requirements and then to produce a great set of models of sufficient quality that could actually be used on live projects or to win new business.

One advantage of going to a bureau is that there will be (should be) a huge amount of experience available to avoid mistakes and to guide customers towards a high quality product. Another advantage of using a professional level bureau is that they will have professional level kit that takes away the risk involved in buying kit for in-house use. 

To illustrate the point the image below shows a bracelet printed on a consumer 3D printer. Its actually pretty good in that it is flexible and reasonably robust and the geometry is interesting. But you need to realise it the printer is limited to this kind of geometry - whereas the colour 3D print in the background is pretty much geometry independent and is is printed in one take with full colour (model makers trees and acrylic cover added afterwards).

Visit the Lee 3D website for more information about colour 3D printing.

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