Why Freelance Engineers and Architectural Design Firms Need to Use 3D Building Models

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Freelance architects and engineering design services have been prestigious workers since ancient times. Their expertise helped rulers and conquerors in the past shape the world with their massive castles, palaces, bridges, ships, towers, and perhaps tombs, sometimes of monumental scale. Rulers and conquerors made the resources available but architects and engineers were the ones to make sure that the achievements would be remembered.

Although nearly all parts of the profession remain the same – to efficiently build and create things with a finite amount of resources – throughout centuries and millennia, there have been a lot of improvements on how they do the job. One of the greatest and most highly appreciated of those improvements in recent times is the computerization of design, or more specifically, a design expert’s ability to offer 3D modeling services to clients.

Before an actual physical construction project can start, architects and engineers draw a plan detailing how the building (or any object to be built) should look. The plan, therefore, consists of technical drawings and details of location, dimension, as well as materials/labor and equipment required.

However, the aesthetic aspect of an object is only one of many important things to consider during the planning phase. Designers also have to figure out how the object would function, behave during use, withstand the elements, or naturally degrade over time. In some cases, they need to explain the proper way to make use of the object and perform effective maintenance as well.

2D Drawing Is Still Prominent

Drawing a plan is among the hardest parts of both jobs, and for good reason. The plan must be accurate down to the tiniest details to minimize the risk of budget miscalculation during the construction or manufacturing process. Once the plan has been approved, the client wants the actual object to be consistent with what is proposed.

Any discrepancy may result in late completion time and additional cost on the client’s side, upon which the designers must be held accountable. Small mistakes can be a major setback on designers’ financial situations and more dangerously their reputations. With 3D CAD technology, thankfully, such risk is pretty much avoidable. Computerized 3D building models make the design process quicker and more precise with the lowest possibility of mistakes.

Conventional 2D drawing is still widely practiced in times when architects or engineers want to visualize their ideas in simple ways, or draw rough sketches to be refined later. To this extent, manual drawing is quicker because detailed information is not yet much of a concern.

Bear in mind that a 2D building plan is not always drawn manually. Many CAD programs actually offer a two-dimensional planning approach as well, mainly to create a relatively simple layout of floor plans and overall dimension of a construction project. Compared to 3D models, however, the two-dimensional planning leaves much to be desired in almost all aspects of visual details including textures and materials.

When people talk about 3D building models, they may refer to two completely different things:

Physical Model

Physical model: An actual physical artifact of the object to be built. A model of a building is most likely a scaled-down version of the real thing. It may look exactly the same as the plan, but that is where the functionality ends. Although it is possible to include some mechanical or electrical components in the model (such as revolving doors, lights, streams of water, etc), the model serves no other function aside from being a display.

Virtual Model

Virtual model: A prototype of a building or object that exists only as a digital file. With 3D CAD software, fortunately, this virtual representation may carry real-world properties, albeit as data. For example, a designer can use a certain type of material to construct the roof or wall of a house. More complex models are possibly fitted with HVAC installations, water lines, or fire protection systems, etc. If drawn using Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, the information attached to the model can be tested for adherence with building codes too.

While a physical model is more readily enjoyable for the vast majority of the public, a virtual model is much more practical. Creating a physical model is far from being easy, especially for a complex project, but drawing an accurate 3D virtual prototype is in fact harder.

That being said, it should not be considered a hindrance in a project; instead, it must be regarded as a method to deliver improved efficiency by allowing designers to discover design flaws before the actual construction or manufacturing process starts. Among the biggest advantages of using 3D building models that all architects and engineers can appreciate are as follows:

Better Design Quality than Manual Drafting

Manually drawn mechanical engineering designs have always been quite challenging, even for professionals. Occasional deviations and deformities are not uncommon, but they rarely (if ever) go unnoticed when the designs are built on a computer with 3D CAD software.

Although some programs are created for beginners, hence less complexity, professional-grade applications come with hundreds of pre-formatted templates consisting of commonly used parts and construction components, which can be later modified. In general, accuracy in measurements and textures is easier to achieve.

Faster Design Output

Just like any other application, 3D CAD does every single calculation faster than human brains can. Provided with a good variety of tools to manipulate shapes, forms, alignments, colors, and the dimensions of all components drawn, a designer can complete an entire project within a relatively short time frame.

Of course, completion time depends largely on the complexity of the project and whether an individual or a team handle it; either way, manual drafting is left far behind. If manual drafting is the equivalent of writing with a pencil on a piece of paper, 3D CAD is like typing on a computer, and then some.

The 3D CAD file is more practical to share with all members of the team to ensure zero mistakes before the actual construction begins. It does not matter if the initial 3D design contains some mistakes because revisions can be made without having to repeat the whole process from scratch. You can make changes to specific parts directly on the digital file, without affecting other already-approved components.

Streamlined Documentation

As previously mentioned, 3D CAD files are written and saved in digital form. They can always be printed without deleting the original drawing from a computer or any storage device used. Some designers use cloud storage services, both for backup and easy sharing purposes.

Cloud storage makes the file constantly available via the Internet, but only to those who have authorized access to it. There is no need to carry a physical storage device anytime a designer has to access the file. All they need is a laptop and internet connection to resume work.

An additional benefit of such a documentation system is greater team collaboration. In a project where a lot of individuals are involved as a team, a sharable and accessible digital file is a must. Because everybody works on the exact same file each time, there will be no conflicting information regarding any changes made or the latest design update.

If some projects are too large for an individual designer to handle, a team of professionals should be able to get the job done quicker. Cloud storage is a secure way to store the file and ensure accessibility by the entire team. All works done by every single member of the team are interlinked to each other. It is an effective method to make sure that everybody’s input is heard and considered.

