I recently interviewed Charles Overy, the Director of LGM, a Denver based 3D printing and modeling shop for architects. I asked him how architectural modeling has changed over the years and what sort of affect 3D printing is now having on the architectural industry. Here's the full interview below. (All models in the photos belong to LGM and were created using Objet 3D printed parts.)
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your company?
“We started as an architectural model shop about 20 years ago. Architectural modeling tends to be about 10 years behind other industries whether it’s in the adoption of CAD, or rapid prototyping etc. We got into 3D printing and realized the problems of processing the geometries – preparing the architectural files for printing was challenging. So we developed the CADspan program which is a commercially available shrink-wrapping program that enables you to generate 3D printable content from programs such as Google SketchUp.”
What 3D printing technologies are most relevant to your trade?
“We use Objet’s 3D printers frequently for our high-end architectural modeling, especially for models that require very detailed parts. Objet provides a much higher resolution than other 3D printing technologies that we are familiar with. We tend to use other technologies for concept modeling but then we switch to Objet when we need a model that goes down to scales of 1:500 or smaller. Objet is perfect for replicating the finer details of large buildings. For example, we recently used Objet to model a residential hospital. We needed all the bricks and stones in the façade to be fully discernible. For this level of detail we only use Objet’s 3D printers.”
How has 3D printing affected your business?
“Before 3D printing we would manually cut or laser cut sheets of acrylic to produce architectural models. Most architects would use cardboard. And of course, its very time consuming and very difficult to ensure the model turns out like the intended building design. With 3D printing you can keep designing until 2 days before your client meeting – as apposed to 2 weeks before, using manual methods.”
“In terms of the amount of business, this means we can significantly take on more business and new customers. As with any digital technology, 3D printing is a force multiplier, enabling one person to do the work of many. We typically keep our printers working all night with no human supervision. We get our idea design completed by the end of one day and by the next morning we have our model. This is very powerful. For the big models we used to dread projects where we are replicating 50 different similar shape houses on the same site. Now we just print them. Whether its apartment buildings or individual houses, often in architectural modeling there is a lot of repetitiveness, such as flips, uphill or downhill versions, and where the garage fits in. Variations of a standard design are a nightmare to configure manually, but with Objet this process is now really, really fast and easy.”
How useful would it be to create architectural models with multiple materials printed in a single job?
“Very useful! For skyscrapers for example, we would really want to produce a 3D model combining white and transparent materials. And of course, it would be ideal if both these materials could be printed at the same time, rather than the glass windows having to be hand-cut and assembled after the print. We’re now looking into printing these skyscrapers on the Objet Connex multi-material machine which I recently witnessed at the Rapid show simultaneously printing the new Objet transparent material and Objet’s hard opaque VeroWhite material. We could imagine now printing complex transparent parts of windows such as mullions and individual glass panes as an integral part of our overall models.”
How has the recession affected the architectural market?
“What we’ve seen is that this recession has actually allowed architects to innovate. It’s given people space to re-invent themselves and do much more 3D work. Coming out of this we see a lot more 3D based modeling. 3D printing is becoming a very important part of being competitive in the architectural market. That’s the message we need to get out there in the industry. It’s not enough anymore to just show drawings. To be competitive and world-class you need to be using this technology.”