We’re going through changes here at Tesseract Design. After trying to be all things to all people (okay, several things to a number of people), we’ve decided to reduce the number of services we provide in order to focus on what we enjoy the most: 3D printing. Consequently, we will no longer be offering architectural, BIM consulting, large-scale scanning and other services. We offer many thanks to all of our clients over the last several years! We look forward to being able to give our undivided attention to our 3D printing services.

In honor of these changes, here’s David Bowie:

3D Printing Face-Off

3D Printing Face-Off: FDM vs. SLA

September 25, 2015

There are two main 3D printers in the Tesseract Design shop: an old workhorse of a FDM printer, the Makerbot Replicator 2x, and a fancy-but-finicky SLA printer, the FSL3D Pegasus Touch. I put these two printers head-to-head on an identical printing project and compared the results. I tried to make this as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as I could, and eliminate tech-specific issues from the test. The results weren’t nearly as clear-cut as I had anticipated.

The 3D Print: Octopus

The first challenge was to find a print that would be somewhat challenging, but not too large or difficult to print. I ultimately decided on an octopus model from Thingiverse. The octopus is a popular print for use in promotional materials for 3D printers. It’s got a nice, smooth organic shape. Most importantly, the conical shape of the octopus eliminated the need for support structures. Since the two printers have two very different ways of generating supports, this was important for a fair comparison.

3d printing, tesseract, portland

Rendering of octopus model

The print was performed with a layer height of 0.1 millimeters. This represented the highest resolution of the Replicator 2X, and the lowest resolution for the Pegasus Touch. Also, the print was solid – 100% infill. The Makerbot slicer allows the user to choose an infill value, but the Pegasus slicer only allows for hollowing-out (“shelling”) the model. In order to keep things even, I didn’t shell the Pegasus model, and selected 100% infill for the Replicator 2X.

Print Time

Well, no, it isn’t actually, as the test ended up demonstrating. Nevertheless, that is one area where SLA printing typically has an advantage over extruded FDM printing. The SLA tech uses a laser to cure liquid resin by layer, so the layer can be formed just as quickly as the laser beam can be made to sweep out the shape of the layer. The one drawback with the SLA printer is that the build plate has to lift  out of the resin tank and lower itself back into position with each layer, adding time to the print. The FDM tech requires a mechanical assembly to move around while the extruder squeezes out the heated filament, a process which is much slower.

Not surprisingly, the SLA printer won on this category. The FDM printer took 3 hours and 36 minutes to print out the octopus (including 11 minutes to warm up the build plate and print head). The SLA printer took no more than 1 hour and 53 minutes to complete the print. (Okay, I wasn’t paying attention, and the stopwatch was at 1:53 when I noticed the print had finished.) So the SLA printer completed the job  in approximately half the time than did the FDM printer.



When the “print job done” notification goes off, there is still work to do: all 3D prints require some finishing. This is an area where the SLA printer is at an automatic disadvantage. The print is still coated with sticky resin that needs to be washed off with isopropyl alcohol. This means donning gloves to chisel the print from the build plate, then soaking it an an alcohol bath. Even then the resin isn’t fully cured, and needs to sit in front of a UV-intensive light source for a bit. For me, that means sitting on the windowsill in direct sunlight (if such can be found in Portland) for at least a day. Overall, the SLA printer requires a fair amount of effort after the print is done.

The FDM printer is not without its problems. Usually, it’s an easy matter to remove the print once it’s cooled down, and remove the raft material. (The raft is a layer of material laid down on the print bed before the actual print begins, to help with adhesion.) In some cases – like this one – the raft can be very difficult to remove. For the octopus, I had to very forcefully use an X-acto knife to get the raft off the main part of the body. Bandaids on standby, please! Nevertheless, it was a lot less effort and mess than the SLA printer.


Print Quality

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and ultimately the quality of the print is the final arbiter of the success of the job. Both printers had their problems. It should be noted that neither printer had been “tuned” prior to printing. They both ran the tests in as-is condition.

3d printing, tesseract, portland

The test prints: the Replicator 2X on the left and the Pegasus Touch on the right.

The FDM printer had a few artifacts, most notably stringers running between the coils at the ends of the tentacles. There were also a few small areas on the back of the head where the layers slumped, but these were not very noticeable.

Unfortunately, the SLA printer exhibited an intermittent issue which caused extraneous layers of material to be cured. These are seen as webs between tentacles and “fins” growing out of the head. While these artifacts could be removed with an knife, they really shouldn’t have been there in the first place.



