3D Printing Comes to Architecture
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3D Printing Comes to Architecture

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Industry News
3D Printing Comes to Architecture
by Susan Smith

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The Dimension 3D Printing Group, a business unit of Stratasys, Inc., was recently in the news because one of their customers, Mitekgruppen, a Swedish design firm, created for their client a 157 square-foot replica 3D model of the city of Stockholm using a Dimension 3D printer and Google Earth. The replica was the second most visited exhibit in the country last year when it was displayed at Stockholm’s Kulturhuset (The Culture House) in Stockholm’s City Center.

The Dimension 3D printer has been used mostly for 3D solid modeling for the automotive, aerospace and other industries in the mechanical marketplace, but has been increasingly employed by architectural firms to do physical 3D models.

“We take CAD drawings that have been done using some type of 3D solid software generated by an architect or designer,” explained Jon Cobb, vice president and general manager of 3D printing for Stratasys. “This information is sent to our printer. We actually slice the information into thin layers and then the machine itself prints them back out again using a layer by layer technique in an ABS plastic. Thus the information is sent to our machine, we turn it basically into our machine language and then utilizing an extrusion technique, we take ABS plastic and print out exactly what is on the screen itself. Typically we do that in a matter of minutes to several hours, depending up on the size of the part.”

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The process is similar to rapid prototyping, except it differs in that it’s an extrusion technology and builds the model out of ABS plastic.

Although Cobb said that architecture is not the biggest piece of their business, it has grown significantly over the past three years. It is also used by some sculptors who are doing some reverse engineering. “I think the reason it’s not utilized as much in the A/E market as in the Mechanical market is primarily because the software that’s used to design and build architectural models is limited to 3D wireframes or 3D extrapolations where you’re not getting 100% 3D solid data,” remarked Cobb. “It’s difficult to then print a model in 3D if you don’t start in 3D data.”

This may begin to change, Cobb noted, with the increasing use of building information modeling (BIM) as it becomes more prevalent in the architectural marketplace. “The Stockholm example shows the real power of producing the models in 3D, from a time standpoint and accuracy standpoint,” said Cobb. “Whatever the designer has designed, that’s exactly what’s going to come out on the printer.” Traditional model makers would look at an architectural design or rendering and then try to copy it. Although there are still model makers, there is a big benefit in a model that is a scaled version of the exact computerized model.

The model sizes on the Dimension 3D equipment range from 760 cubic inches to 1200 cubic inches. “That roughly gives you a 10x10x12 in the size of the model in the bigger machine and so what you can do, 1) you can scale it so it matches that number, or 2) build the model and because it’s made out of ABS plastic, our software, or most CAD software, will allow you to do a cut on the actual file. You’ll make a cut in there and build two to ten separate pieces, and then using a tongue and groove cut style like a cabinet maker would use for a drawer, you put those plastic pieces together and glue them.”

The Dimension 3D Printer has filament or supply material in the machine that supplies colors. There are seven standard colors so the user can select any one of those standard colors, so a user can either use those colors or paint on the actual model, as was done in the Swedish example. Dimension can match a color someone wants to use and send their supplies to address any color a company would want.

The price of the machines Dimension sells are anywhere from $18K to $30K, so most customers own machines themselves with that price point. Several thousand machines are sold every year to end users. However, there are a number of companies that are in the sole business of service bureaus which takes files from any user and prints those for them.

According to Martin Jonsson, co-owner and designer at Mitekgruppen, they used Google Earth on the Stockholm model for “visual confirmation.” The center portion of the historic area of Stockholm was pulled from Google Earth in the form of aerial maps and drawings, scanned and used in addition to 3D solid information provided by the client. The 3D CAD software used were SketchUp and Rhinoceros, and for putting the model into the printer they used the printer software Catalyst. The building replicas were positioned, secured and hand painted along with other landscape features such as trees, bridges, cars, boats and trains.

Jonsson said they do most of their architectural projects in 3D CAD software and use their 3D printer for many of them. The ability to send the model straight from the 3D modeling software to the printer allows you to have 100% exact replication of your model, according to Cobb. Just one of the storefronts depicted in the Stockholm model costs possibly $3 to make using the Dimension printer. Traditionally, a model maker would have to cut out of cardboard each of the pieces of the model and fit them together. Cobb estimated the printer saves 1/5 the cost of having a model maker build the pieces of the model.

Jonsson, said the time factor was what motivated them to choose the Dimension 3D printer, as opposed to having an artist construct a model physically. Similar city replicas have taken years to construct. “The whole project took about six months, and if we had done it ‘by hand,’ well, I’m not sure we would be done yet.”


