This year, if you’ve been reading the technology news, you may have seen 3D printing making headlines – from applications in medicine, the military, even construction. Mostly, the applications of 3D printing have been small-scale – building gadgets, making models, and so forth. But I think that by combining 3D printing technology with the power of 3D scanning, there’s more that can be done.
I’m not talking about small scale projects, using scanners designed to scan objects that would fit on your desk. I’m talking about combining LiDAR scanning equipment, used to take scans of large areas, with 3D printing. Let’s have a look at what might be possible.
1: Creating accurate models of as-built conditions
3D scanning, and the wider reality capture workflow, is concerned primarily with capturing real-world conditions as accurately as possible. In construction, for instance, scans are often taken of a building prior to an extension or a redesign, so that the designers can be sure they know exactly how the current building is laid out as they design alterations and additions.
Another possibility is to 3D print the scans of as-built conditions, creating highly accurate miniature models of scan data. The applications for this are many:
- In construction, physical models are often more tangible for clients when trying to understand a design. Showing them a physical model of a design, combined with a model of the space as it is now, could be invaluable for getting stakeholders to sign off on a project.
- Police forces could recreate crime scenes to aid forensic investigations.
- Modelling companies could create products with a higher degree of accuracy than working purely off drawings and photos.
In this use case, the value of the 3D printing isn’t so much the ease of assembling a physical product. Instead, the value comes from being able to transfer a highly accurate digital representation of a space, into a highly accurate physical model, all using the same data points.
2: Producing prototype components that fit into a wider plan
This is arguably one of the most common applications of 3D printing today – certainly in the medical sciences field. But architects, manufacturers and prefabrication organisations could also be using 3D printing to plan the addition of new elements or components to a wider structure.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re redesigning a staircase for a luxury house. On the one hand, you need to design the staircase itself. On the other hand, you need to make sure it fits within the existing space. By 3D printing the existing space, the designer can gain another perspective that helps them design the staircase to meet the brief in the best possible way. They can even print prototypes of the staircase and physically add them to the existing model as another test of how the finished project will look. As a result, the chances of a misstep on the project – adding time and cost – are reduced.
There are digital tools that achieve this for you already. The benefit of 3D printing, though, is that you can create a physical model of the design. It’s another approach to solving a problem – one that might spark inspiration for some designers who are sick of staring at screens all day – and it gives you something else to show the client when walking them through the design to help them understand what you’re doing.
3: Demonstrating how a new building will look in situ
If you’re designing a new building to sit amongst existing ones, it can be hard to demonstrate to stakeholders – including local councils, planning authorities and residents groups – what your building will look like. 3D printing can help with this by letting you recreate the entire space in physical form, with your new building included.
It’s a challenge that European Active Projects Ltd had recently, and one that we helped them solve through Veesus Point Clouds for SolidWorks in digital form (you can read the case study here). I can’t help but wonder whether a physical model would have made the process of getting their new building approved even smoother.
Lots of opportunities ahead
I’m excited to see where 3D printing and other evolving technologies take us in 2021. I’m also very interested to see how companies navigate the technological challenges that these new ways of working present – for instance, point cloud management. We know that many companies find managing point cloud data challenging – in part because of its size, and in part because there are very few options for working effectively with point cloud data in CAD tools. Overcoming those challenges will be essential for companies to fully integrate 3D scanning and 3D printing into a seamless workflow.
Veesus software helps construction and design firms to work more effectively with point cloud data. With plug-ins available for both Rhino and SolidWorks, Veesus enables designers to effortlessly manipulate and edit point clouds of any size in their existing CAD software – or to edit, manipulate, and animate point clouds with Veesus Arena4D. Learn more about our software here.