hpl structural, a German engineering and construction firm specializing in complex steel structures, has found a way to dramatically improve its development process with the integration of 3D printing. Whereas the company’s designers would have typically inspected a digital CAD model to determine its structural feasibility, it can now 3D print physical models of the structures for a more detailed analysis and more accurate presentation.
Installing an in-house FELIX TEC 4
In the building industry, physical models are vital for communicating a structure’s form—especially if it’s a complex structure—to clients and even to the development team. However, cost has often been a prohibiting factor. With the recent proliferation of 3D printing technologies, hpl structural saw a potential opportunity to create models of its steels structures without the big price tag.
Initially, the company explored the technology by working with external 3D printers. When its first print was delivered, everyone at hpl structural was excited as all their expectations had been met. As Frank Heyder, CEO and engineer at hpl structural explains: “Having a 3D printed model made it much ‘easier for the brain’ to understand the complex geometries [we were dealing with].”
hpl structural clients were also enthusiastic about the integration of 3D printed models into the company’s business, which ultimately led the engineering firm to invest in its very own in-house 3D printer: a FELIX TEC 4 by FELIXprinters.
Steinhavel lock renovation project
Recently, hpl structural leveraged its in-house 3D printing to create a model for the Steinhavel lock renovation project near Fuerstenberg, Germany. The large-scale project involves completely renovating the lock and building a large dam, which in turn requires all of the water to be removed. To achieve this—and to keep the lock renovation workers safe—a strong and complex construction is required.
For this project, hpl Ingenieure supplied a team to plan phases of the project as well as to propose a solution for executing the renovation. Crucially, the planning had to take into account that the excavators and cranes needed to get as close to the site and reach down far enough while being mounted on the wall.
With a concept ready to present to local authorities for approval, the hpl team 3D printed the design and built a scale 1:50 model of the building site. The extremely detailed print incorporated the wall as well as scaled construction vehicles and other features. The 3D printed parts were also all magnetic, enabling them to be moved around the baseplate and manipulated by the planners.
Exploring new applications
Not all uses of its FELIX TEC 4 3D printer are that large-scale, however, as hpl engineers have also found applications in printing models of complex joint connections. Heyder adds that the company has also built a tension test mahcine to test the strength and flexibility of 3D printed parts to explore their suitability for actually being integrated into structures.
“Looking back, I could have solved quite a lot of details much easier with a 3D printed model,” said Heyder. “Especially some tricky sealing details.” Going forward, we’re sure Heyder and his team at hpl will continue to explore new applications for additive manufacturing.