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3d Printing for Spatial Problem Solving

3d model of house and driveway

Inspired by an excellent seminar by our friends over at Form3d Services, we ran a small project to look into how 3d printing might help with spatial problem solving.  During the seminar, there was an interesting discussion on how 3d printing could help plan loadouts on supply vessels.   A 3d model of the deck of the ship with models of each piece of cargo used to plan the load-out and solve problems related to awkwardly shaped and outsize cargo.    However, I am sure there is more to planning the load on a ship than just the shape.   Weight is obviously important and there must be software out there that helps with planning how the cargo should be loaded.  However, there was a consensus in the audience that a physical desktop model might indeed be useful in some scenarios.

That got us thinking about a problem much closer to home (literally).  


We have some work planned to remodel and surface our driveway at home.   Our burgeoning household is up to three cars and we can only park two in the drive.  Also, a few of our neighbours have similarly aged offspring, and some of them are starting to add their own cars to our neighbourhood parking problem.  So,  how much bigger does our drive need to be to fit three cars, and how much of our front garden do I need to sacrifice to ensure no car gets boxed in?


There are a few of old-schools ways to plan this out. Graph-paper works well,  the driveway dimensions can be marked out and cut-out cars used to explore the options.   I could model this virtually and view it on a PC screen or VR headset.  Or,  I could create a 3d model and 3d print-it to get the tactile advantages of graph-paper with the interaction and realism of VR.

3d model

We modelled the house, driveway, walls and vehicles in Blender, our go-to choice of software for 3d modelling.    I chose a 1:100 scale ( 1 Blender Unit = 1mm in the 3d Print = 10cm in the real world) to keep the arithmetic simple.

The building plot actually has some slopes,  but this was not a significant factor in the problem to be solved.  We simplified the model by making ground-plane flat and adjusted the base of the buildings accordingly.    This allowed us to use some plastic board that we had in the workshop to mount the models.  The board takes pencil marks quite well which allowed us to draw and rub-out marks, ideal for sketching in where the new driveway and flowerbeds should go.

The model of the house is simple block shapes.  Obviously care is needed to ensure the accuracy of the dimensions, but there is no need to go over the top in adding fine detail.   We left out drainpipes, guttering and detailing for roof tiles.    If we were making this model for public exhibition, we would want some of that detail included.

A quick google search yielded the physical dimensions of the cars we have.   An accurate representation of vehicle dimensions is good enough in this case, therefore  it was not important to create detailed car models.

3d model detail of driveway
Using a white baseboard allows pencil marks to be added and erased


Turns out I need to give up pretty much all of the front garden, save a small flower bed on the side, to driveway.  We were already planning to remove a section of the garden wall, but to make the plan work, we need an extra 1m of wall taken down so that everyone can get their car in and out without blocking access.  Identifying this ahead of time has saved us frustration and cost to rectify later.

Having a physical model on the table is a really useful way to approach this kind of problem.  We found that the model allowed everyone to get engaged in the discussion, explore the options and provide their input.   It is easier to visualise the final result in a 3d model than it would have been with a drawing on graph-paper and it was easier to get four people into one discussion  than it would have been with VR or on a PC where one person drives the mouse while the others look-on.

We’ve found that the biggest benefit of the physical model over the alternatives is the level of engagement you get in the discussion.  Which is why high-end architects use models to engage with clients and why local authorities and developers use them in their public consultations.   Our hope is that 3d printing brings these sorts of applications within the budgets of more modest projects like house extensions and driveways.

3d model of house and driveway

Modelling time:

Approx 4 hours (including checking measurements).

Print time:

Approx 16 hours (on a desktop FDM printer using finest quality setting and 30% infil).   This could have been done a lot faster with coarser print settings and less density on the infil.


If you would like to speak to us about how 3d printing might help your next project contact us here.

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