From medical prosthetics to replicas of priceless, vintage automobiles, three-dimensional printing is at the forefront of technology, and PCL, as a general construction contractor, has been quick to realize its value in construction planning.
Through one PCL district’s effective use of 3D printing, the organization demonstrates its commitment to finding new ways to enhance client communications and add value for its construction partners.
A model of a PCL project printed by a 3D printer.
Specifications of a pedway component
of a PCL project overlaid on a 3D
printout of the same component.
What is 3D Printing and How Does it Work?
Three-dimensional printing is a process of making a 3D solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. The 3D model is created using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. It’s different from traditional machining techniques, which generally rely on the removal of material (a subtractive process).
“It was best described to me as a high-tech hot glue gun,” said Jesse Moore, an engineering student with PCL. The material (polylactic acid or PLA—a type of thermoplastic) is melted and laid down layer over layer by the printer needle until the object is completed.
A Hands-On Experience
Used in conjunction with PCL’s Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools, the resulting models have the capacity to add even more value to the pre-construction process. In fact, the technology has already proved significantly valuable as a revolutionary tool for project planning and visualization.
“This technology allows our clients to actually handle the products we’re creating instead of having to imagine how they will look three-dimensionally,” said PCL construction coordinator Drew Teal.
Enhanced communication with PCL’s subcontractors brings an added benefit.
“Many of our tradespeople identify themselves as hands-on learners, meaning their principle learning language is one of touch and physical interaction,” said Teal. “Although the visual aspect of 3D computer models and renderings is very useful, being able to touch and feel what is to be built is exponentially more valuable. Providing an accurate physical model allows us to communicate the client’s vision of the plan in the language that works best for those whose work most directly affects our efficiency and quality.”
Venturing forward, PCL remains steadfast in the pursuit to find new and unique ways of enhancing quality and communication for clients. If the 3D printer is any indication, the future looks solid.