Bringing to Life

3D MODELING 01There are many benefits to using 3-D printed models in projects.   

By Jerry Ropelato

Being able to fully visualize a structure is one of the most important aspects of any building project. Yet getting all stakeholders – from architects and engineers to project managers and builders, to homeowners and governing bodies and the public – to accurately envision how a final built project will look and function in the real world has always been a daunting task.

Today, 3-D modeling is changing that. A 3-D printed model is able to bring to life aspects of a project that blueprints, floor plans and even the most realistic renderings alone are not always able to demonstrate. Not long ago, building a detailed, accurate 3-D printed model would have required thousands of hours to develop and would have been cost prohibitive to deliver. 

But thanks to well-developed technology and constant fine-tuning, that’s no longer the case. 3-D modeling software and printing technology have advanced dramatically in recent years, making it attainable and affordable to develop cost-effective, highly detailed, fully scaled complete 3-D models with 100 percent accuracy. 

There are numerous ways 3-D printed modeling can improve the entire building process, from design to the regulatory approval process, to optimizing efficiency in use of materials and resources during the building phase. The benefits generally fall into the following categories: 

Understanding interior impacts during the design phase – The design phase of a project for many can be the most creative and exciting part of a construction project. With a blank slate, the possibilities are endless, sparking the imagination and building anticipation for clients. While 2-dimensional blueprints and floor plans are necessary to develop a project, they often leave gaps in truly comprehending the full impact of how an interior space is designed. Sight lines and proportions are hard to visualize in a 2-D plan, and other elements like flow of traffic, furniture layout and decorative effects like lighting and perspective within a space can only be demonstrated in rudimentary ways, if at all. 

A 3-D printed model resolves these issues by recreating the space in fine detail, accurately and to scale. In one example working with a residential client, a 3-D printed model revealed that a sight line from the front door entryway led directly to the bathroom door and the toilet seat, if the door was opened – an undesirable outcome for the client and a detail that was not apparent from 2-D plans. The design team was able to make adjustments before further investment would have made changes more costly and aggravating, straining the client relationship. This small example is indicative of the numerous times important details are caught and corrected early when a 3-D model is used during the design phase. 

Demonstrating how exterior elements work – A well-designed, well-executed 3D model will also take into account the real world elements that can affect exterior structures. A detailed 3-D printed model is the most effective way to visualize full-color exterior details like brick, stone, siding, window glass, doors and curb appeal. The physical model can be brought to a build site to understand the impact of light, shade, wind direction, natural topography and other elements in real time. 

Having such detailed, true-to-life information can be crucial for gaining government approvals and buy-in from the community affected by a project. In many municipalities, 3-D models have been used during community meetings to demonstrate how a project’s construction will or won’t affect the quality of a neighborhood by accurately showing proportion, scale and aesthetic details that don’t come through in 2-D plans. 

Using 3-D printed models can be beneficial for approvals on much more complex, technical projects as well. In a large-scale example, a proposed wind farm off the northeast coast of the German island of Rügen won approval after the company developing the wind farm worked up a 3-D model of the seabed based on seismic data. The model was able to show how it was possible to drill turbines to the precise depth necessary, and was credited with helping to win approval to construct the project.  

Optimizing materials and resources – Some in the design and construction field view cutting edge technology like 3-D modeling and printing as merely additional cost and effort, which is unfortunate and untrue. A relatively small, upfront investment in 3-D modeling typically leads to real cost savings, and is a more efficient way to generate multiple design options quickly and effectively. The investment ultimately improves outcomes and maximizes how resources are spent. 3-D modeling can also help predict, with a high degree of accuracy, precisely how much material is needed for each element of a project, ensuring savings during the building phase by eliminating waste and overspending. 

Once allocation of materials is set, 3-D modeling can also improve coordination during the building phase, especially when it comes to installation of services like lighting, ducting and plumbing lines. By working out the installation details through a 3-D model, builders can avoid costly mistakes and rework jobs during installation.

For those in the construction industry, it’s clear that 3-D modeling is rapidly changing the norms for building projects of all kinds. The ability to construct accurate, realistic 3-D printed models is simply a highly effective way of communicating a project in its fullest visualized form – something that improves the process and outcomes for everyone involved. 

Jerry Ropelato is CEO and founder of WhiteClouds, the premier software platform to deliver 3-D experiences and products for mass markets and owner of the world’s largest, full-color 3-D printing facility. With nearly three decades of executive technology leadership, Ropelato has played a pivotal role in creating and building some of the most prominent tech brands today, including Purch and Net Nanny.



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