The world of rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, and 3D printing are moving at such a fast pace that there are it seems an unlimited amount of new products launching and to watch out for every day. In areas such as automotive, architecture, aerospace, medical and even fashion industries, 3D printing (rapid prototyping) has made a strong mark and is moving gradually towards becoming a full-blown production technique.
Many of these rapid prototyping innovations have been visible in the Asian market as industrial superpowers like China are making their best use of it. China, in particular, has shown the most progress in 3D printing when it comes to medical and architectural uses. The various architecture firms in China have used 3D printing in the past, and have churned out full-fledged 3D printed buildings & houses!
As one enters the lobby of Aedas, a prominent architecture firm in Hong Kong, the breathtaking office interior is nothing less than a modern marvel. The smartly dressed receptionist too seems to be part of this well-orchestrated music score as she sits immaculately behind a stunning silver frame, two meters tall in height. All this is happening on the 31st floor of a skyscraper in Hong Kong. The sofas, soft rugs, armchairs, and lamps are all stylish and will give any hotel lobby a run for its money. Design, therefore, is at the very core of this one of a kind architectural firm. When Benny Chow, the director of sustainability at the company, puts forward rapid prototyping & 3D printing as the key component of their design strategy, there is definitely that element of wonder that intensifies beyond the first impression.
He maintains that as architects, Aedas’ young and dynamic workforce has grown to both understand and love the design. However, many clients do not delve as deep into the details of design as they really want to. In order to help the client find their voice in design, Aedas explains and illustrates its thoughts by using 3D printing (plus rapid prototyping) and the models created through it. Clients can now better understand the concepts they have in mind and make decisions on the basis of it.
Aedas’ Rapid Prototyping Achievements & History
Mind you, Aedas is not just any other architectural firm simply beginning to tinkle with 3D printing. In fact, they happen to be the fifth largest design and architectural company in the world. They also have some of the most intricate, award-winning shopping malls and skyscrapers in their list of buildings designed. With a workforce of around 650 people at their Hong Kong office, they also have offices stationed within the biggest cities in China as well as South East Asian urban hub Singapore. Their other offices are in Chengdu, Shanghai, and Beijing. As previously said, they are not new to rapid prototyping or 3D printing either. The company decided to incorporate 3D printing into their working methods around six years ago. Their wide-ranging project’s mission was to introduce 3D printing to all their offices in China.
Benny Chow happens to be an honorary associate professor at the University of Hong Kong at the mechanical engineering department. He has been working with 3D printers for more than fifteen years and explains that the shift to 3D technology has been revolutionary for the work methods of the company.
Chow fondly remembers the very first internal workshop that was organized to explain how 3D printing works to the staff. In that workshop, the company’s chairman Keith Griffiths held a 3D printed model in his hand in order to study it carefully. Chow recalls that his boss’ reaction was ‘wow’. It was the first step for the company to take up this entirely new approach of how they work. According to Chow, this opened up a new dimension for Aedas.
After six years, the company’s new recruits- the brilliant designers and architects are all immediately oriented on how to use 3D printers, its software as well as how Aedas itself uses this technology as its integral method in its design process. Continuing courses on rapid prototyping are held by the company six times a year across all its offices.
The open office landscape of the company houses well-dressed designers and architects sitting in organized rows and printing out possible prototypes for the various construction projects that are being handled by Aedas. This working method is seen frequently at every other Aedas office table. Chow is very passionate with his 3D models. Pointing at one particular prototype of an intricate airport terminal, he marvels at the design as if they were real buildings. When the model was held against the sun, an intricate shadow fell on the table to show its amazing architecture.
A separate room houses the four heavy duty 3D printers that the company uses. The machines are seen noisily at work behind glass boxes, and one can clearly see the models of different projects developing layer by layer. Each layer is 0.25mm in thickness and the details on each are extremely meticulous. These machines in the dry and hot room run year round and round the clock. Even when all the employees of the office have left and are well asleep in the comfort of their homes, these printers are never silent, never-resting. They are simply never turned off, and something new is churned out of them all the time.
The greatest advantage of using rapid prototyping and 3D printing technology, as said by Chow is that client interaction and communication becomes clearer and more dynamic. As a result, it leads to faster decision making, leaving room for very little miscommunication or mistakes. The investment on this technology also happens to be relatively minimal in comparison to the savings that the company has made out of this. When the client decides to begin a construction project as early as three months than the usual time, the total cost of all the 3D printers has already been covered.
Another advantage that the company feels is important is that it is much easier to make alterations in a 3D model rather than building an entirely new prototype using other materials. The communication has also improved between construction workers and site engineers compared to the traditional methods used before 2011.
Chow believes that using rapid prototyping, the models speak a common language that is understood by everyone. 3D printing creates commitment, increases efficiency, makes the environment better and lowers the cost significantly. Hence, says Chow, 3D printers are a super tool and real game changer for Aedas.
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