Solutions to Complex Problems in MEP using 3D Printing
Architects and Engineers face several problems that they must circumvent during the creation of any architectural structure. Primarily, these issues arise when laying out the MEP (mechanical, electrical, and public health) elements. The main reason that such issues occur is that there is a lack of continuity between the various disciplines working on the project, and therefore there is a higher probability for misinterpretation of the projects needs and/or demands. And, while sheets and other visual data can assist in minimising the margin of error in MEP design, utilising 3D Printing for your MEP project can potentially yield a substantially lower risk.
Typically, the mechanical part of MEP focuses on the ventilation and heating/cooling systems for a building. This includes the totality of the HVAC system, ducts, fans and such. Routing the ducts can be problematic if the building is multi-story or if the building has existing piping and structural limitations. You can use BIM software to obtain a 3D rendering of the space. However, this visual can be a false security as scale and layout are often obscured or manipulated by the perspective function of the program (some programs such as REVIT allow you to turn off the perspective effect for a more traditional orthographic visual). Even when such programs do not cause this fault, there is still a margin of error as each viewer will interpret the data differently.
When using a 3D Printer for the space, whether it is commercial or residential, the entire system can be printed and evaluated by all members of the team. Additionally, if there are any problematic areas, for example a duct needs to fillet at an angle of 47.5 degrees instead of 45, you can print the solution to see how it visually, structurally, and realistically will benefit or harm the overall mechanical design.
When it comes to Commercial 3D Printing, electrical components are not something which is generally considered. Yet, there are several components which can be fabricated using a 3D Printer which would otherwise require extensive time and drafting. For example, if you require a circuit breaker with a cylindrical wire housing, traditionally you would need to have that part drawn in 2D for the sheet metal, bent to shape, and then the cylindrical part would need to be welded to the breaker. However, with a 3D Printer, all of the components, bevels, extensions, and holes for the part can be printed in one piece without the need to use traditional, time consuming, joining methods to make the part.
The last, but certainly not the least, part of MEP Design is Public Health. Here is where the 3D Printer can really shine. By combining the existing structural file with the plumbing layout, a company can present a potential client with a miniature, but to scale, layout of the entire plumbing plan. Not only does this boost the probability of approval but is also helps to identify any problematic coordination areas for the Public Health Engineers, Civil Engineer and Architect.
On a smaller, but equally as important scale, the 3D Printer can be used for plumbing during the construction of the building. As a great deal of fixtures are needed, including L joints, T connectors, male to female reducers etc, and as not all the angles needed will have such fixtures available readily on the market, using a 3D Printer to create the needed element is potentially a great way to minimise both cost and time.
Bringing it all together
While each of these components are designed separately, they work together to create the overall MEP plan. Where many companies find their biggest problems is in the merging of these elements together, others have found that it is a helpful feature to productivity. Again, while BIM technology allows the various parties to layer their respective components, it is better that the company print the entire layout (either with or without the structure around it) on a 3D Printer. As these devices allow for multiple colors and materials to be used, the company can easily identify each of the elements of the design (for example have plumbing in pink, electrical in blue, mechanical in green, and all structural elements in grey).
By utilising the 3D Printer for the MEP layout, the design team can identify any continuity errors which may arise in the design process, thus reducing costs and expediating the contract from the conceptualisation phase to the implication of the design.