Preparing for 3D Print - An Architect’s Guide
 

“Let's talk about fixing, for 3D.

Let's talk about your file, and see.

Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things, that may be.

Let’s talk about…”

Inspired by Salt N Pepa

We most likely have your attention now, which is important because the scintillating subject of architectural file preparation for 3D printing awaits you; a few simple steps that will save you from many a restless night (‘Did I really turn off all the layers?’). If you follow this procedure closely then 3D printing will be as much a compliment to your design process as Salt was to Pepa.


Whatever the design stage or the audience, a model is a powerful decision-making tool: offering the ability to see your design in the real world; to touch it; interrogate it and compare it. Unfortunately understanding what is possible, within the timeframe and especially within the budget is not always black and white. To provide you with these answers we need to be supplied with relevant design information and your preferences for how your design should be communicated.

Providing Information for an accurate Quotation

This won’t be the last time we mention this, but we have built a Briefing Tool for exactly this purpose: it guides you through the following points, makes you ask yourself the necessary questions and provides us with all the relevant detail to come back to you swiftly with an accurate quotation.

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1_HOUSEKEEPING

First things first, it’s important to be organised to help avoid any confusion with ongoing design work, so save a copy of your design file.

a_Create a New Folder:

e.g. “Fixie Quote”

“Fixie 3D Printing Quote”

“I Heart Fixie”

In this folder save a packaged file of your model here. This will ensure that all referenced drawings that are relevant for a quotation are also included in the information that you send to us. 

I love Fixie 3D

b_Name the file appropriately:

Naming the file for quotation differently will always help to avoid confusion.

e.g drawingname_fixiequote.extension

2_Taking out the TRASH: File Clean-Up

Now it’s time to clean up this new file - all of these steps will help speed up the quotation process and, later on, the fixing process itself. It will also ensure that no unwanted information is printed or equally that no time is wasted working on elements which aren’t important.

We all know what makes a file heavy, even if we try to turn a blind eye to the beautiful million polygon trees we’ve imported for “atmosphere”. Let’s run through some of these items:

a_people

No

b_furniture

No again

c_toilets

Noooooooo

d_Sculptural artwork you’ve downloaded from 3D warehouse

😐

NO

In general, the message here is to think about the relevance of the information provided to achieving the final print. If you have a tight deadline, then the sooner we can assess the file and get fixing, the more likely that deadline will be met. A lighter file allows this to happen, so turn off, or preferably delete, those unwanted layers and detail (sometimes non visible/turned off layers will still be imported into our software).


e_trees

Not unlike the superfluous details above; trees can really slow down files and more often than not they’re actually 2D components and therefore will not print. Depending on whether you want trees included in your model or not, the following approaches apply:

Trees Fixie 3D

3D Printed Trees: Supply trees in the model (up to 1-1000)

Traditional Trees (added by hand): Do not supply trees in the model - a separate tree plan will suffice.

No Trees: Do not supply trees in the model


f_context

It’s pretty amazing that we now have entire cities modelled in 3D. A lot of time can be wasted zooming in and out on a Friday afternoon whilst trying to look busy. However, we don’t need all of London to be supplied to us to quote for your 3D print. And don’t worry we’re still very impressed with the size of your data.

Any and all context data that is not going to appear in the print should be removed or it will add time to delivering at each milestone.

3_SIZING IT UP

Scaling your design to the size it will be replicated at is a useful method for understanding how much time to concentrate on any particular detail. We all get bogged down in making things perfect, but if you realise that the element you’re painstakingly correcting is .1mm when reproduced then you may feel less obliged to put that strain on your eyes.

The first thing we do when fixing a file is to ensure we understand the level of detail we’re looking to print at - this starts with confirming the right scale and size.

Scale.png



4_SETTING BOUNDARIES

If the steps above have been followed, then we should be dealing with a clean and easy to assess file. Some key questions remain - what are the extents to the model and if you have a site plug, what is the boundary to this?

The best way to communicate this to us is, coincidentally enough, in 3D - if you draw a box or volume covering the area of the intended print and any plugs, then our software will easily be able to interpret this, we will be able to quickly cut to size without any chance that we’ve missed a key landmark or cut off a relevant adjoining building.

Site Boundary.png

5_PACKING IT UP

Our clients work across all CAD software. Our preference remains the same with each, that we are supplied with one or both of the following file formats:

.OBJ (wavefront)

.FBX (Motion Builder)

.SKP (SketchUp)

Receiving multiple formats is ideal as exports of complicated designs can lead to temperamental outputs. It also allows us to compare these file types if something looks amiss in one, removing the need for multiple emails.