AVEVA Group plc, supplier of engineering IT systems for the plant and marine industries and INOVx Solutions, Inc., the provider of solutions for Asset Certainty™, announced an alliance to integrate laser scanning technology and plant design software capabilities. INOVx’s RealityLINx Exchange product is being integrated with market-leading AVEVA PDMS using AVEVA Laser Model Interface.

Autodesk, Inc. is partnering with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to provide real-world experience and support to an expanded pool of next generation engineers with the FIRST Vex Challenge (FVC), a robotics competition for high-school-aged students. The complementary program brings the spirit and values of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) to a greater number of students and schools of varying resources, opening the doors of opportunity to explore careers in science, math and technology. More than 5,000 high-school-aged students on 500 teams have competed in more than 25 FVC tournaments from November, 2006 through March, 2007. One hundred teams will participate in the FIRST Championship April 12-14, 2007, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.


Charting continued gains in adoption of its industry-specific and broader market solutions, Autodesk, Inc. announced that it has surpassed eight million licenses for its software applications. The record parallels continued growth for its 2D software, new software licenses in emerging economies as well as robust revenue increases in Autodesk's model-based 3D software.

Bentley Systems, Incorporated has published "The Year in Infrastructure," a 162-page project yearbook highlighting the extraordinary work of Bentley users improving the world's infrastructure.

The yearbook features the 225 nominees recognized and 29 winners honored in the professional portion of the 2006 BE Awards of Excellence program. The BE Awards are judged by an independent panel of industry experts and are presented at an evening ceremony during the annual BE Conference (www.be.org).

Autodsys, Inc. announced that the Southern Oregon Regional Drafting Alliance (SORDA) has switched to Autodsys IntelliCAD 6 Professional.

SORDA is a group of ten high schools in Oregon which previously used AutoCAD in their vocational training classes but due to rising costs decided to switch to a more cost-effective solution. Rick Wickersham, co-chair of SORDA, said “IntelliCAD Professional is a specific "AutoCAD-like" software program that our regional high school CAD programs could afford to own vs. face the existing challenges of annual escalating costs of leased user licenses” He added, “IntelliCAD . . . better matches the majority of our region's high school computer hardware and network capabilities.”

3Dconnexion, a Logitech company, announced that its SpaceNavigator™ device supports the recently announced Adobe® Photoshop® CS3 and Photoshop CS3 Extended software editions. Delivering powerful and intuitive 3D navigation and control, the SpaceNavigator device enables creative professionals working with 3D objects in Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended to simultaneously pan, zoom and rotate camera views and 3D objects.

Primavera(R) Evolve, the resource management software division of Primavera Systems, Inc., will host noted author and professional services expert, Dr. James Alexander, in a live webinar. Dr. Alexander will discuss how professional and embedded services organizations can increase sales by leveraging their "hidden sales force": the technical experts who work with customers on their projects. The webinar will take place on Wednesday, April 11th, 2007 at 11:00 a.m. PDT (2:00 p.m. EDT).

To register for the webinar and to find out more information, please visit the website.


Deltek, the leading provider of enterprise management software for project-focused organizations, announced that Canadian engineering firms, JMP Engineering and Magna IV Engineering have purchased Deltek Vision, the industry-leading enterprise software designed for project-based firms of all sizes.


Engineering News-Record (ENR), McGraw- Hill Construction's prestigious weekly publication and part of The McGraw-Hill Companies, presented its Award of Excellence to Lewis E. Link, Jr., a leading research engineer. Link headed the Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce that decoded Hurricane Katrina to improve natural hazard defense. The 42nd annual black-tie awards dinner was held at the New York Marriott Marquis and was attended by more than 1,400 construction industry leaders.

Goodman Marketing Partners (GMP), a full-service direct marketing company in San Rafael, Calif., announced it received a Silver ADDY® Award for its strategic and creative work for the Autodesk "Executive Sandbox" campaign.

The ADDYs, sponsored by the Greater San Francisco Ad Club, are judged by senior creative executives from the Bay Area. This local selection of winners is the first of a three-tier, national competition. Selected as a silver winner in the direct marketing category, GMP's work will now be entered at the district level.

Avatech Solutions, Inc., nationwide technology experts for design, engineering and facilities management, won top honors at the recent Autodesk One Team Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year, Avatech Solutions' team won the award for Largest Reseller by Revenue in the United States--the top honor Autodesk extends annually to their most important business partners.


