From laboratories and research facilities to the consumer market, 3D printers have exploded in popularity and affordability in recent years. The innovation seen in 3D printing is beginning to make an impact throughout various industries. Matt Griffin is the director of community for Ultimaker, a global 3D printing solutions company and spoke with MarketScale at AIA last week about the growing versatility of 3D printing and where to the architecture industry can expect the technology to pop up in the future.

One of the biggest trends of late is the dramatic decrease in the price of not only 3D printers, but also the materials used to make the products. Ultimaker’s printers are low cost, averaging at just under $6,000 according to Griffin.

“In the past, 3D printers were expensive, and you’d have to use a third party team with other costs involved, so people were more hesitant to use it,” Griffin said.

In regards to software, modern innovation has enabled greater user-accessibility. Architects can use whatever design tools they want, according to Griffin.

“Mesh export has been a priority for a reason and there has been a lot of rendering software that has been able to be applied. You can almost always use your own personal mesh models and export it to our software. The people using this software can kick out models and meshes from their designs and use them for project iteration,” he said.

With this expansion in technology comes expansion in industries. One new frontier for 3D printing is architecture and urban planning.

“The use cases keep showing up. In urban planning, people will make master plan models but also make another layer of data visualization to give a better picture of what’s going on. To make it physically means you can communicate better to stakeholders what you are doing,” Griffin said.

“The main use in this field is designing, but now were seeing a lot of different kinds of planning. Many contractors and planners are finding this helpful in better communicating and visualizing to stakeholders and others involved in a project, and it’s no longer a laborious process,” Griffin added.

In the past, print scale digital models took days to render.  This is no longer a week-long agononizing project with tens of thousands of dollars of costs. This process is now expedited with cheap materials and quick processing.

By expediting the amount of time it takes architects and contractors to visualize a project, and by doing so with greater detail, 3D printing companies like Ultimaker can be of great use.