(even though .STL is the recognised 3D printing file format, exporting from your native CAD software to .STL will often not be possible if you haven’t built the model with 3D print in mind - more on how to model for 3D Print)

6_Sending IT ON Its Way

Since you have already saved a new file all you need to do is resave/export the file and send it to us via any file sharing application (wetransfer/onedrive etc). Of course you can also upload the file directly via our briefing tool.

If you’re briefing us by email please provide the following information

  • Scale of Model

  • Size of Model

  • Material/Colour Preferences

  • Deadline

  • Indication of Plugs

Finally, we will also need to know if this is your final, print ready data. And, if not, when we could expect to receive that.

The use of messenger pigeons is not advised.

The use of messenger pigeons is not advised.

7_WAITING WITH BAITED BREATH


We’ll let you know that we’ve received your file and brief and depending on the project complexity we’ll have a proposed solution shortly.

As always, any questions we’re here to help.

 
Fixing Series: Error No.3 - Reversed Normals
 

“But mostly I hate the way I don't hate you,
Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all”

Ten Things I Hate About You

When first hearing the term ‘reversed’ or ‘inverted’ normals you’d be forgiven for having flashbacks to your early teenage years when you were unceremoniously divided by your peers into two distinct categories: normal and not-normal (also commonly known as a weird-o).

Weird "o"

It’s hard to imagine the ignominy that would have come with being labelled a ‘reversed normal’ during these formative years - some part of you is normal, you were so very close, but then you had to go and mess it all up. Typical.

As this fixing series progresses, it seems like each error we encounter exudes a similar stereotype, as if they could be defined by who they hung around with in High School. You remember the movies - there were the Jocks, the Cheerleaders, the Nerds (with many subcategories), Goths, Stoners, Hicks, Creepily Mature Students, Anarchists…the list goes on.

So far we’ve encountered the Bad Edges, who are to be avoided at all costs; the Holes, whose vacuous presence contributes as much to proceedings as the Stoners and now we have the Reversed Normals who elicit images of a student forced to face the corner of a room with a dunce cap on.

Fixie 3d printing inverted normals graphic

Obviously, we need to be a little more sensitive in our treatment of reversed normals these days. After all, they’re just faces looking in the wrong direction. Most softwares will give you the opportunity to highlight the direction of faces/normals. However, rather than making a show out of them, or out of yourself for your hasty modelling, they just need to be given a little nudge in the right direction. It’s imperative that all normals be facing the right direction so that the 3D printing software recognises the areas that are internal, between two external edges and thus communicating a solid printable volume (remind yourself of some of the guiding principles of 3D printing).

If Ten Things I Hate About You taught us anything (and it most certainly did), it would be that first impressions do us no favours. With a little bit of patience, encouragement and self-reflection, any file can be made printable.

So, even after the mess you arrived in and our initial opinion of you, we need to own up to the fact that this was a superficial appraisal. We do not in fact hate you. Now we see you. We see the 3D print you could be. We don’t even hate you a little bit, not even at all.

*Annnd cue: slow clap*

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Making of the AJ100 2019 Awards Trophies
 

When Fixie gets invited to dinner we like to leave a good impression. This doesn’t mean grabbing a £5 bottle of wine from our local Aldi... you know who you’re! With the AJ100 Annual Awards ceremony approaching, we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to leave something with our fellow guests to remember us by.

Our starting point was the undeniably recognisable AJ100 logo and a simple premise: how can we generate a 3D version that would make the best use of 3D printing technologies. We have to admit, things got a bit out of control there for a time (respective exhibits below), but we reeled it in and got back to basics to come up with an elegant, yet unapologetically 3D, version of the logo.

Once the design had been settled we broke it down into separate parts. This is necessary to ensure that any uncured resin and support structures can be removed after the SLA printing process. This was also useful for our colleagues at Kandor Modelmakers to be able to spray finish the parts to match the distinctive colours of Architect’s Journal.

The SLA printing process can be a mesmerising thing. It’s somewhat like watching a fire in the depths of Winter; your mind seeks out patterns in the chaos. When you know what the design is, it can be even more tantalising as you spot flashes of what it could be...When the parts are finished, they ceremoniously rise from the depths of the resin to gracious applause from the onlooking crowd. At least this is how we like to honour the occasion.

AJ100 Awards SLA Resin 3D printed Trophies on Steriolithography Printer.

