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Rapid Prototyping Service Enables Fast Testing of Complex Architectural Design
VALENCIA, Calif.--At Washington University, St. Louis, architectural students are asked to produce designs that push the boundaries of what's already been undertaken. But there are always students who go beyond classroom assignments to perform their own research. One is Sunil Kumar, who has long been interested in the architectural implications of organic structures. "I'm curious about understanding and experimenting with complex geometries that border on the organic, while still offering structural integrity," says Sunil.
Sunil started by producing some designs using 3D modeling systems, such as Rhino (Rhinoceros 3D) and 3D max. "Originally, I was interested in increasing my knowledge of a different software system," he said. "What I realized, though, was how difficult it is to maintain the integrity of a complex structure in some programs--especially structures like my Twisted Tower design."
Maintaining the integrity in CAD is one thing, but producing an actual model is another. Sunil realized that he'd need to produce a prototype to really see how the structure worked out—for example, to be sure that all connections were accurate or that they provided the proper thickness. He also wanted to investigate outside sources for his designs. Although the school has its own rapid prototyping equipment, there are many other pieces of equipment to work with, and many other services available. He ran across ZoomRP.com, a division of Solid Concepts, Inc. that gives design engineers fast access to prototypes. Functioning as a "virtual 3D desktop printer," ZoomRP.com offers same day and next shipments of low-cost prototype parts without any minimum order requirements.
"I contacted ZoomRP.com to try out one of my first 3D max designs," Sunil said. "I thought I had all the geometry straightened out but wanted some solid proof. The software appeared to make the geometry fairly straight forward, although it took some work going over it to be sure."
Sunil uploaded his STL file to ZoomRP.com's site and selected the overnight delivery option. He had no plans or need for post prep work, like sanding or painting, because the whole idea was to see how well the structure could be produced the first time out. According to Sunil, ZoomRP.com worked out extremely well overall for the trial. The accuracy of the SLS (selective laser sintering) white prototype allowed even the most fragile sections to turn out well. "Some areas were a little on the thin side, but that was due to the geometries put into 3D max," he said. The structure did prove to be very strong, which is what he was looking for. "The CAD geometry needs to be tightened up, but I have to do that myself," he said.
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