Voxify®, the first company to create Automated Agents® with the conversational skills to handle advanced customer service calls, has appointed industry veteran Jay Emmons to VP of Customer Operations to handle the company's aggressive growth in customers. Most recently Ms. Emmons was VP, Worldwide Customer Operations for Autodesk, the third largest software company in the world.

New Offices

Cimatron Limited announced the opening of two new offices in China. The new offices in Fujian and Wuhan will join the existing offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Wuxi, supporting the growing customer base and accelerating demand for Cimatron’s products in China.

New Products

Ashlar-Vellum’s Graphite 8 includes a new user-interface (UI), Multi-sheet PDF archiving with DXF embedding, and Intel Mac support, among its major new features.

Other features include AutoCAD 2007 support, support for 32-character plus file names, a new Spacebar pan feature, tear-off palettes, new Pen Styles palette and a new eye-dropper tool.

Eagle Point Corporation announced the release of the Pinnacle Series™ software and services solution to the Land Development industry as part of its continued product and service expansion plan.

Pinnacle Series provides the ability to integrate design processes with the technology that engineers and designers currently own and use every day by cataloging workflow "best practices" and delivering them electronically to all project team members.

McNeel announced the release of DOSLib, a library of LISP-callable functions that provide Windows operating system and operating system command-line functionality in AutoCAD 2008 (32- and 64-bit). DOSLib is free.

Axium Technologies, Inc. is pleased to announce that its "Tagger Trap" Graffiti Detection Product is now ready for general distribution. During the past six months the product has been in pilot implementation at several municipal police department locations around the Los Angeles area.

ZwCAD, Inc., the developers of quality CAD performance, announced the release of its latest signature 2D/3D package, ZwCAD 2007. The new version provides dramatic new functionality and ease-of-use enhancements, as well as unrivaled DWG compatibility.

The DWG-based CAD system reads and writes the same industry standard formats produced by past and present versions of AutoCAD (2.5-2007), supports command line actions, true type fonts, MNU and SCR files, raster images, as well as SDS, LISP and VBA scripts to help clients develop custom macros and routines.

From Informatix, Piranesi 5 for Windows is released. You can download a demo version or watch a video  showing the new features.

Around the Web

Sustainability CAD Strategies, March 28, 2007, ArchitectureWeek

Autodesk signs MoU with IIT-Madras, March 27, 2007, The Economic Times

Upcoming Events

COFES 2007 
Date: April 12 - 15, 2007
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Lean Management Models for Facilities Management & Capital Projects
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New management and business models for capital projects and facilities management are leaner, more streamlined, more leveraged, more automated, lower cost, exceptionally efficient, and increasingly data-driven.

Attend this conference to learn the new strategic thinking, processes, and tools that are raising the productivity of capital; lowering overall infrastructure expense; and moving corporate and institutional management models toward an integrated solution to capital programs, projects, and operations.

Here you'll learn the details of:
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Meridian Systems 2007 User Conference
Date: April 24 - 26, 2007
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The 2007 Meridian User Conference allows our software users to meet with Meridian executives, technical staff, participate in variety of project management software sessions, earn advanced product certifications, and attend new technology demonstrations. The 2007 user conference will feature several peer networking opportunities, as well as an exhibit pavilion featuring Meridian technology partners offering a variety of solutions and services.
Introduction to Lean Construction
Date: April 26 - 27, 2007
Place: Atlanta Hilton, Downtown
Courtland Street NE Atlanta, Atlanta, GA 30303 USA
Introduction to Lean Construction provides an overview of Lean Construction and its underlying theory, principles and techniques. The seminar will also focus on the design, operation and improvement of the project based production systems and their control along with the continuing practice of work structuring. The Last Planner System® of production control, the essential planning system for lean projects will be described and its function explained. This session is a must for people and companies considering or adopting Lean Construction.
BE Conference 2007
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BE Conference offers unrivaled value to individuals and organizations looking for better ways to work and better ways to achieve optimal performance: Hours and hours of accredited learning A variety of networking opportunities Best practice sharing from peers and knowledge leaders Technology updates across all industries and disciplines The BE Awards of Excellence, the most prestigious awards program dedicated to infrastructure design and management.
AIA 2007 National Convention and Design Exposition
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The AIA 2007 National Convention and Design Exposition is the premier event for architects and building industry professionals. Join us San Antonio May 3-5, for over 250 continuing education programs, 60 tours, 40 events, and 800 leading-edge companies exhibiting their products and services, you’ll find plenty of exciting educational and entertaining activities.