The parts are then cleaned up and bead blasted to give them a nice smooth surface. SLA resin printing does not produce colour parts, depending on the resin parts are either semi-transparent or monochrome. Therefore, we need to rely on trusted traditional finishing techniques to make details of models pop (although, not unsurprisingly, architects often prefer the clean minimalism of a single colour model).

White Spray finished SLA Resin 3D printed AJ 100 Awards Trophies

Of course, now would be the time to show you the final result; the fruits of our labour. But with the event not until next week, we wouldn’t want to disrupt the grand unveiling. We hope that all the worthy winners will appreciate the journey these trophies have taken. It would put a big smile on our faces to see them in pride of place the next time we visit your offices!

 
Fixie and Soluis: a match made in virtual heaven
 

At Fixie, we often feel like we’re straddling a thin line between the digital and the physical; walking a delicate tightrope between the virtual and real worlds.

To the newcomer, the ability to conjure physical forms from ones and zeros might appear like an act of wizardry: we take plans, sketches, concepts and designs and make them come alive so that they exist as something you can touch, pick up and interrogate and without an ‘Expecto Patronum’ or ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ in sight.

 
 

Even to those seasoned in 3D printing, there are days when you have to step back and remind yourself how remarkable this is: if you can think it up,  you can 3D print it and make it real (We’ve heard that making real buildings is just as magical an experience).


With all of the benefits that scaled models provide for our comprehension of a space or a scheme, there are the other occasions when we need to get deep into the corners of a design at a scale of 1:1. We’re probably reminded of Derek Zoolander’s famous exposé of scaled models when he determined that only ants could really benefit from them...Depending on the customer and the conversation there may be an element of truth in this.

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As models and designs are being created digitally then there is simultaneously the opportunity to create visual content and experiences that complement physical models, allowing a more comprehensive understanding of design progression and objectives. Virtual Reality offers a hitherto unheard of opportunity to explore a development at a human scale and get a real spatial understanding of a project years before it is built. 3D printing and 3D visualisation, therefore, go hand in hand as design communication tools.

Soluis Group is the UK’s most established visual communications agency for the built environment. They have been crafting beautiful and engaging experiences for almost twenty years. For Soluis, technology is a storytelling tool. Their experience has taught them to make the best use of the emerging tools available to them whilst always focusing on delivering the most memorable, informative and engaging content.

Soluis and Fixie 3D partnership

Fixie and Soluis will be championing the development of solutions that make the best use of our combined expertise - utilising 3D printing and emerging visualisation technologies to bring models alive. This could mean utilising 3D prints as triggers for Augmented Reality experiences, projection mapping visuals onto a 3D printed model or overlaying data onto masterplan models. The opportunities remain endless, creating enhanced models that become an even more valuable communications tool.

By combining forces we also have the ability to offer our respective clients a broader range of options and expertise - for anybody who is attending the AJ100 Awards dinner next week, you may get a sneak preview!


 
Michelle Greeff
Fixie Founding Team Expands
 

Fixie wants to ensure that our clients have access to the best knowledge and resources in the 3D printing and architectural model making industry. We’re striving to build a team that facilitates this. We’re therefore delighted that Lee Bassil, former Business Manager of Hobs 3D, is joining Michelle Greeff as Co-Founder and will head operations drawing on over 10 years of experience in various roles across the industry.

Lee has made his life 3D printing for the AEC sector. Together with Michelle (and starting with one single printer), he made Hobs Studio’s unique offering a reality - initially as a 3D Technician and then as Business Manager. Over the course of his career across the sector he has forged relationships through consistent, dedicated service with all of London’s top architecture firms; their print and model shops, along with other 3D Printers and Modelmakers.

Fixie will benefit from Lee’s experience establishing and growing numerous 3D printing departments. He will be pivotal in enabling Fixie’s bureau operations so that we can begin to print more of the files that we fix. This will allow us to self-sustain faster and also generate revenue to advance our objectives for the development of our online platform and international expansion. In the initial months, Lee will be getting his hands dirty once more, but as the business grows he will oversee all elements of production and operations as has been his long-held role until now.

Lee, with his father and Didi Hamann in Madrid at the 2019 Champions League final.

Lee, with his father and Didi Hamann in Madrid at the 2019 Champions League final.

Lee’s first week with Fixie was on the back of his trip to Madrid to watch his beloved Liverpool win the Champions League - his first week has been a slow one.

 
Fixing Series: Error No.2 - Bad Edges
 

“Bad Edges, Bad edges, Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do
When they come for you?”

Inspired by Bob Marley

Bad Edges, are next on the list of potential errors that could affect your 3D print. For those not used to the terminology these sound like the types of shady characters your parents warned you about. The kind that would hang around the back of the school smoking cigarettes. If left to their own devices Bad Edges, like true troublemakers, will also lead you down the wrong path.

