Re: RP Architecture

From: cwho (
Date: Thu May 20 1999 - 20:52:34 EEST


Our company, LGM, buiilds models for the architectual industry. We build
primarily mass models, several a week with the structure size roughlty
averaging 10x12x7 in. I have been lurking (and occasionally
participaing!) on the RP-ML for over a year. There seem to be a number
of problems with RP in archtecture. None of these are insurmountable but
they make independant justification of the process a little difficult at
this time. I am speaking from the perspective of a service bureau not
from the perspective of a large firm that choses to make an RP investment
for strategic advantage. The problems as I see them are:

1) Work flow. Architects (at least my customers) seem to move to CAD
later in the design process than their counterparts in the industrial
design process. When they do move sketches to CAD it is not so much to
conceive of volumes and to coummunicate ideas as it is to work on
specific details like framing, fenestration etc. The net result of this
is that at the point that architects want a model the 3D data is not
readilly available. This ties to point 2

2) CAD systems. The defacto standard for archtectural CAD is Autocad.
My research indicates that this is one of the more troublesome routes to
a buildable RP file. This is particularly true if the user is not
drawing from the start with the idea that they want to generate a valid
STL file. I was talking to Solidworks and Solid edge vendors at a trade
show recently and they did not know of any use of their products for
exterior archtictural design. I do not know if other archtiectural
program will output STL but it seems somewhat a moot point becasue of
issue 1.

3) Cycle Time - While schedules get tight in every industry, I think the
architectural industry has significantly longer total cycle times that
industrial/mechanical design. Our project may be under design for as
long as a year, making a two to four week lead time for a model
acceptable. We have captured a good local market share by delivering
good models in a week and we can actually build a standard prodcut in
about 18 hours (although not with enough reliablity to advertise this
yet) if we have the manpower to dedicate. The longer cycle times negate
some of the benefits of RP. Certainly it means that it is more difficult
to generate a cost premium on the product.

4) Internal competition. Our main competition is the architectural
office itself. Model making is seen as one of the skills that should be
learned by your architects and often it is a job for an intern etc. This
means that when things are busy there will be a high demand for
oursourcing but if a firm has a lull, modelmaking (in the tradtional
workflow) will be one ofthe first things to be pulled back in house. We
remain concerned aboutthis from a business perspective.

5) Total System Cost. Issues one and two above lead me to belive that,
as a service bureau, we would have to be generating the 3D data in house
- basically redrawing the information - This is actually not as difficult
as it seems becasue most of the data is relatively simple. However, it
does mean higher labor costs etc to get the infromation ready to go.
Then the problem of the RP cost itself. Personally I cannot get the
numbers to work with a 50K machine when one considers the labor and
associated equipment to support it. Obvously some businessplans work
while others do not. On the RP-ML we have seem both great sucesses and
great failures in the past year. It seems the line is still quite fine.

All that being said we are following the technology EXTREMELY carefully
as it has the potential to revolutionize architectural communication as
much if not more than other industries. One unique charicteristic about
architectural visualization is that a majority of the time one is trying
to communicate designs to clients who have no experince or skill in
visualizing 3D object from 2D data. This makes RP a very powerful tool.

What experiences we have had with RP is:
 We have hooked up one of our clients with Baxter Labs who used a LOM to
generate a very large topo map of an island. Apparently this project
worked well. I also know of others who have used LOM and STL for
selected projects. We will use RP for a job next month and will have a
three axis mill running from 3D files by early summer. Very early on we
attempted to send an architectural file to a Actua. It was my fault this
did not work because the file was far from being buildable. I know DTM
has built an architectural prototype for a client. Also some student at
MSOE (contact Doug Stahl did some reseach work in this

IMHO the bottom line: Architecture is a little behind the gang in
mechanical/industrial design at adopting the necessary hardware and
process to get good 3D data. Therefor the need to regenerate data
combined with high system costs makes RP in architecture usefull only
for special situations. A very large firm might be able to justify the
cost of brining a machine in house but I think it would still be
difficult to rationalize that it directly impacts the short term profit.
All this is changing fast.

Charles Overy

     Laser Graphic Manufacturing - Precision Models
              for Architecture and Development
    800-448-8808 - - 970 - 827 -5274

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