One of the latest construction technologies that has moved from bleeding-edge technology to a viable, cost-efficient business solution in the construction industry is 3D printing. However, there are still many misnomers and uncertainty on how A/E/C firms can utilize this powerful technology resource, so we asked an industry expert, Trey Richoux with Entrescan, to help us explain 3D printing and its impact on the construction industry.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing turns digital three dimensional designs on a computer screen into real, physical objects, typically by “printing” material in progressive layers, also known as additive manufacturing.
This method is a fantastic way to fabricate highly complex parts and, surprisingly, this technology has actually been in use for quite some time – about 30 years industrially. 3D printing is used right now for all sorts of applications, including:
- prosthetics for amputees
- tooling/jigs/fixtures in manufacturing
- creating parts for NASA rockets and rovers as well as remote areas like on oil rigs
- proof of concept models
- building houses (view Mashable's article on 3D printing an entire house)
The expense and logistics of 3D printing used to be quite cost prohibitive in the past, but costs are coming down and the technology is continually being refined. That is why we’re hearing more about it these days and 3D printing is becoming more accessible to everyone, even hobbyists.
In terms of approach, 3D printing actually works in a similar way to normal printers. You start by creating a file on a computer, in this case, a three-dimensional CAD model using any number of A/E/C software suites (Revit, Autodesk Inventor, SolidWorks, etc.) These files are sent to a software that communicates directly with the printer and the software extrapolates the data in the file and slices it into hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of layers. From there, the printer gets to work and begins fabricating the CAD model one layer at a time, starting at the bottom layer and moving upward.
Using CAD models, 3D printing can produce virtually any solid object, even those with complex architectures that can’t be produced any other way, and in a range of materials including plastics, nylons, carbon fiber, and even metals.
3D printing offers several efficiencies versus traditional fabrication techniques:
- communication models are faster and cheaper,
- product design cycles are shorter with quicker iterations and an overall faster time to market,
- industrial engineering has true design freedom (instead of designing for the limitations of traditional manufacturing)
How do A/E/C firms use 3D Printing?
Designers, engineers, architects, and construction professionals use 3D printing to help them communicate more effectively, shorten project timelines, and gain faster approvals from project stakeholders.
Usages for 3D printing in the A/E/C industry include:
- site plans
- massing models
- detailed design concepts
- engineering analysis results
- MEP system models
- structural designs
- safety training
- color-coded construction plans
- traditional presentation models
About Entrescan - https://entrescan.com
At Entrescan, our mission is to take the unknowns around 3D printing out of the equation. We work with A/E/C firms already working in CAD to reduce their overall project costs by utilizing our in-house 3D printers to create models on fast turnarounds (usually within 4-7 business days).
We’ve worked with small architecture firms with a single principal to Fortune 500 companies to help them utilize this technology to its fullest potentials whether it is a model for the lobby of the Department of Energy in Washington DC all the way to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.