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November 30, 2009
3D Printing at a Desktop Near You
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
3D Printing at a Desktop Near You
By Susan Smith

In the past three years, 3D printing has found its way into the AEC space, offering a more efficient way to produce physical models of buildings and parts of buildings for that marketplace. Originally designed for the MCAD market, 3D printing is now a permanent resident in AEC firms whose clients want a physical representation of their building, either in the design stages or after the building has been completed – as something to display under glass in the lobby or atrium.

What has evolved in 3D printing over the years are models that can now fit on the desktop, are easy to use and are environmentally friendly enough to not impinge on the space around them with unused powders and toxic emissions.

This article will discuss three desktop 3D printers geared for the AEC market today: the ZPrinter 350 from Z Corporation, uPrint by Dimension, and V-Flash Desktop Modeler by 3D Systems Corporation.

ZPrinter 350

The ZPrinter 350 monochrome 3D printer is the latest in an automated series that ZCorp debuted a couple of years ago, touted as a fully functional automated solution for 3D printing. The new printer has all the automation their models have had in the past – including snap-in cartridge loading, automated material loading, intuitive control panel, automated recycling of used build material, and self monitoring.

click to enlarge [ Click to Enlarge ]
ZCorp's ZPrinter 350

Joe Titlow, product manager, said that 80 percent of the automation that is on their higher end 450 and 650 systems has been ported to this entry level product. The build speed is approximately the same as that of the high end systems at about .8 vertical inches per hour, “which means that you can create a building several inches tall in just a few hours,” Titlow pointed out. The reason for a new monochrome 3D printer from the company that put color 3D printing on the map is that monochrome is used a great deal in architectural models, and is a less expensive process than color, plus users do not have to assign color as they do with color 3D printers.

The build size is 8 inches x 10” x 8 inches deep. “We think it’s pretty important to offer a prebuilt size, because if you shrink the build size, the product becomes a lot less usable,” said Titlow. “We’ve looked at the usage patterns of customers and understand the size of the things they like to print. Most of them take advantage of the full size of the platforms that we have at this size range.”

As with the ZPrinter 450, the 350 has 300 x 400 dpi resolution which has proven itself for producing the features and details of high resolution printing. The ZPrinter 350 also features office safe build materials, dust control, noise control, and no liquid waste, making it a true office solution that can reside next to the workstation in a home office or large architectural firm.

The materials used non-toxic powders and binders, namely, ZCorp’s latest material called ZP 150. “All the unused powder is completely recycled and used in the system,” said Titlow. This is a clear contrast from the types of systems which build supports, which must be cut away and tossed out after the project, according to Titlow. Sometimes support material can comprise 50-70% of the volume of the part, not only is that not cost effective but it is wasteful.

“We have a new water cure finishing process so parts that come off our machine can be finished in any number of ways, which means when the parts come off our machine they’re simply blown off to remove all that loose powder that acts as support and then it can just be misted with a water solution which is actually just water and Epsom salts,” Titlow explained. “The saline solution is just sprayed onto the model, completely friendly, you don’t even need to wear gloves. It’s very inexpensive, as it’s tap water and Epsom salts that you can pick up at your local grocery store or can get from us.”

Titlow said that some of their customers use 3D printing to make numerous iterations of a design in the early design stages so they will have a sense of the physical model beforehand. Also some engineering construction firms have adopted the technology for communication purposes so they can build a model during the various stages of completion to help explain to subcontractors and other stakeholders what is involved in the project.

AEC customers use a mixture of color and monochrome, said Titlow. Early in the design process they are more concerned with form and shape than individual material selection so monochrome is preferred. Color becomes more desirable to add realism to a finished model, as it can create distinction between surfaces.

The product retails for US $25,900.



uPrint by Dimension features a footprint of just 635 x 660 mm (25 x 26 in). Also compact enough to fit on the desktop, it comes at the affordable price of $14,900 and is really easy to set up.

uPrint from Dimension Printing
uPrint from Dimension Printing

uPrint models are made in ABSplus — a production-grade thermoplastic — which are said to be tough enough for functional testing under real-world conditions. Parts can be drilled, machined, sanded, painted, even chrome-plated. For architects, they are a great tool for proof of concept and communication with stakeholders. There is still the need for the finished model that is displayed in the building lobby, but the technology allows the model to be made more quickly than previous methods and in-house rather than at a service bureau.

Other features of uPrint:
Build size: 203 x 152 x 152 mm (8 x 6 x 6 in)
Layer thickness :0.254 mm (0.010 in) of precisely deposited model and support material Size and weight of one uPrint printer and one material bay are as follows: 635(w) x 660(d) x 800(h) mm (25 x 26 x 31.5 in) 76 kg (168 lbs)

Physical models produced on a Dimension 3D Printer enable users to accurately review concepts and test designs throughout the design process to assess the structure and shape of the building. 3D printing even makes possible real-time collaboration between team members in separate locations.