In a large company, collaboration happens not only between individuals on the same team but also among multiple teams assigned to different parts of the building plan. It does not matter how many people and teams working on the design, a combination of 3D CAD and cloud storage is an excellent method to increase productivity.

Everybody in the team can contribute and check each other’s ideas, too. Possibility of design mistakes is pushed down to a minimum; corrections can be made on a daily basis before the plan is completed or submitted to the client to avoid major revisions at a later date. Cloud storage eliminates the need to work in the same room all the time because everyone can access the file from home as well.

Adherence to Local and International Building Codes

Regardless of the scope of projects – whether a single detached house, apartment unit, schools, government facilities, bridges, etc. – all residential and commercial buildings must adhere to local building codes. Remember that not every 3D building model is drawn using CAD software; a lot of modern architectural project plans are created using BIM software instead.

BIM builds a digital representation of an actual building along with some of its major functionalities including but not limited to HVAC and electrical installation besides the aesthetic elements such as roof, windows, floors, walls, and furniture pieces.

Based on the information, collaboration among professionals of multiple disciplines helps ease the process of ensuring compliance with local and international building codes. Certain BIM programs come equipped with an automated plan review to generate annotated information on the BIM file regarding the necessary alterations to be made for compliance. The analysis report of the review may be used later by authorities in determining whether or not the building is ready for permit.

Quicker Revision

In relation to the previous point, making changes to a digital 3D building model is a pretty straightforward process. The annotations generated by BIM software (analysis results of the comparison between the design plan and building codes) are used as the foundations to make quick changes.

With manual 2D building model, revisions may involve re-drawing an entire plan and this process itself is prone to error. Digital 3D models allow for faster and more accurate refinements with minimum risk of making more mistakes. Compliance analysis can be repeated multiple times to eliminate potential issues with a permit.

Efficient Approach to Prototyping

In both architectural and mechanical engineering projects, creating physical prototypes is almost always a requirement. Thanks to 3D CAD technology, there is no urgent need to build a prototype until the digital model reaches a point of being error-free, following virtual tests or simulation.

Using animated model simulation, the designer is able to depict a real-world environment on a computer screen. As long as the data points utilized in every test are accurate, simulation should generate realistic output too, given the model is built as a depiction of physical objects – not only in aesthetics but in physical characteristics too.

It may not be necessary or possible to ask for a prototype of a large building (unless it is a scale model and just for showcasing the aesthetics). However, a prototype is most likely required in smaller projects such as products to be mass-produced. If the product has any form of electrical or mechanical function, the manufacturer wants to be certain of zero design-flaws to begin with. Otherwise, everything is just going to be a bad investment.

Although using a prototype design service is the most effective way to conduct a performance test, 3D model simulation has become a viable alternative. At the very least, designers can see in advance how the test will run and what it does to the product in question.

The process eliminates the need to build a physical prototype over and over again after errors are found and consequently addressed, and this brings significant savings in production cost. End consumers will get the benefit of higher affordability when the product finally reaches the market.

Freedom to Be More Creative

With two-dimension models, the trial-and-error design process is out of the question. It would take too much time and energy to repair an incorrect plan just because the designer wants to try something new. Assuming the plan is manually drafted, a small error may require repeating the entire drafting task. Modern 3D CAD software gives more freedom to designers (especially students) to implement many different ideas and examine the results almost immediately with simulation.

Failure does not mean losing the progress thus far or having to redraw the whole blueprint from scratch. Instant visualization with a simulation engine allows architects and engineers to be more experimental and explore creative ideas. Assuming the idea doesn’t work, the only thing that gets damaged is the image on a computer screen. They can then open the previously saved file and try a new, different idea again.

Designers have many opportunities to identify potential issues early in the process. A 3D building model, unlike its simpler two-dimensional counterpart, offers an all-around field of view. They can rotate and magnify the model on a computer screen with a few clicks.

It may take several hours to visually inspect the joints, tile placements, room’s dimensions, building capacity, and moving components of a 3D model, but it is a necessary process to figure out potential flaws. And thanks to simulation, engineers and architects can pinpoint design mistakes, which may cause the client a fortune to fix, way ahead of time.

Accurate Representation of Components’ Structure

An aesthetic model alone is never enough when building a plan for a large architectural project. All components must be drawn with their actual characteristics as if they are created using real materials. In other words, the components need to behave naturally even in a virtual environment for the sake of accuracy in testing. In addition to shape and dimension, the materials should possess their natural properties as well, such as textures, density, colors, and chemical structures. Volumetric representation allows for more detailed observation of the components’ interiors.

Photorealistic Images

At the end of the designing process, 3D CAD models can be converted into images for visualization or presentation purposes. Once the model has been given various properties including textures and colors, it can be rendered as two-dimensional images on a computer. Additional environmental properties are added as well: for example, lighting, shadows, reflections, and motion in the animated model to make the rendering result more photorealistic.

Some product images in a catalog or brochure are not photos at all but are rendered 3D models. Video rendering is a better option when used as a marketing piece to showcase an architectural project with a 3D 360-degree panorama view.

3D building models save time, effort, and money in creating accurate design plans for both architectural and mechanical engineering projects. In addition to all those saving benefits, properly drawn 3D models can effectively boost the designer’s reputation in the market too.

It is a competitive market, and the only way to stay ahead is by producing flawless works. 3D visualization is always a great marketing piece to showcase designers’ ability to utilize modern tools and implement their architectural/engineering expertise to the real world.

If you’re looking for a bit of help creating a 3D architectural model, connect with us today. We’ll connect you with the best 3D modeling professionals. Contact us today for a free quote.