Sunday, 21 July 2013

In what way is 3D printing cost effective for architects?

Recently while making a CPD presentation to a medium sized architectural practice in London, I posted a slide listing the strengths of the 3D print technology we use at Lee 3D. The strengths named were speed, aesthetic quality, colour and cost effectiveness. One of the architects asked what I meant by "cost effective" and in this blog post I will try to answer that question more fully.

Of course the ZPrinter technology we use is comparatively less costly to run than many competitor technologies but this is not the whole story, it begs the question: 

Why 3D print a model in the first place?

To get to the bottom of this we first need to ask what 3D printing is useful for in architecture. 3D printers may one day be used to print buildings directly, as being researched at Loughborough University and D-Shape, but at the current time 3D printing is primarily used as a communication tool in the design process. Typically this involves 3D printing models for communication purposes.

Single colour concept model showing design geometry

3D printing allows a direct output from a 3D software model into physical form. So the first argument for cost effectiveness of 3D printing might be that 3D printing integrates with the computerised design process that most architects use today. 3D printing allows the reuse of design data and with the increased use of 3D design data with the inexorable move to BIM, new opportunities for reusing this data are constantly unfolding.

But still we need to explore the reason why bother to make the 3D print in the first place. What is the pay off?

As a communication tool a physical model has the ability to express geometry to an audience in a way that is simply not possible on paper or screen. When a model is placed on a table in a meeting the facts of the design geometry are immediately clear for all to see. 

Single colour concept model showing design geometry detail

We all know that architects are trained to read architectural drawings and images, however it is also a fact that not all clients and stakeholders are equally able to do this. A physical model democratises the communication of design geometry.

In certain practices and for certain projects, 3D printing is used extensively for internal review of design geometry. A physical model as part of a presentation saves time in understanding form.  If a form is complex it may be the only way to really understand it. 

Each media and technique has the ability to communicate different kinds of information. A good visualisation superimposed on a photograph of the site can give an impression of what a design will feel like in a way that a 3D print probably cannot. 3D printing is great at clearly expressing the actual physical geometry of the design, accurately, to scale and direct from the design workflow.

3D printing serves a purpose in communicating designs, especially at early stage when a traditionally made model may convey too much information and cost too much. 

And here's the crunch, with 3D printing most effective in the early stages of designing, it can be used to influence decisions. A 3D print can help win work. 3D prints at a very early stage communicate ideas to a client in a clear and powerful way.

So in what way is 3D printing cost effective for architects? 

     3D printing:

  1. Allows reuse of 3D software models.
  2. Clearly communicates design geometry to clients and other stakeholders.
  3. Saves time in understanding form.
  4. Helps win work.

To find out more about 3D printing for building design visit:

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