V-Flash Desktop Modeler

V-Flash Desktop Modeler from 3D Systems
V-Flash Desktop Modeler from 3D Systems

V-Flash Desktop Modeler from 3D Systems is described as “instant” prototyping as it is very fast and doesn’t slow down with multiple model builds. It also is used in early design stages for greater communication, and sports a design measuring only 26 x 27 inches (660 x 685 mm) and a light weight of just 146 lbs (66 kg). Like previous models mentioned in this article, the V-Flash Desktop Modeler fits easily in the home or business workplace. The build volume of 9 x 6.75 x 8 inches (230 x 170 x 200 mm) makes it possible for users to create a broad range of part sizes. The product is very easy to install, so that first time users can start making models in minutes.

V-Flash has an environmentally friendly profile, in that models are attached to the build pad “using small, strategically spaced break-off supports that use a minimum amount of material” so that less material is used, translating to less cost overall. Building material can be replenished during the printing process. V-Flash has patented and proprietary Film Transfer Imaging (FTI) technology that enables a material delivery system using a single-use cartridge that lasts for years, and is recyclable through 3D Systems V-Flash Recycling Center.

Other features of the V-Flash include:
Ambient Noise-Under 60 dBa (measured 1 m from the modeler)
Layer Thickness- 0.004" (102μm)
Minimum Vertical Wall Thickness- approx. 0.025" (0.64mm)
Resolution -768 x 1024 x 2000 DPI (xyz)

Top News of the Week

Autodesk, Inc.
has announced that DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. and Sony Pictures Imageworks are integrating Autodesk Mudbox software into their Linux-based production pipelines. Autodesk Consulting’s custom development team worked collaboratively with teams at Imageworks and DreamWorks to port the digital sculpting and texture painting software to the Linux platform. Mudbox for Linux is available through Autodesk Consulting services.

Alliances, Agreements, Acquisitions

Blue Ridge Numerics, Inc. announced that it has been chosen as an MEP Preferred Industry Partner by Autodesk, Inc. The MEP Partnership expands the current Industry Preferred Partnership program that Blue Ridge Numerics and Autodesk have enjoyed since early 2008.


Bentley Systems, Incorporated
announced that the call for nominations for its 2010 Student Design Competition is now open. University, technical college, high school, and middle school students are invited to submit projects designed using Bentley software, along with a short essay describing their work. Project submissions will be judged by a distinguished panel of educational leaders and industry professionals from around the world. The judges will focus on creativity and skill in applying design and engineering principles. The competition, which is sponsored by Bentley’s Be Careers Network, welcomes both individual efforts and those of teams consisting of no more than three members. All submissions must be received by Feb. 26, 2010. Bentley will award a $1,500 scholarship to the winner in each of the categories at the university/college level and a $1,000 scholarship to the winner at the middle school/high school level.

announces the release of its 2009 Sustainability Report detailing the company's activities for the 2007-2008 reporting period.

The report focuses on the complex and interrelated global issues of water, energy, climate change, and land use/development, and details how CH2M HILL is addressing these challenges internally and in support of its clients.

Bricsnet announced that it strongly supports the prosecution of its former CEO on charges of embezzlement, and will continue to work with investigators and prosecutors toward the successful completion of the criminal case.


Autodesk, Inc.
reported financial results for the third quarter of fiscal 2010. Revenue was $417 million, flat sequentially, and a decrease of 31 percent compared to the third quarter of fiscal 2009. press release

HP announced financial results for its fourth fiscal quarter ended Oct. 31, 2009, with net revenue of $30.8 billion, down 8% from a year earlier and down 5% when adjusted for the effects of currency. press release

Avatech Solutions, Inc.
announced financial results for its first fiscal quarter ended September 30, 2009. press release


Deltek, Inc. announced that it has appointed Deb Fitzgerald as its new Chief Information Officer. In this position, Ms. Fitzgerald is responsible for developing and implementing the technology vision for Deltek worldwide. She will report directly to Kevin Parker, Deltek’s president and CEO.

New Products

Informative Graphics Corporation (IGC) announced the release of its new Brava! Flash Viewer. Included in the Brava Enterprise 6.2 ActiveX version, the Brava Flash Viewer provides interactive document viewing for the Windows and Mac operating systems and a range of web browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. Like Brava's ActiveX client, the Flash Viewer supports virtually any format, including documents, images, and even CAD drawings, and delivers them in a secure and highly streamlined interface.

Informative Graphics Corporation (IGC) launched Redact-It for IBM FileNet Capture. A seamless integration between IGC's popular electronic redaction tool and IBM's scanning product, it offers the first truly integrated redaction capability for the IBM FileNet Capture solution.

