Cleaning up with RP

16 June 2010

A specialist manufacturer of plumbing products is using 3D printing to help its clients create exclusive one-of-a-kind high-end bathroom fittings

Avid viewers of the BBC TV show Grand Designs will know that bathrooms matter. The room is a canvas for architects and interior designers to showcase their talents in a way that helps set a property apart from the pack.

More fundamentally though, the bathroom “experience” is a critical factor in the discriminating consumer’s willingness to spend and select one property over another.

Symmons Design Studio was used to create the tap fittings for Boston’s Four Seasons hotel

For these reasons, the humble bathroom fittings – the taps, the showerhead, the doorknob – are far too important to overlook when building or re-modelling hotels and luxury homes. Property owners are increasingly demanding oneof-a-kind fittings to deliver a unique experience.

Symmons Industries, a 70-year-old manufacturer of plumbing products, has long served this market with custom design and manufacturing services. The company broke new ground with the launch of a first-of-its-kind virtual design studio for architects, designers and property owners, called Design Studio Live (live.symmons.com).

Design Studio Live is a Web-based program that allows users to create their own products and receive colour 3D physical concepts of their designs within four days, metal prototypes in approximately 15 days, and delivered product for their property in as little as 16 weeks. With the help of this innovative new tool, architects and designers can create unique ideas that translate into exclusive fittings for their
projects right from their desks. Users can begin by digitally paging through a virtual catalog of ready-made designs, dragging them to a virtual light box, and modifying them with Google SketchUp, Adobe Photoshop, SolidWorks, or any other 3D CAD program.

Symmons design consultants are available for program guidance or design advice. However, users are encouraged to experiment as much as they’d like because the tool is designed to encourage reativity.

Physical attraction

Critical to the Design Studio Live formula is the ability to quickly and affordably churn out 3D physical models at high volumes. With this demand, handcrafting models was out of the question due to the time and labour involved. For Symmons, a 3D printer was the answer.

The company had invested in a 3D printer long before Design Studio Live was conceived, but its design consultants only used it intermittently because they had to wait some time for a part to be built. A single tap fitting took 15 hours to print, says Eric Spear, Symmons’ director of custom services. With Z Corporation’s Spectrum Z510 Symmons found it was able to print 12 models in 3.5 hours.This gave it sufficient throughput to create 3D models on demand.

“The design process itself is exciting, but there comes a point when it’s really helpful to see a tangible, physical example of it,” says Spear. “By ZPrinting 3D models, designers can stop looking at their screens and see what the part really looks like in context and feels like in their hands.”

The physical 3D models also strengthen the relationship between an architect and a property owner. “Architects can slide a set of ZPrints across the table – perhaps faucets [taps] of different sizes and shapes – along with a red pencil,” says Spear. “The property owner gets a rare opportunity to handle the models and mark them up. The architect comes back with revised models a couple of days later, and the owner is blown away by the architect’s responsiveness.”

Sitting pretty

3D printing has helped enable Symmons to show off its design capabilities. For example, the Mandarin Oriental, New York wanted a distinctive look and feel for its bathrooms, and its design firm turned to Symmons to help create the details of the design. The bath design called for a shower system that incorporated fittings with a ceiling-mount drench showerhead and a Roman tub filler that was both stylish and simple to operate. Symmons developed custom concepts for its client with an elegantly simple, single control for on/off, hot/cold operation, a feature that helped to overcome the language barrier many international guests experience. ZPrints helped Symmons communicate a range of options to the client, which enabled the team to quickly close on a final solution.

Symmons prints at full tilt five days a week, 20 models a run, according to Spears. In the first four months of use, it produced 4,000 3D prints for a wide range of applications. Most were for client projects, but models also went to tradeshows, “lunch and learn” seminars with designers and architects, and to Symmons’ industrial designers.

The colour capabilities of the ZPrinter are also being exploited and Symmons uses them to accurately represent the popular finish of Onyx. Colour prints also make great promotional handouts – for instance, a brightly coloured model of a tap fitting with an architect’s name on it.

Concluding, Spear says, “It’s a great experience to be the first in market to do this. Our unique ability to host a fullservice virtual design studio with 3D printing capabilities, and do it so painlessly, is a real differentiator and a powerful one that keeps us in top of mind to our clients. Z Corp’s unique speed, colour and affordability make this possible.”
www.symmons.com
www.zcorp.com


         

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