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Cheaper, Better, Stronger: Using 3D Printing for Architectural Models

Cheaper, Better, Stronger: Using 3D Printing for Architectural Models

3D printing is an innovative technology that’s changing the way we build, create and repair. For more than 30 years, this method has been the secret weapon for several industries. In recent years, it has evolved into a user-friendly product with many practical home purposes for consumers and small businesses. One industry that’s truly reaping the great benefits of 3D printing is the architecture industry.

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is the process of building shapes and structures one layer at a time. One method of additive manufacturing, selective laser sintering or SLS, uses a laser to bind powdered material together into a solid structure. Due to its reliance on powder, SLS lends itself to a wide range of materials including steel, alloy, titanium and nylon. The other common method is FDM, or fused deposition modeling, which melts down filaments and uses them to create an object layer by layer until it’s complete. FDM is used more often because it’s the cheapest method, creates products of unmatched strength and allows for expansive color customization.

Traditional Architectural Model Methods

For architects, there’s a great opportunity in using 3D printing to simplify building models. Traditional methods have been used for ages to create architectural models, but they’re less advanced and lacking in efficiency. Architectural models are a miniature representation of a large structure and are built to study and communicate design ideas during the planning stages of construction.

Traditionally, architectural models have been made of materials like wood, foam, and cardboard. Wood architectural models have been used for a long time because varieties like balsa are lightweight yet strong. For models of structures like aircrafts, buildings, boats and bridges, wood allows for extremely realistic and functional details. Foam boards were once favored because they’re easily accessible and relatively easy to work with, but in order to create a quality model, the process is very manual, extensive and requires several other materials like P90 tape, double-sided tape and dressmaker pins. Cardboard models are used because they’re also strong and easy to cut, but the surfaces often look raw — it’s tough to make the edges look clean and smooth for presentation.

3D Printed Architectural Models

There are two main types of 3D printed architectural models that are equally helpful depending on the purpose of the printing job. Solid block models are ideal because they’re incredibly sturdy and easy to transport without damage or disassembly. Their greatest use is showing an exact-scale model of a building, from hotels to apartment complexes to corporate headquarters. They’re great for understanding how new construction will fill a real space and impact the surrounding area.

When there’s a need to focus on both the interior and exterior aspects of a project, breakaway models offer a greater advantage. These models provide a detailed showcase for both interior and exterior structures. More than just a visual representation of project scope, breakaway models dig deeper into the specifics. Where digital renderings might only provide a general idea, breakaway models can offer a physical representation that clients can touch, question and move around.

Benefits of 3D Printing in Architecture

From a cost perspective, architectural models can add up quickly as natural materials like wood are expensive to source and often require several additional materials to complete the model. 3D printing eliminates the need for such an exhaustive process. In fact, FDM printing would only require one material for the melted filament. The only variation needed might be filaments of different colors to flesh out minor details. According to a case study from Cimquest Manufacturing Solutions, 3D printing reduced the cost of a construction job from $20,000 to $8,000 — a 60% reduction in price. also reports that 3D printing can reduce costs by up to 80% due to less spend on labor, shorter production times and less material waste.

Speaking of shorter production times, another huge benefit of using 3D printing for architectural models is a reduction in construction time. The process eliminates the need for extensive manual assembly, which means paying less people to work on the project and therefore cutting down total production time. estimates that production time can be cut down anywhere from 50-70%. With traditional methods, models can take upwards of 10-12 weeks to complete, and possibly even longer if the model is being constructed in-house. With 3D printing, models can be turned around in 4-6 weeks, which greatly improves response time for a client.

3D printing also provides a great deal of flexibility with design, allowing companies to rapidly and easily bring designs from inception to physical models and make adjustments along the way. 3D printed architectural models allow for extremely realistic details like rounded ceilings or curved walls. If a client isn’t happy with a detail and requests changes, those updates can be made on the model instead of halting construction for costly changes later in the process. The minimal cost and effort exerted on a 3D model are much more desirable over high-cost changes on the actual construction site.

Additionally, 3D printing opens up a world of possibility in project scope. Whether you’re interested in a small-scale home renovation or multi-building rendering, 3D printing makes every model type possible. Because of the focus on great detail, even unconventional model types are possible including vehicles, swimming pools and even set design. Also, when working with a client, 3D printed models offer an unparalleled level of comprehension for everyone involved.

As an added benefit of 3D printed models, working on similar project designs is now easier than ever. In the event that you have multiple clients who desire the same results or a repeat client that wants to duplicate their success, replication of your models is easy and quick. You’ll no longer need to start over from scratch by gathering natural materials and reworking measurements. Instead, your creation’s CAD file will be easily accessible and simple to rework.

Architecture is an industry that depends heavily on time management, design and budget to make clients happy. Traditional methods of modeling added weeks and weeks to the overall design process in addition to driving up costs in labor and materials. With 3D printing at their disposal, architecture firms can now deliver incredibly detailed and effective models that not only please clients but reduce overall expenditure and workload. The architecture industry is yet another example of how 3D printing is completely transforming the way we work in the modern world.

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