For the Love of Our LulzBot Mini 3D Printer

Jim BaldingTechnology, The InformANT

LulzBot 3D Printing at The ANT Group

LulzBot 3D Printing at The ANT GroupWe bought the LulzBot Mini 3D printer about three years ago, when the technology was little more than a novelty. It seemed like it could be a fun gadget with some use at the studio—something we’d need to tinker with in order to understand it better.

The cost of the printer itself was about $800, and each roll of filament is about $25. That’s hardly the cost of a toy, but the pressure wasn’t on for the device to have an immediate return on investment.

We wanted to learn what it would take to prepare a Revit model to print—and if there would be value to our clients. If we were going to make 3D printing part of our practice, we needed to know how it could fit into the workflow. And just like any new technology, we’d have to troubleshoot the printer’s shortcomings. There are always workarounds with using new gadgets.

Soon enough, the printer faded into the background and started collecting dust. When The ANT Group moved to its new location, the printer didn’t even come out of the box—that is, until it came to designing the new conference room table.

We had it all laid out in Revit, then I looked at it from several angles. I have been doing this for a long time—I have been an architect for over thirty-plus years—so I know how to visualize in my mind. My computer models matched up with my vision for the table I had in my head, so I bought the wood—at no small expense.

Still, something wasn’t quite right. I decided to take out the 3D printer, hook it up, and see if what I’d created matched up with what I’d imagined. Sure enough, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.  The proportions were off.

I am very pleased we took the step to verify the design. Instead of using the table I’d created, I started again from scratch. After a few failed attempts, I ended up finding another table design I liked, modifying it a bit, and using that for the conference room table we have today.

Fortunately, the table I had originally designed found a different use. With a few adjustments, my first table design was perfect for a client’s residence. Instead of a 7’ by 4’6” rectangle, it became 10’ by 3’6”. With the scaled 3D printout of the table in hand, my client, the Pauls, signed off without hesitating.

A similar approach was taken for designing the Pauls’ front door. Fashioned after an image found online, the opening was supposed to be either 3’ or 3’6” in width. For the sake of verification, we tried a door that was 4’ wide. After printing the 3D models, we could see and interact with them in real life – from there it was easy to decide that the wider door was better for the space.

3D Printing The ANT Group

We anticipate modifying the finish a bit and tweaking the proportions, but here is prototype V02.

While shopping for step lights for the stair at the Paul Residence, we simply could not find anything that went well with the design of the home.  After some time searching, we noticed that The ANT Group’s speaker stands (see below) looked like black steel from a distance.  So why not print custom step light covers for the project? We are still in the middle of the prototypes but simply had to share with you!

We use our LulzBot Mini three or four days each week. As you can see from the step lights, we’re not just printing plans and details, we’re also printing plenty of functional items as well!

3D Printing ANT Group ArchitectureAround The ANT Group offices, there are the double-J hooks beneath all the desks that are ideally suited for stringing data and power cables. There are the prototypes for the bronze bricks featuring The ANT Group’s logo that will be used in a walkway at the Paul Residence (we’re making sure the height of the letters is just right). There are also stands for the wireless speakers that are used in our outdoor planters.

3D printing impacts every part of business at The ANT Group, now, because people’s brains work in all kinds of ways. Prospects like seeing how models of past projects compare to the fully-built structures. Clients like seeing models of their own projects during presentations. Even us architects (who have excellent visualization skills) can benefit from making our designs tangible. It’s exciting finding new ways to use our 3D printer!

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