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MakerBot Z18 ‘mirrors the environment’ for IBI Group

MakerBot Z18 ‘mirrors the environment’ for IBI Group

“Architecture is no longer about placing a building into an available space; it is about shaping the city. It is about getting the roads and infrastructure right – and being aware of the impact we are having on the environment.”

So says Studio Assistant Carla Queiroz who works for IBI Group, a London-based multi-discipline technology drive design firm. Warming to her theme, she continues: “New materials are transforming the possibilities open to us within the architectural arena; while the latest technologies have changed the way we visualise and demonstrate those possibilities to clients.”

The award winning IBI Group has a global reach. Including London, it has eight offices in the UK, stretching from Brighton to Glasgow, with the UK head office based in Manchester. Locations overseas include Europe, USA, South America, Canada the Middle East and Asia

Carla explains: “All the offices are in touch with each other, sharing expertise and experience. We also share access to 3D modelling. Manchester and London both have 3D printers that we use to create models of potential projects. The other UK offices also use them. They are very popular, to the point that we had to design strict protocols and establish time scales for delivery.

“I’m afraid we can’t accept a frantic message from someone who needs a model by lunchtime tomorrow for a crucial client presentation. Average print time is 27 hours, sometimes more, and we need to take the original architectural design as an STL file and edit it into the printer software to ensure the final model is viable. We normally ask for a week from request to delivery.

“The team take the models into client presentations as a physical demonstration of the way the IBI Group visualises the final solution. We can even show how different build structures will fit into the available site, giving clients more choice. When the client holds the physical printed model in their hands, they become an important factor in decision making.

“And we can also print the surrounding environment, add trees, roads, existing buildings and even human figures, so clients can see the building in situ. We get the contract, but we rarely get the model back. In fact, we normally get asked for extra copies so the directors can display them in their offices! The models have become a tremendously effective way to engage with our clients.”

Here in the UK, IBI wanted to bring physical models to better show the way designs evolve and allow clients to engage with the proposal. Carla, as part of the Design Technology team, went about implementing this with a mandate to demonstrate 3D printing as a cost-effective and engaging way of using new technology to both interact with a design – and with clients.

Like every successful company, IBI saw the strategic value in investing in this innovative commodity.

Carla coordinates design technology for the south of England as part of the firm’s global strategy, and works directly with the Regional Design Technology Lead for UK/International. She was looking for a machine that met her ideal parameters of print quality, build volume, and price.

The outcome, a MakerBot Z18 fused deposition modelling printer with a build volume of 6474.46 cubic centimetres and a layer resolution of 100 microns, chatters quietly to itself in its dedicated glass-fronted booth in the main seating area.

“People,” says Carla, “like to watch it in action. And it’s automatic. Once I ‘push the button’ and set it to print I can get on with my day. It is connected to my smartphone so I know when it needs another filament. That has meant coming in at weekends on the odd occasion, but I intend to avoid that in future.

“We were in a more corporate building before we moved to the new offices 18 months ago. I was responsible for the design of the new offices and set out to create a people-centric space with the small nuances that matter, such as plants, light, room to breathe, a kitchen, but also the practical larger touches that service the business. Giving the MakerBot somewhere to get on with its job was one of them.

“The attitude towards the printer has evolved from ‘will we ever use it?’ to ‘how soon can I have my model?’ Now, we always use it! There’s a queue, in fact the demand has grown to the point that I’m putting together a business case for other tools to enhance this service.”

She concluded: “We use classic design thinking with computational design thinking and the best available technology to demonstrate our design solutions to our clients; that includes virtual reality walks around a project, high quality graphics, and, now, 3D printed models, to name but a few. When a building works well it becomes more than a new structure that pops up from a building site; it becomes a mirror of its environment, a reflection of its situation.

“Thanks to the MakerBot printer we can create a physical model to actively demonstrate how our design mirrors the environment. After all, if a picture paints a thousand words, how much more can be said with a 3D model you can hold in your hands and study in detail?”

 For further information on the MakerBot printer, visit

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