Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A Pigeon At Work

As colour 3D printing specialists we have always taken an interest in data creation. We began to try out low-cost, hand held 3D scanners to see what kind of results we could achieve. We were really impressed by the results produced using photogrammetry. This led to the pigeon model that we created in 2016.

Software model created using Agisoft PhotoScan
Prepared for printing in Materialise Magics
Printed on 3D Systems Project 660
Film Credits:
Film production: Lucy Lee at Instinct Media - www.instinctmedia.co.uk
Sound by Louise Brown at Sync Sounds

We found that photogrammetry needs to be done in a disciplined way. With good planning and good photographs we were able to get a usable result. It really helps having the colour information to make sense of the lumps and bumps in the geometry. 

Below are some of images of models created from the original file. 

3D printed pigeons - cast photo

3D printed pigeons - family portrait

3D printed pigeons - crowd scene

To find out more about colour 3D printing please visit www.lee3d.co.uk

A Democratic Monument

In the summer of 2017 we were approached by Adam Nathaniel Furman to produce a full colour 3D printed model for the New Typologies Exhibition at the Architecture Fringe. We captured the making of the model on film to illustrate some of the manual work associated with colour 3D printing.

Designed in Rhino Serengeti (v6 WIP)
Prepared for printing in Materialise Magics
Printed on 3D Systems Project 660

Film Credits:
Film production: Lucy Lee at Instinct Media - www.instinctfilms.co.uk
Sound by Louise Brown at Sync Sounds

"Democratic Monument is a proposal for a new kind of Town Hall for British cities. It re-groups various civic functions into one visually symbolic composition of architectural forms that reconfigure and express varying references, ornament and allusions, depending on the metropolitan area it is situated in and embodies. It is an expression of urban pride, chromatic joy, and architectural complexity." - Adam Nathaniel Furman

To find out more about colour 3D printing please visit www.lee3d.co.uk

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Optimising size and cost for 3D printing

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the effect of size and scale on cost in 3D printed architectural models. 

After a brief discussion of the relationship between size and cost in 3D printing we will look two worked examples using a context model and a facade study model as examples. 

This post is aimed at architectural models where choice scale is always a factor. 

Relationship between size and cost in 3D printing

Cost of 3D printing is never directly proportional to size. 

Doubling the size of a model can mean up to 8 times more material is used. Some printers may take up to 8 times longer to print all of that extra material. 
(See note on the maths of hollowing models at the bottom of the page.)

It is important to understand that different 3D printing techniques are priced in different ways but ultimately no matter how a part is priced doubling the size disproportionately increases material used and time to produce and therefore cost to produce.

Powder based systems such as the ones we use at Lee 3D are self supporting and thus hollowing parts greatly mitigates the effect of increasing size. Some other 3D printing methods needing supports can be hollowed and the additional supports are trivial while other printers need solid supports and hollowing will not reduce material used. 

The Context Model

In this case we have printed the same model at 3 different scales. The detail in each model remains visible but of course the visual impact of the larger model is lost with the smaller models.

The effect of hollowing on price depends on the shape of the model. Context models like the ones shown below are ideal for hollowing. In this case, doubling the size by changing scale from 1:1000 to 1:500, reduces printed material from a factor of 8 when printed solid to a factor of 4 when printed hollow. 

Choosing intermediate scales can often optimise the balance between size and cost. 

To illustrate the effect size or scale has on cost with some typical numbers. The hollowed models shown (not including the inserts) in the image above might cost something like:

1:1000 - £200
1:750 - £400
1:500 - £800

Printing these models solid would not be viable - unless you just like to have a good weighty model and deep pockets.

Note that these prices are intended to show proportional costs of printing at different scales are not a guide to actual pricing.

The Facade Study Model

In this example the effect of hollowing is less pronounced than with the context model shown above. Doubling the size by changing scales from 1:100 to 1:50, reduces printed material from a factor of 8 when printed solid to a factor of  6 when printed hollow. 

To illustrate the effect size or scale has on cost with some typical numbers. The models shown in the image above might cost something like:

1:100 - £100
1:75 - £200
1:50 - £600

Note that these prices are intended to show proportional costs of printing at different scales are not a guide to actual pricing.

Optimising size and cost

When looking to get a model 3D printed it helps to be flexible and it pays to get a guide price early on in a project.

Many of the models we make are context models with inserted existing and proposed options, like the model shown in the image below. 

Typical 3D printed architectural context model with inserts

Clearly if you need to print a series of options as the design develops it is important to consider the ongoing costs of printing additional options. 

There is often an intermediate scale that offers a good balance of size to price that makes use of 3D printed design models viable.

Note on the maths of hollowing models

The cost of printing is based on the amount of material used. So as the size of the model increases cost is not directly proportional to the size. Without hollowing the cost of increasing size is inversely proportional.