Fixie 3d printing file fixing bad edges

Bad Edges, as touched upon in our introductory post on model errors are a result of faces or more specifically triangles, not fully ‘knitting’ together. They’re so very close together that the gap between them is potentially not visible to the human eye.

Perhaps worthy of an analogy to drive the point home: Friends Season 3 Episode 2 - “The One Where No One’s Ready”. Chandler places his hand in front of Joey’s face, it’s definitely an invasion of his personal space but crucially it isn’t touching and therefore Joey can’t get mad. In a similar vein edges can be excruciatingly close but if the software doesn’t understand them to be touching then it cannot react in the necessary way.

So close, but not touching.

So close, but not touching.

There are two main causes of Bad Edges, the first is likely to occur during the course of modelling: copying and pasting of parts and multiple iterations can easily lead to elements being microscopically misaligned. Secondly, bad edges can appear during the conversion of models between softwares. Some software may read the same information in a different way: what might work in one modelling programme may not for another - especially when we refer back to one of the key objectives of working with 3D printing software as opposed to building design software: to have a watertight model.

If not dealt with, Bad Edges mean that parts of your model have non-manifold edges (in this instance meaning that edges are connected to less than one face). 3D printing software requires that all edges are manifold: connected to two faces only. In practice, if this rule is followed your model will be watertight and have a thickness throughout (so you don’t need to worry about the terminology, just the process).

Although we often won’t be able to see these bad edges 3D printing software does. It highlights these minuscule gaps and facilitates a clean up process.

We’ll lead you down the right path to 3D printed model perfection, get in touch.

 
Fixie finds a home with Kandor Modelmakers
 
 

As a new company, we’ve been emboldened and encouraged by all of the conversations we’ve been having both with clients and potential collaborators. We’re continuing to define and refine what we offer - keeping an open mind has allowed many unexpected and rewarding discussions!

With Fixie we have our own independent aspirations of being the go-to solution for architectural 3D printing. Not only in London or the UK, but also building on the unique experience of creating the market in the UK to expand to cities worldwide.

We’re at the same time also keenly aware that 3D printing alone may not be the appropriate solution for all architectural models. We recognise the warmth and narrative that a hand finish adds to a detailed 3D print.

Modelmaking tradition: James Stirling inspects a model with a young(er!) David Gomm, now a Director at Kandor Modelmakers.

Modelmaking tradition: James Stirling inspects a model with a young(er!) David Gomm, now a Director at Kandor Modelmakers.

Kandor Modelmakers have been working with the architectural sector for 40 years. Their wealth of experience and the quality of their craftsmanship has seen them help to communicate the visions of all leading architectural firms, time and time again.

Kandor and Fixie have a mutual understanding of the reciprocal need for technology to support craftsmanship and skill to complement efficiency. We’re therefore combining our resources under one roof.

Fixie and Kandor will be cohabiting in a 15,000 sq. ft. model workshop in Stratford. We will be offering the entire scale and spectrum of architectural model making utilising the most appropriate techniques and technologies for each project.

Our research is teaching us that architects don’t just require a 3D printing assistant, but are also in need of an architectural model making assistant that has a full working knowledge of 3D technologies. This means that architects can get support in the entire model making process irrespective of the software and processes they use internally.

By joining forces with Kandor we can easily transform the rigid precision of 3D printed models into warm and welcoming models that better help to tell the story. Along with undergoing a modernisation and rebranding process Kandor will be able to supplement their unrivalled model making capabilities with 3D printed elements and techniques.

If the project requires a simple 3D printed sketch model or a fully operational, interactive marketing model (or anything in between), we’re now proud and excited to be able to assist on any scale of project.

Looking forward to sharing more from our new home!

Michelle Greeff

Founder

 
Fixing Series: Error No.1 - Holes
 

“There’s a hole in my bucket Dear Liza, Dear Liza”

Harry Belafonte / Odetta Felious Gordon

Indeed, a hole in a model can cause all sorts of problems for 3D printing, but to understand why you will first need to understand some of the main principles of 3D printing and the file format that it uses - STL.

STL is short for Stereolithography, one of the earliest 3D printing technologies. Another definition “Standard Triangle Language” is perhaps more helpful in understanding the format. When a model is converted to STL format all surfaces are converted to a triangulated mesh, or in other words, many surfaces made up solely of triangles.

 
 
Fixie 3d printing triangle mesh

Triangles forming a mesh.

