How 3-D Printing Is Improving Community Engagement

3-D printing, also called “additive manufacturing,” is a disruptive innovation that has changed the manufacturing landscape.

It has been applied to everything from medical technology to aerospace engineering to fashion.

3-D printing is also changing the world of infrastructure projects. More than providing design efficiencies for engineers, it is also helping local and state governments streamline the public involvement process on large, complex transportation projects.

In Red Wing, Minnesota, a 3-D model of a bridge helped residents and stakeholders get a better understanding of the project.

An effective way to convey complex projects

What happens when a project manager at an agency and one of their many stakeholders can stand together in the same room and physically touch a project?

Public involvement and agency coordination are critical components of any infrastructure project. Both have a common challenge in sharing understandable, but also technically rich, design information. 

Having an accurate physical representation of the project in your hands and visible from all angles makes visualizing the project easy for anyone. It’s a universally effective way to convey the complex details of a project while getting more informed, actionable feedback.

The advent of 3D printing technology also allows a great amount of flexibility to quickly assess and adjust a design as the project is refined through the design process. These alterations can be reflected in the model to give the public a continuous understanding of changes to the project’s scope. It can also be used to show the phases of a project by having removable parts that can then be added to represent the timeline.

The better, faster model of the future

Models have always been used to explain complex construction projects. But with the current technology available, models will likely become an expected component of public involvement work. Models will become relied upon to inform the public about any infrastructure changes happening in their community.

The use of physical models is not a new concept. But with 3-D printers and laser cutters—both with lightning quick production speeds that do not compromise quality — we can now introduce physical models with greater speed and less effort.

About the Author

Kristin Petersen

Kristin Petersen, AICP, has a Masters in Architecture and is certified by the National Charrette Institute. She has extensive experience in public involvement including creating hands-on design workshop tools, facilitating public meetings and workshops, preparing online and print communications, and finds creative ways to engage clients and project stakeholders in the design process. Contact Kristin

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