With the three categories considered, it seems that the overall contest would be a draw. To be honest, I’m going to give the nod the the Replicator 2X in the contest. The machine may not consistently produce the smoothest prints, but it has been a reliable workhorse, having logged over 1,200 hours of build time. The Pegasus Touch, on the other hand, has been problematic since it was first booted up. (For more information, see this post and this post.) The most frustrating part is that the Pegasus Touch is capable of producing great prints, but it seems only after spending a lot of time communicating with FSL3D’s tech support and using up consumables troubleshooting the problems. Perhaps this is not an issue with other SLA printers, but it sure has been a problem with mine, alas.

Still, it was interesting to see how both printers fared with identical jobs. I’ll give the edge to the Replicator 2X, as it produced a surprisingly detailed print with minimum finishing issues, even though the print time was considerably longer.



For more information on how Tesseract Design can provide you with 3D printing solutions, please see

Undeserved Recognition

tesseract design, portland, 3d printing, bim

For Immediate Release!


 Tesseract Design Receives 2015 Best of Portland Award

Portland Award Program Honors the Achievement

PORTLAND July 2, 2015 — Tesseract Design has been selected for the 2015 Best of Portland Award in the Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services category by the Portland Award Program.

Each year, the Portland Award Program identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community. These exceptional companies help make the Portland area a great place to live, work and play.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2015 Portland Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the Portland Award Program and data provided by third parties.

About Portland Award Program

The Portland Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Portland area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value.

The Portland Award Program was established to recognize the best of local businesses in our community. Our organization works exclusively with local business owners, trade groups, professional associations and other business advertising and marketing groups. Our mission is to recognize the small business community’s contributions to the U.S. economy.

As much as I’m proud to be contributing to the U.S. economy, I was a bit nonplussed to get the email announcing this “award.” I had to laugh when I saw the bit about “sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners.” I think that the main source of information involved was “this organization exists.” I was scratching my head about the whole affair until I saw what was required to claim the nifty-looking award pictured above. A recipient needs to shell out $150-$230 to receive the actual award gee-gaw. A-HA! It’s just like one of those “Who’s Who of American Students,” that prints a huge list of students’ names, and then gets the parents to shell out big bucks to purchase a copy of the book. I’m not going to get the plaque, but I sure wasn’t going to let a nice press release go to waste!

To see how Tesseract Design can help you achieve excellence in professional, scientific and technical services, please see

3D Printing with Resin

3D Printing with the Pegasus Touch:

Live at Last!

3d printing, tesseract, portland

Amazing detail available through the SLA printing process

Those who regularly read this blog know that I have been grappling with a new 3D printer, the FSL3D Pegasus Touch. In previous posts (here and here), I’ve documented some of the challenges I’ve had getting this machine to function properly. Basically, it’s a promising technology, and capable of some really amazing and detailed prints. I had a helluva time getting the FSL3D Pegasus Touch to work properly, though.

I should have known I was in for some rough sailing. I preordered the machine, expecting a delivery date a few months later. When the anticipated delivery date came and went, I was informed that there was a delay due to a batch of bad laser diodes. When I asked what the new expected ship date was, I was told that my unit had already shipped. Not surprisingly, it had a bad laser diode. Thus began a seven-month back and forth with FSL3D, which culminated in me shipping the printer back to their Las Vegas headquarters and saying “Fix it right!” Fortunately, they were able to get it working properly, but the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. If I had it all to do over again, I probably would have gone with a manufacturer with a more robust customer support system

A quick recap of how stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing works: the process uses an ultraviolet laser to cure a photosensitive resin.. The laser is controlled by very precise movements of servo-controlled mirrors, which reflect the laser through the bottom of an optically clear resin tank. The laser cures the resin layer-by-layer, which adheres to a build plate that raises up out of the resin tank as the build progresses. The video below shows this process in action:

The process isn’t super-fast. The laser cures each layer quickly, but the build plate has to raise up a bit to allow uncured resin to re-coat the bottom of the resin tank, which adds a lot of time to the process. Also, the Pegasus Touch is capable of layer heights as small as 25 microns. That’s a lot of layers, and a lot of time. I’m not sure if it’s really any faster that the old Replicator 2X – I intend to to a side-by-side time test soon to find out for sure.

Regardless of issues with the manufacturer and the print time, the finished product is amazing. I had been trying for months to print an Eiffel Tower model – my Grail for high-definition 3D printing. Just for yuks, I tried printing one on the Replicator 2X at the highest settings, but the results were rather disappointing. The structural members were grainy and incomplete, and the model fell apart as I was removing it from the printer.