To illustrate this:
A cube measuring 10 x 10 x 10cm has a volume of 1000 cubic cm.
A cube measuring 20 x 20 x 20cm has a volume of 8000 cubic cm.

Translating this to architectural models we can see that doubling the scale can mean 8x the cost for unhollowed models. 

When we hollow parts this reduces the effect of scaling on cost by about half. In the simplified illustration below we can see that the effect of hollowing significantly reduces the cost.

Hollowing the cubes with a 3mm wall thickness and leaving the underside open to remove unused material:
A hollow cube measuring 10 x 10 x 10cm has a volume of 143 cubic cm.
A hollow cube measuring 20 x 20 x 20cm has a volume of 586 cubic cm.

In this case this represents a fourfold increase in cost for doubling the size of the part.

Please note that all 3D print bureaus have different charging rates and methods.  However the underlying principle that changing the size of parts has a substantial influence on cost is unavoidable.

To find out more about 3D printing for architecture and colour 3D printing please visit www.lee3d.co.uk 

Monday, 3 July 2017

New Typologies for Brexit Britain

The New Typologies exhibition at Architecture Fringe 2017 in Glasgow occurs in the political maelstrom that is Brexit. The exhibition opens just weeks after the General Election where the promoters and "owners" of Brexit took a hammering and opened up the question, "What kind of Brexit does the country want? What kind of country do we want to live in?" 

New Typologies asks what kind of buildings do we want to reflect this nervous new world. 

McGinley Bell's Health Centre with the corporate scale of a bank or power company headquarters cut through with monumental openings. An airy castle of health and not much in the way of grovelling in the gutter of austerity.

The school building by Stallan Brand amounts to a complete redesign of the learning process. The school reflects the needs of learning in the digital age where interpretation and questioning of data is the challenge that education needs to address. The rampant model presented in the exhibition suggests rather than represents a solution, an open venue of exploration and discovery. 

Adam Nathaniel Furman's Town Hall recognises the rise of the city as a political force that can and will make a difference in people's lives. His bold and colourful design is a reworking of the elements of a traditional Victorian town hall, moving away from the bland managerial local politics of today. Both a move back to the liberal mayors that "spearheaded reforms, and massive urban improvements that transformed the lives of those living in the new metropolises." and a move forward to a building, a Democratic Monument, used and owned equally by both elected officials and the people.

"In crisis lies the greatest opportunity for reinvention." says Furman. These are important explorations at a critical point in time. Brexit, wanted or not, offers an opportunity to reassess - everything. Possibly we might even imagine a world where there is more to public life than cost cutting.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Increasing productivity or part of the problem?

A couple of things happened recently that made me think differently about public perception of 3D printing. 

Firstly my mum recently visited our workshop with one of my nephews. My mum repeatedly referred to our 3D printers as robots, mainly because my nephew is at an age where he is fascinated by robots and all things mechanical.

The other occasion was in a throwaway conversation with our neighbour. I was banging on about driverless cars and AI imminently taking everyone's jobs. He turned to me and called me a hypocrite, I run 3D printers which are taking away other people's jobs right?

Then during a third conversation with a surveyor who had asked us to print a hole in the ground, yes he really wanted a print of a hole in the ground! Why did he want a colour 3D print of a hole in the ground? He was trying to persuade older contractors of the value of capturing 3D data. Often they just will not wait even to take a series of photographs from which a virtual model can be created to record complex underground servicing. 

From the mess of servicing underground you would think it would be a good idea to record and share this information. It is not a difficult idea to grasp but I can see how it could be a difficult idea to implement.

Putting all of that together, 3D printing of architectural design models is the staple of our business. The thing is that until 10 years ago it was really not possible to 3D print design models. 3D printers were around before that but price and speed where not right for making what are essentially concept models. 

So for most architects they became design professionals without needing 3D printing to make design models. And the truth is that like recording that underground servicing it has not been easy to introduce 3D printing into most architect's design workflow. 

This is not to say that architects have never used models and with the rise of 3D printing some have tried to apply 3D printing to their existing requirement for physical models - which is often for high quality presentation models. But that is not what 3D printing is good at unless a modelmaker is involved in transforming the 3D print into a convincing model.

A presentation model does not serve the same purpose as a design model. A design model helps stakeholders make decisions during the design process and presentation models sell the final design. 

In this sense, 3D printing design models is an attempt to add value to the design process. If we are replacing anything, it is the time consuming card and foam models which were traditionally made by architectural assistants. Often made over the course of a night, fueled by pizza and coffee. Architectural assistants do not become architectural assistants to stay up at night making card mockups, they do so to become architects. So are 3D printers taking jobs in this instance?