Fixie inverted normals 3d printing

Triangles showing their surface directions.

The STL format interprets each triangle as having a back and a front side, or an inside and an outside surface. If the triangles are facing the wrong way they’re known as flipped triangles. All of these need to be oriented in the right direction for 3D printing software to print as planned - it needs to know what is the inside of the model and what is the outside. We do not mean the inside and outside of a building or a room, but rather the inside and outside surface of a wall or other object that will be printed. This introduces us to another inherent characteristic of 3D printing - elements must have a thickness.

FIXIE 3D PRINTING SECTION

A helpful way to think about this is when you look at the section of a building. The thick lines of a wall or floor outline the volume that will be printed. The external edges of the walls face the open/void space of a room or the exterior of the model and the inside is the edge of the solid printed volume. (We explain more on basic file preparation of your model in an earlier post).

Each triangle should be facing the right way in the model mesh. Each should be knitted together (aka no gaps between them) and on a similar note there should be no holes or missing triangles.

Fixie 3d printing file fixing gaps & bad edges

Triangles not correctly stitched together, opening up gaps in the mesh. The broken edges this error leaves are called ‘bad edges’.

Fixie 3d printing file fixing holes

Large openings exposing the interior of the mesh. A hole also leaves bad edges as inevitably there will be edges not stitched together.

All of this relates to the fact that, to be printable, a model must be ‘watertight’. Take as an example your favourite mug (we also ‘Fix’ a lot of cups of tea and coffee at Chez Fixie)! The mug is undoubtedly watertight and has a good thickness to it. If the mug were an STL file all of the surface (inside and outside of the mug) would be covered with triangles showing their outside surface only. All would be correctly stitched together, with no missing triangles. If the mug were made up of no thickness, just a single face accounting for the interior and exterior of a mug then you’d quickly spill your tea.

 
 

To be printable:

  • A model must be solid

  • A model must have a thickness

Therefore, it must not have:

  • Gaps

  • Holes

  • Undefined or unreadable surfaces.

I think that’s enough for today, but we’ll soon share detailed information about holes and other issues and what they mean for your model. Generally, it’s not pretty!

Please get in touch directly with any related queries - fixers@fixie3d.com

 
Fixing Customer Experience
 

At Fixie, we’re determined to advance (or fix…) how the 3D printing industry interacts with the AEC sector. From listening to our clients across the architectural, construction, engineering and property industries we have uncovered two main frustrations:

The first comes from the client side and is often due to a lack of understanding of what is involved in the production of 3D printed models. This highlights the need for further education and the desire for transparency at all stages and in all aspects of the process.

It’s the experts’ role to help clients feel comfortable in the knowledge that they have a high level understanding of how a project should progress and of what potential obstacles may arise. The key aim should be zero surprises!

Another major frustration conveyed was around how the project and communications are managed between external stakeholders and internal production teams. Improving these channels of communication will help alleviate the aches of the first point above. This improvement is heavily reliant on efficient internal working processes.

 
Our clients will have full control and approval will be as easy as pressing (3D) print

Our clients will have full control and approval will be as easy as pressing (3D) print

 

At Fixie, we enjoy growing the community of 3D printing enthusiasts so we’re always actively educating our clients about the processes. However, we knew that the second frustration around transparency and frequency of communications could be tackled with a fresh injection of technology.

That’s why we’re thrilled to be introducing our new project tracking tool to the market. It’s our first innovation aimed at reducing friction in the 3D printing process - part of our plan to encourage greater adoption of 3D printing as the go-to solution for design communications. We’ll be sharing updates on progress over the coming weeks, but it’s fair to say that we can’t wait until we’re finished and can begin testing it with you on live projects.

 
Michelle Greeff
3D Printing Industry Article
 

We’re happy that Fixie are featured today in 3D Printing Industry!

It has taken a lot of long days and late hours of work to build Fixie from scratch. It’s nice to be able to share that work with the industry. We’re only getting started, but it’s nice to see the hard work paying off little by little, day by day.

3D Printing Industry summarised the first development of our service:

The Upload and Briefing tool generates quotes as well as consultation on the most relevant additive manufacturing processes for a building model. This includes Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), ColorJet printing, Stereolithography (SLA) and hand-finishing post-processing. Once satisfied, the company’s 24/7 file fixing service transforms the given digital designs into an optimized 3D printed model.

This reinforces the point that streamlining the briefing/information gathering stage is a vital part of improving the customer experience. It reminds us that our role is that of the consultant, the expert in our field and we need to guide you on the journey to finding the best solution before we can get our hands dirty with your file!

 
Michelle Greeff