3D printing technology is simplifying the use of software programmes and making 3D modelling easy.
When it comes to software programmes used by architects and designers, technology is relied on to ensure that they are able to meet their unique and customised specification and designing needs. With this in mind, it become apparent why and how 3D printing technology affects industry specialists directly and, more specifically, the future of the software programmes they are currently using, and will use in the future.
3D printing at work signifies the democratisation of manufacturing, with the very name ‘3D printing’ as opposed to ‘additive manufacturing’ being a nod to a broader audience. Until now, the creation of high-quality physical products or prototypes required expensive machinery and investments in tooling and sophisticated CAD/CAM software. This prevented several good ideas from ever being built (even to prototype stage) as most people lacked the skills and financial resources to design, let alone manufacture or distribute a product.
“Today most architects work either with Autodesk Revit, where the design is instantly drawn in 3D, or in Autodesk AutoCAD,” explains Architect Nadine Engelbrecht. “3D Modelling in architecture has become a minimum criterion. With these software programmes it is easy and time efficient to show clients exactly what is being designed and what the end product will look like. 3D Printing, however, has not reached the majority of the architectural field in South Africa, and only large companies can afford to have buildings 3D printed.”
However, in the last decade, traditional barriers with regard to the lack of skills and financial resources have been stripped away resulting in the development of free or low-cost 3D modelling and scanning tools for design and several other fields. 3D modelling and visualisation play a crucial role in the early phases of product development. However, in the past, software was often expensive and required extremely powerful machines, making personal use impractical. Today, most home PCs can run some of the world’s most sophisticated software such as Creo 2.0 or SolidWorks.
Furthermore, there are a number of free or low-cost modelling tools, such as 3DTin, SketchUp and Blender that have powerful design capabilities but are simple enough for anyone to use. For something even simpler, there is Tinkercad which is free and enables people to play with the basics of 3D modelling.
According to Tim Prins from TC Design Architects, 3D visualisation assists in the creation, modification, analysis and optimisation of a design in order to improve the quality of the design and to improve on communication in the form of its subsequent documentation. “Not only does this assist us in conveying ideas to our client in the design phase, but it also assists us in avoiding unnecessary costs in the manufacture or construction phases,” he continues. “2D simply expresses width and height wherein the simplest of design and manufacturing detail can be overlooked. 3D forces professionals to scrutinise every angle, resulting in a better product ultimately.”
Bypassing the modelling effort, a range of affordable 3D scanners enables physical objects to be digitised, modified (within limits) and reproduced directly by a 3D printer. By automating much of the 3D modelling experience, they allow almost anyone to rapidly generate sophisticated models. Autodesk launched a cloud service that allows people to create 3D models with a few swipes on their iPad or by uploading photos of an object from multiple angles.
Another example of the democratisation of design comes from 3D software house Digital Forming, which provides software that enables companies to share product design with their customers. This software enables consumers to tweak dimensions of the desired product by adjusting shape, surface design, colour and material. The closer relationship between consumer and manufacturer will spur a greater expectation for customisation.
Even though 3D printing makes one think of the hardware and objects produced, a key part of the magic of 3D printing is the software. For example, a team of researchers has created software that examines the geometry of the CAD model and determines where to add joints, so elbows and knees get hinges, for example. The software optimises for full movement and no collisions with other joints or possible movements. 3D printing then allows the whole model, including its joints and moving parts, to be materialised all at once – sophisticated modelling made simple.
This clearly shows the pathway to the future regarding software programmes and 3D technology and modelling. “I firmly believe in the near future, as technology evolves and the cost of 3D printers decreases, 3D printed models will become a part of the design process for architects,” highlights Nadine. “3D Design has definitely seen a change in the design world where objects and buildings can evolve free from the constraints of 2D presentations and documentations.”
Tim reinforces Nadine’s input by adding that practices are no longer being awarded contracts purely on the merits of their creativity and their track record. “Highly successful organisations are losing out to smaller firms who have a better ability to convey ideas through 3D visualisation. It has become a necessity in today’s highly competitive industry, not only from a point of view of closing deals and winning the client’s confidence, but also from a day-to-day operational point of view where it has become a common place tool.”
3D technology is an exciting development that will gain significant momentum and elicit new innovative software programmes that will envelop this technology to serve the flooring industry even more efficiently in the near future.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to www.csc.com for their Leading Edge Forum / Technology Program ‘3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing’, Nadine Engelbrecht from Nadine Engelbrecht Architect and Tim Prins from TC Design Architects for the information contained in this article.