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Use of 3D printing up 400 per cent over past year, says leading modeller

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The leading 3D printing specialist working with UK architects has seen its workload rocket by 400 per cent in the past year, it has revealed

Underlining the pace at which the technology is being adopted, Hobs Studio – a model-making workshop whose main clients in the profession are Foster + Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects – said demand had ballooned over the past 12 months as more practices took up the use of 3D printing for the first time.

Hobs estimates that architecture practices account for about 80 per cent of its workload.

Michelle Greeff, the firm’s director of 3D technologies, says: ‘Our main clients are Zaha and Fosters, but we’ve also seen more medium-sized architects start to approach us with requests for 3D printing. The costs are coming down, so it is becoming a real option for many architects now.’

As well as employing specialist firms such as Hobs, many of the AJ100’s leading firms are also acquiring their own 3D printing machines. Foster + Partners – believed to be the world’s second-largest user of the technology – now owns eight printers including two Selective Laser Sintering machines and Zaha Hadid Architects three, which are all being replaced with new models capable of higher output. BDP and Atkins run two machines each.

According to BDP, the use of BIM has led to 3D printing becoming an extension of the modelling process, helping architects to hone their designs.

‘It has become as simple as pressing Save, then Export to Printer,’ says Alistair Kell, director of information and technology for BDP.

‘As BIM has become far better established, the workflow to produce 3D-printed buildings has become more an outcome of the modelling process itself.’

Though the technology is not new to the industry - Fosters first used a 3D printer to produce a 1:100 scale model of the Swiss Re building over 15 years ago - it is starting to change the way architects approach design.

According to Sheppard Robson – which plans to acquire its first 3D printer this year – the speed at which fast, 3D-generated models can hone the design both at concept stage and at the production stage will ensure that architecture practices’ use of 3D printing technology continues to grow.

A spokesman for the company says: ‘Overall there is a momentum gathering with the integration of BIM into all new projects. As a result of that drive, the potential for 3D printing will, we believe, increase’.

Further comment

Xavier De Kestelier, director and partner, Foster + Partners’ Specialist Modelling Group

‘You really have to throw out everything you know, almost. As an architect you are used to using material which comes in certain sizes, shapes and geometries and you have to ignore what you know.

‘When you print an object, whether it be a model or a prototype component, it costs the same to print a solid block or a complex shape.

‘You get the geometry for free.’

Michele Pasca di Magliano, associate, Zaha Hadid Architects

The next step for 3D printing is to introduce it into smaller-scaled products such as pavilions and possibly small buildings.

‘We may have an idea five years ago and only now have the right client. I am sure that our lives could be made easier through using 3D printing. In future you can see buildings being printed from the inside out, with no need for trucks coming through the city to deliver construction materials.’

Christian Spencer-Davies, managing director, Amodels

Information is coming to us in 3D form more and more. We’re creating models in a different language now from what we were doing a couple of years ago. 3D printing is still a novelty for most architects, but essential if your buildings aren’t straight. I employ someone for a day a week simply to play with the 3D printer and come up with new ideas. It’s an exercise in lateral thinking.’

KPF Architects

3D printing is a critical aspect of KPF’s design and analysis process.  3D representations offer an appreciation of the scale and architectural detail for both individual buildings and urban designs. Physical models have always been an important aspect of our design methodology.

As we have developed our digital practice, 3D models have become fundamental to our design process.  KPF has developed strong digital practice in both 3D printed physical models and digital 3D models.  Both have become fundamental to our design process.

Allies and Morrison

We have used 3D printing to explore a broad range of ideas, from massing and masterplan studies to exploring in detail the treatment of elevations. However,  the quality of the models produced were disappointing and nowhere near  as good as those made by the model makers.

We found that the clients and users response was that the models felt rough and uncomfortable to touch. So we are currently exploring the materials and finishes of 3D printing to improve the tactile nature of the finished product, an important factor in such a direct and physical means of communication.









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