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Weekend Property

How 3D-printed models are benefiting house designers and saving on time and costs

3D printing has transformed architectural model making and is helping architects and their clients save on time, labour costs and materials

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 10:16am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 10:16am

Bryant Lu is vice-chairman of Ronald Lu & Partners, an architectural firm. He talks about using 3D printing in designing housing models.

How is 3D printing used in your practice? How does it streamline architectural model making?

Commercial 3D printers can print complex architectural models. The models they print out may represent buildings with complex curves, and can be further processed for painting and finishing. 3D-printed models are also stronger and more durable than traditional handcrafted models. The biggest benefit of working with 3D-printed models is that they help improve communication among team members and clients. It saves on the time and expense that would otherwise be spent on producing building models with complex curvatures using traditional methods. Most importantly, 3D-printed models help us to visualise the final project and serve as a form of prototype that can easily be altered again and again, enabling the client to picture exactly what the building will look like when finished. Overall, 3D-printed models help us save on time, labour costs and materials by reducing the scope for errors due to misunderstandings during the design stage.

How is 3D printing used in various parts of the building and construction sectors?

In building and construction, 3D printing has seen tremendous advancement in recent years. There are various technologies that use 3D printing as a core method for fabricating components, or even houses or other structures, using computer numerical control (CNC) machines – which are cutting and milling machines that are computer controlled. Many different kinds of building materials, such as timber and plastics, are particularly well suited to being machined with the assistance of CNC technology. There are a number of potential advantages associated with using this process, such as faster construction times, lower labour costs, improved accuracy and less wastage. Most importantly, this process allows for one-of-a-kind designs at more affordable costs.

What other building design technologies do you expect to advance?

The integration of BIM [building information modelling] systems and big data will continue to drive industry innovations. As a centralised, shared platform, BIM allows architects, engineers, construction service providers, quantity surveyors and building owners to input data into and retrieve data from the underlying database that drives the 3D model. Changes made to the plans are instantly updated and synchronised throughout the project life cycle, so that every project member is talking the same language, talking about the same plan. As Hong Kong is on the way to developing a spatial data infrastructure, I believe that at some time in the future we will be able to obtain climate data – such as temperature, precipitation and sunshine – in addition to wind maps, as well as other geographical data, which will enable us to design more energy-efficient, green buildings for people to live in, with façades that not only maximise natural light and ventilation flows into the interior, but also minimise heat levels, through data analytics and computer simulation.