Printing and scanning the future: taking 3D design to the next level

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Nick Godfrey of Central Scanning explores how architects are using 3D printing and scanning to not only visualise but also create their projects with greater efficiency and accuracy than ever before

3D scanning and printing are increasingly innovative and powerful tools that are single-handedly changing the way the world works.

They’ve already revolutionised the medical and aerospace industries, with technological advancements enabling them to be used to create all manner of objects. From prosthetic limbs and recreating people’s jaws, to alloys that are capable of making planes lighter and faster, the possibilities are endless, and now the architecture industry stand to benefit from this advanced technology.

Overcoming historical complexities

While they may be tried and tested, using traditional methods to design and deliver projects takes time. And if the end results are wrong, refinements will undoubtedly need to be made, which can come at a cost, as well as put pressure on deadlines.

However, it can be difficult to guarantee the end result will be 100 per cent right – particularly where more complex and unique briefs are concerned. This is especially true when working with listed buildings, where it’s essential that the historical architecture isn’t compromised. Any alterations that are made need to be in keeping with the property and carried out in accordance with relevant building and planning legislation.

But the sheer size and scale of some of these sites can be immense and the intricacies of the interior and exterior design can be incredibly detailed. 3D scans are frequently used to capture these types of buildings, providing before and after scans to verify that work has been performed within agreed planning regulations.

It’s also common for historic buildings of interest to be scanned to maintain real-life records of erosion. Having these scans on file means that in the event of a fire or any other damage taking place; the 3D data can be used to re-commission or restore the building exactly back to its original state. And in the case of the historic Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, Historic Environment Scotland have been using 3D scanning since 2008 to create meticulous scans of the chapel to make the landmark more accessible for people with visual impairments, creating tactile 3D prints of the chapel’s best-known features.

Bringing new build visions to life

3D printing and 3D scanning also provides widespread assistance in relation to newer builds too. One application that’s particularly popular is scanning multiple buildings so that any new buildings can be designed to visually match the look and feel of the existing structures. It’s a really effective way of visually checking the appearance and making sure it’s consistent. What’s more, the data can also be 3D printed to create scaled models of the proposed new building(s) for public consultation and/or display at planning meetings, open days and public forums etc. In our experience of producing these models, people find it much easier to picture the end result, as 3D is far more life-like than 2D.

Eliminating uncertainty

To take the concept of visualisation one-step further, architects can also use 3D printing and 3D scanning to deliver some of their more day-to-day activities more effectively. For instance, if their client is struggling to visualise their drawings, then it’s possible to scan the site or building in question and then 3D model their proposed changes on to the scans. They can also take the visualisation process one step further, by printing a miniature version of their vision. Not only does this enable everybody to be on’ the same page,’ it also helps make sure any mistakes are avoided from the outset.

It can be easy for errors to creep in when you can’t gain access to or fully see the entire space that you’re required to work with. However, this is an area where 3D scanning really comes into its own. We’re often asked to capture ‘hidden rooms’, such as boiler rooms, to provide our clients with a clear view of what’s within the space, e.g. every hidden pipe, wires and hidden capacity etc.

The same principle applies to loft space, cellar space, and any other form of space that’s impossible to get a clear gauge of in person. Having this clarity enables you to see what can and can’t change and, if the spaces are ever cleared out, this tells you in advance exactly how much room there is to work with without being caught out by any unforeseen surprises.

Historic or new build, large or small, 3D scanning and printing is continuing to redefine briefs with greater levels of ingenuity, accuracy and efficiency than ever before. What may once been impossible is becoming increasingly possible – and the results are truly remarkable.

Nick Godfrey is managing director at Central Scanning