Emerging design firm BplusU used 3D technology to display the digital fabrication process in real-time for an exhibition at the Architecture + Design Museum in Los Angeles.

Known for exhibiting progressive architecture and design, the Architecture + Design Museum became a perfect venue for a real-time digital fabrication display by BplusU during the summer of 2010. This unique display showed museum visitors a digital assembly line recreating ‘City Futura’, an architectural work designed by the firm for a site in Milan, Italy.

Founded in 2000, BplusU is led by Herwig Baumgartner and Scott Uriu, who have built a reputation for pushing the boundaries of architecture and design.

BplusU uses 3D digitising technology, rapid prototyping, laser cutters and CNC routers along with casting, vacuum forming and traditional model building to visualise their design. The design firm continues to research and experiment with new building materials and construction techniques using 3D technology and manufacturing techniques outside the architectural profession.

The brief from the museum was to create an exhibition that would continuously change over 40 days. BplusU decided to use the Dimension 1200 3D printer in their office that was otherwise utilised to prototype architectural designs, to show the actual process of creating, modifying and improving a design digitally. The team decided to take the process out of the office, including the 3D printer, and make it the subject of the display during the exhibition.

The exhibit created by BplusU showed the different steps of production from printing to dissolving, drying, gluing, finishing and assembling with the whole process documented and put on display. Requiring minimal involvement from the BplusU staff, the project used fairly large parts that took three or four days to print.

BplusU has had a Dimension 1200 3D printer in its office for two years. Key requirements for the 3D printer included ability to use ABS material, affordability, and sufficient resolution for the pieces that needed to be printed. The printer was supplied by TekPro Group, a supplier of 3D printers, and rapid prototyping and laser equipment.

According to Baumgartner, they had the option of outsourcing their physical prototypes or make them in-house. Since there were obvious cost efficiencies in making them in-house, they decided to invest in the 3D printer. Apart from reducing their costs by 50 percent, the new 3D printer allows them to optimise their designs through constant iterations, which would not be possible if the job was farmed out.

Since most of the BplusU architectural models need to look finished, the machine’s ability to sand and finish the pieces was very important. Baumgartner explains that the part usually goes through priming and painting after it comes out of the printer. The company was previously using conventional methods, such as casting, milling and vacuum forming, which were very labour intensive processes.

Architectural models created by BplusU include solid mounting models, and surface geometry models, which are representations of the outer skin of a building. Most of their architectural modelling work involves commercial buildings, and having their own 3D printer enables them to deal with the geometrical complexity.

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