There is a real threat to jobs in large established industries from AI and robotics. Capturing 3D data on building sites and in road excavations or helping stakeholders make clear decisions in the design process is not a threat to jobs. Instead these are processes for adding value and increasing productivity of existing jobs.

Public perception of 3D printing is formed not by reality but by manufacturers hype and the imaginations of the media. 

Finally, is a 3D printer a robot? Robots do do boring repetitive tasks when they have time off from taking over the world I guess.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The gig economy - a missed opportunity

The term gig economy is often not what it says it is and this is usually bad for everyone except employers (except of course that they claim not to be employers). 

20 years ago I spent 3 years working in the gig economy as a self employed cycle courier. What this meant was working for a courier company with all of the usual employees, sales people, call assistants, controllers, managers but no couriers. All of the couriers; van drivers, motorcyclists and pushbikers were self employed.

At the time I didn't mind this, in fact I enjoyed the freedom and taking responsibility for looking after my own affairs was a positive experience. However the system was and remains inherently inefficient and the opportunity to make a living was limited.

20 years later I find myself in a position where I use couriers on a daily basis and being a somewhat impatient person I am frankly skeptical about the benefits of the so called gig economy.

What exactly is the gig here? Is it the individual job or is it the days work? Or the weeks work? Or the month or year? The way this work is renumerated is by the job.  The reality is that each courier is in service (employed) to a single courier company. As self employed couriers they should be free to take jobs from any courier company based on location and where they are headed. 

This would effectively widen the pool of couriers available from those in service to a particular company to the entire fleet of self employed couriers working at any one time. In other words creating a real market for self employed couriers to compete in.

Increasing the efficiency of the overall system in this way would mean a better service for customers, increased productivity of the couriers and improved services offered by courier companies.

How can a proper market for the services of self employed couriers come about? Can a GPS network based technology be applied to create such a market where courier companies hire riders and drivers based on their location, direction and availability? 

A system like this could increase productivity for everyone concerned including the businesses who need to use these services.

While writing this I came across a company called Brisqq who are supplying retail customers with deliveries. They say that "Brisqq's algorithm selects the best freelance courier (closest, highest rated, most appropriate vehicle etc.)"

Brisqq's reference to freelance couriers suggests they really are plugging into a pool of freelance couriers. I wonder if this is what they mean or is this their freelance couriers who are not allowed to work for anyone else? I hope its the former.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Cyberbond for 3D printing

I am a loyal Cyberbond customer. I have used their cyanoacrylate to finish 3D printed parts for more than 10 years now. The only reason I would change is if I found a product that would produce a better finish.

The fact is Cyberbond make a high quality product. Here is what I mean.

The test parts shown below were made in 2009 and 2010 respectively. They have been kept out of sunlight since that time and discolouration is minimal.

Sample parts in 2009 and 2010 
shown along side a part made in 2017

This ability to keep colour is not the same with some other products. If you leave Cyberbond to go off in the bottle it remains completely clear. No discolouration as it ages. I have had samples of inferior product go yellow in weeks.

When I visit customers I want to see design models crowding their offices that look good. Models need to stay good for the life of a project which could easily be 5 or 10 years.

This is not a promise that our parts will never discolour. Direct sunlight, moisture and dust will all discolour 3D printed parts made on ZCorp or Projet x60 machines. 

In addition to not discolouring, when choosing cyanoacrylate for this purpose you need to look at other physical characteristics of the glue. If the glue is too thin it will leave a white powdery look to the model. Too thick it will produce an uneven finish with matt and shiny streaks. 

All in all, sales people are not going to fare well armed with their "very competitive price" and claiming to "supply all the major users in the UK and Europe". Well, I am sorry but you are not supplying this one. 

Monday, 8 May 2017

Yet another 3D printing App!

Oh gosh another app to connect engineers and designers with 3D printing bureaus. Still peddling the 3D printing hype, now with a rambling message conflating additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping and all projected into a dreamy future.
Allegedly engineers do not know if their parts are printable. They need an app to check their parts, to fix them and then to tell them what material to use and who should print it.
In these days, before AI finally saves us from our own innate idiocy, it is usually best not to expect help from an app. If engineers really need help then it is best to speak to real people with real experience. Automated file fixing procedures are very unreliable and can lead to all manner of unfortunates being printed.
Not only can people advise on printability and appropriateness of materials they can also advise on how to optimise files for cost. An app will not turn around and suggest you hollow the part, make it in parts, nest parts or simply reorient the part to reduce costs. It would be very easy to pay over the odds through an app.
Phone around some bureaus, ask the usual questions. Will this work? Is there a better way to do it? Is there a way to do this for less? Bureaus are in business to build trusting relationships with their customers and to build their reputation generally. Apps have nothing at stake on each job they process except the percentage they take.
Apps are seductive. They give the impression that everything is going to be easy, everything has been thought through. Its pure snake oil.