In May of this year, I joined a friend of mine, Justin Levitz from NRI in New York, as a guest speaker on his continuing education presentation for the American Institute of Architects (AIA/CES). We've done several presentations together, so it gave me an opportunity to reflect on why we use 3D printing in our office. The most asked question during the presentations is always: "How much does it cost?" But in my opinion that is the wrong question. The correct question should be "What is the value?"
The Value of a 3D Model
In 2008, I attended and presented at the North American Objet User Group Meeting in San Diego. Another speaker there was Michael Schrage, who spoke about the value of a 3D printed model. His presentation was very much geared towards industrial design, and at the time, so I didn't fully grasp his message.
He explained to us that the value of a model is not equal to its cost. The cost of a model is the sum of its parts, usually material and labor. But what is then the value of a model? The value lies in its ability to communicate a design.
A 3D printed model can be used to test out several design options. These are the traditional prototypes. But when the designer has picked a solution for a specific design problem, he/she usually needs to convince someone to move ahead with that design - either his superior or a client.
Of course, the designer is already convinced that the design he/she puts forward is the best solution. This is because they've worked on the design for an extended amount of time, has tried several options, and maybe even prototyped various versions throughout the design process. So all that's needed now is to convince the boss or the client that this is the best solution.
Normally, these design presentations are limited in time. The designer only has a one-off opportunity to convince the boss or the client of the quality of the design. Therefore, the better the presentation, the more likely they will buy-in. Besides more traditional 2D drawings and images, a 3D printed model can be a great tool for this kind of presentation.
So if the model helps the client or the superior to understand the design better and be convinced that this is the right solution, the project can move forward to the next phase, and that is where the value lies.
What if the designer is not able to convince the client or superior? The designer would then have to then go back and either change the design or change the presentation. This delay in the process not only costs lots of extra money, but also results in extra hours of work for the designer, extra meetings with the client or superior, greater financing costs, and most probably a delay in project completion time.
This is not to say that with a model, a design will always be approved, but what is certain is that the more information there is, the less likely it is that wrong decisions will be made that could delay the project.
This type of value is impossible to quantify in simple purchase terms, because we will never know what “did not happen”; however, every designer has had to deal at some point with clients or superiors that changed their previous decisions because they were made on a basis of misinformation or misunderstanding. And these wrong decisions can add up to become very costly. The costs “not incurred” due to the presence of the information in the 3D model is therefore the value of the 3D printed model and the technology.
The value of a 3D printed model lies in its ability to communicate an idea. With social media all around us these days, the amount of visual stimulation has increased dramatically, and people’s attention spans have been brought down to 140 characters. As a designer, if you cannot get your point across in a very short window, you will lose the focus of the meeting. An accurate, detailed scale model, as provided by a high resolution 3D printer, has the ability to communicate a ton of information in the blink of an eye, and can therefore be incredibly valuable for both designers and architects alike.