Informatix Software International
, the authors of MicroGDS and Piranesi, showcased the latest versions of both these key products at their UK Customer User Group on Thursday last, November 12th. These product releases being the most significant announcements relating to the company‘s current kernel software offerings to have been made in the last 6 years.

Sivan Design
, a leading provider of civil engineering software solutions, announces version 2.0 release of its powerful 3D simulation software Civil Simulate, supporting Civil 3D 2010 and Windows 7 (32/64 Bit).

On Center Software
announces the release of On-Screen Takeoff 3.7 and Quick Bid 4.9. The upgraded versions of the company's takeoff and bidding programs will build upon the success of previous versions with even greater software performance and additional features.

GRAPHISOFT announced the launch of MyArchiCAD.com, its brand new community website for allowing students, teachers, and schools to download the ArchiCAD 13 Education version for free. Professional users can also download the ArchiCAD 13 Trial version from the same site for free.

The Envision Group
, a leading source for MicroStation and InRoads expertise is pleased to announce the release of Envision CAD Manager version 1.5.

Anyone who manages InRoads XIN files and other MicroStation workspace resources understands the complexity and time consuming undertaking when managing this data. While some tools are provided by the software vendor to assist in managing these resources, the Envision CAD Manager takes the next step by integrating InRoads Styles, Named Symbologies and MicroStation workspace resources into a single application. This allows you to manage, verify, build, and QC an XIN file from an easy to use application.

Around the Web

Construction Budget Overruns and Project Risks to be Addressed in Interactive Webinar Presentation PR Web

US Senate Chambers Model Created for Edward M. Kennedy Institute -Harry R. Feldman and Existing Conditions Surveys Complete 3D Scan and 3D Model High-Profile Blog

Function: Addresses The Changing Face of Media With Webinar PR Web


Construct Canada
Date: December 2 - 4, 2009
Place: Metro Toronto Convention Centre
South Building, Toronto, Canada

Concrete Canada is a three day exposition and conference for engineers, architects, specifiers, builders, contractors, and other building professionals.  Concrete Canada is held concurrently with Construct Canada, HomeBuilder & Renovator Expo, PM Expo, and DesignTrends December 2 - 4, 2009 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre South Building.
Get Your Hands on BIM
Date: December 3, 2009
Place: Mission Brewery Building
2150 W. Washington St., Suite 209, San Diego, CA 92110 USA

Learn the basics of BIM from industry experts who have over 10 years of experience with Building Information Modeling, including:

-Basics of BIM
-Green Building applications of BIM
-Conceptual Modeling
-Construction Documentation
-Interoperability with Consultants using any BIM or 2D software

Hosted by Digital Vision
Time: 1PM - 5PM
InRoads Fundamentals V8i
Date: December 7 - 11, 2009
Place: 8517 Excelsior Drive Suite 102
Madison, WI 53717 USA

A 5-day course introducing many of the important fundamental features of the InRoads corridor modeling and site design software from Bentley Systems Inc. Included in this course is an exercise workbook and thorough reference manual for InRoads settings, digital terrain modeling, alignment design, corridor modeling, site design, and earthwork analysis.
Ecobuild America
Date: December 7 - 10, 2009
Place: Washington Convention Center
Washington, DC USA

Ecobuild America, sponsored by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), educates design and construction professionals on how to improve our built environment. This unique conference and exhibit, not only introduces new strategies and materials to create high performance, sustainable structures, but also the technology to do it faster and more profitably.
Get Your Hands on BIM
Date: December 8, 2009
Place: OCB Reprographics
17721 Mitchell North, Irvine, CA 92614 USA

Learn the basics of BIM from industry experts who have over 10 years of experience with Building Information Modeling, including:

-Basics of BIM
-Green Building applications of BIM
-Conceptual Modeling
-Construction Documentation
-Interoperability with Consultants using any BIM or 2D software
-Basic Collision Detection/Code Checking

Time: 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
24th Annual Construction SuperConference
Date: December 9 - 11, 2009
Place: Palace Hotel
2 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA USA

The 24th Annual Construction SuperConference will bring to the forefront new insights on the legal, business, and economic challenges and opportunities in today’s construction industry. By providing relevant and timely content, as well as numerous networking opportunities, the Construction SuperConference is the premier event for attendees to gain valuable knowledge and exchange ideas that will assist in making the critical business decisions.
Date: December 29, 2009 - January 1, 2010
Place: Hyatt Regency
Minneapolis, MN USA

FORUM is the annual meeting of the AIAS and the global gathering of the architecture and design students. The event provides students with the opportunity to learn about important issues facing architectural education and the profession, to meet students, educators, and professionals with common interests, and to interact with some of today's leading architects through keynote addresses, tours, workshops and seminars.

You can find the full AECCafe event calendar here.

To read more news, click here.

-- Susan Smith, AECCafe.com Managing Editor.