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City University of Hong Kong

3D Printing Enables Greater Education and Training Opportunities for University Students

“3D printing opens up new possibilities for teachers and students alike to better understand and realize complex architectural geometries.”
— Dr. Stefan Krakhofer, Assistant Professor of the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, City University of Hong Kong

Towering Success

3D printed architectural design model

The 3D printed models allow students to quickly identify design issues.

3D printed complex model

Even complex models such as this one are less expensive to create in-house using 3D printing than with traditional methods.

3D printed non-standard forms and building models

3D printing allows architectural students to create non-standard forms and buildings like these.

3D printed design model exhibit

Dr Krakhofer is an award winning architect with work exhibiting in Venice and Hong Kong. His architectural research is concerned with new models of design thinking, and emerging modes of practice that transforms due to the pervasive role of information.

The City University of Hong Kong is a professional education and research university that offers multi-disciplinary tertiary education through theories and practices. Its Gateway Education (GE) is a compulsory curriculum that aims to expose students to research outside their major scope of studies.

The university’s Office of Education Development and Gateway Education (EDGE) and its Gateway Education Laboratory (GE Lab) play a pivotal role in this mission, and house all types of technical and cutting-edge equipment to do so. In 2012, EDGE received grants to purchase a 3D printer to further promote the latest technology in different areas of teaching and learning.

After consulting various users and researching 3D printers, EDGE purchased a Fortus 3D Printer. “We wanted a machine that is fast and user-friendly, in addition to printing durable and accurate models, because undergraduate students are required to learn operating the system on their own,” explained Frankie Fan, executive officer of the GE Lab. “The Fortus 3D Printer meets all of these requirements.”

Identifying Errors Instantly

Dr. Stefan Krakhofer, assistant professor of the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, was one of the first to integrate 3D printing into his GE course. Krakhofer can now 3D print complex geometries to explain their theories and architectural applications, such as high-rise towers, urban canopies, sketch and presentation models, and students’ projects. Students can put theory into practice by designing and printing their own architectural models.

“In addition to learn operating a high-tech and innovative machine, 3D printed models have enabled students to quickly identify design and geometrical issues that would have been unnoticed by purely looking at the digital model,” commented Krakhofer. Previously, students have visualized their designs on computers, and have then spent hours abstracting their design in order to build them by hand. This manual process is very time-consuming and delays the learning cycle. Using 3D printing enables students to rapidly develop and improve their designs. During this learning cycle, students are experiencing rapid feedback that offers a greater potential of discovering new solutions on their own.

Production Costs Cut by 30 Percent

3D printing has expanded Krakhofer’s scope by allowing the creation of even larger models built from 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) data, which represents building frameworks and structures. Prior to 3D printing, transferring BIM data to physical models was time-consuming, costly to outsource and restricting due to the physical scale barrier of model-making materials.

With the in-house Fortus 3D Printer, Krakhofer and his team no longer needed to rely on model-making skills of outsourced vendors. The Honey Tower, one of the most complex projects developed by Krakhofer and his students, was 3D printed in-house directly from a BIM environment using the Fortus 3D Printer. Its soluble support capability meant the team could 3D print more complex architectural designs.

With the high precision of the Fortus 3D Printer, it was a fairly easy task to phase the tower model into four parts, and print them one by one in ABS-M30 material. After assembling the individual sections, the tower stands more than 1 meter tall, impressively displaying its honeycomb-like structural skin. Due to the 25 to 70 percent increased strength of ABS-M30 compared to standard ABS, the printed parts are strong enough for repeated assemblies for multiple exhibitions.

In-house 3D printing also helped Krakhofer cut production costs by roughly 30 percent. The initial project planning estimated that conventional means of production would take 1,000 hours and $5,000 to produce the Honey Tower. Choosing the 3D printing approach reduced production time to 370 hours and costs to less than $3,500, or a 30 percent cost saving. Not to mention, the conventional process would not have resulted in nearly the same quality as achieved with 3D printing.

Krakhofer and his students have also entered architectural design competitions and won a number of awards, including the 2013 Stratasys Extreme Redesign Challenge and the 2014 Autodesk Hong Kong BIM Award. Recognizing the prospect of 3D printing in the architectural industry, Krakhofer plans to coordinate more building-related workshops with the GE Lab and its Fortus 3D Printer.

“3D printing opens up new possibilities for teachers and students alike to better understand and realize complex architectural geometries. We can now take our imagination one step further to produce non-standard forms and buildings, to be able to physically hold them and study their structures and geometries much easier and faster,” concluded Krakhofer.

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