3d printing, tesseract, portland

Sub-par Eiffel Tower model from FDM 3D printer

Fortunately, the re-calibrated Pegasus Touch was up to the task, and produced an amazing Eiffel Tower.

3d printing, tesseract, portland

SLA Eiffel Tower model

The detail on this model was very impressive. The handrail portion is particularly delicate, but well-defined in the print. I dug out the calipers to check the sizes: the handrail is 0.9 mm wide and the balusters an amazing 0.2 mm! Incredible detail, and I think this machine holds a lot of promise.

I’m glad that the SLA technology has become available for hobbyists and small businesses. There is a pretty steep learning curve for this, as with all new technology. Also, there are some very big differences between 3D printing with SLA, and the more common “prosumer” extruded filament tech. Overall, I’m pleased with how this machine is performing, and look forward to seeing what else it can do.

To find out how Tesseract Design can help you with your 3D printing needs, please see

Finding Time to Adopt BIM

Sharpen Your Axe!

April 17, 2015

“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”

-Abraham Lincoln

bim, revit, tesseract, portland

One of the most common excuses I hear from design professionals regarding why they don’t want to switch from 2D drafting to BIM is, “I just don’t have the time.” This is akin to being too busy chopping wood to sharpen your axe.

It can seem difficult to find the time to make important changes. When deadlines loom, the tunnel vision sets in and it becomes almost impossible to focus on anything other than the immediate task at hand. Unfortunately, this can get to be a downward spiral of time and pressure. For AEC firms, particularly small ones, it can be a constant mad scramble to complete work, or a constant mad scramble to find work. Finding time to switch to BIM from 2D drafting seems nearly impossible. Such a huge workflow change seems too disruptive, even if implementing it would result in a substantial increase in productivity. Pretty soon all one can do is keep chopping madly with an ever-duller axe.

It takes an effort to shake off the tunnel vision the proposal/deadline spiral, but that effort is well worth the reward – even if it moves you out of your comfort zone for a while. I know this quite well, for I had a similar experience as an architecture student. During the last term of the aptly-named “terminal studio,” I decided to step away from my design work in order to teach myself a proto-BIM application called Architectural Desktop (ADT). Doing this was not an easy matter. There is a great deal of pressure associated with the final design studio in architecture school, and to simply quit designing with only a few weeks to go until the final review was a tough call. I spent a week working through a “Teach Yourself ADT” book while all around me my colleagues were cranking away on their designs. I wondered if I hadn’t made a big mistake, but I had seen what ADT could do, and knew that it was going to be worth it in the long run.

Of course, it paid off. Once my week of self-imposed training had finished, I was about to launch back into my design work with greatly increased efficiency. I was easily able to create a good design and great-looking graphics for the presentation with significantly less effort than I would have needed if I hadn’t learned ADT.

BIM tools like Revit are even more powerful than ADT – and arguably easier to learn. BIM promises much greater efficiency and streamlined graphics creation, and I have to admit that I am frequently puzzled as to the resistance that some folks in the AEC industry show towards adopting this incredible set of tools. (Also, keep in mind that BIM literacy is going to be a greater factor in firm competitiveness, too – but that’s a topic for another post.)

So get out there and sharpen your axe! Take the time to make a plan and transition to BIM from the outdated 2D drafting workflow. Take a tip from Honest Abe: the time you spend sharpening your metaphorical axe will be repaid many-fold by the increased amount of wood that you’ll be able to chop.

For more information on how Tesseract Design can help you wield the sharp axe of BIM, please see


3D Printer Roundup

3D Printers: The Good, The Bad, and the Inoperable


The beginning of 2015 has been an adventuresome time for 3D printing at Tesseract Design. Given that 3D printing is a relatively new technology, the machines can sometimes be a little finicky. In mid-January, I was having some issues with the printers that were giving me a major case of heartburn. Well, that’s all part of the crazy, rock-n-roll world of 3D printing. Here’s the lowdown.

The Good: Makerbot Replicator 2X

This printer has been a real workhorse, racking up nearly 1000 hours of print time. Consequently, I was more than a little dismayed when the print quality on this machine took an abrupt downward turn. This was an exceptional bummer, as it meant that I had to start turning away paying work. Over the two years that I’ve owned the Rep2X, I’ve had to take it apart and put it back together a number of times. In the past, Makerbot support had provided exemplary service and advice, and I knew I could rely on them if the printer started acting flaky. Alas, that is no more. Now one either has to pony up for their MakerCare plan, or pay $100 to talk to a live support person to aid in diagnosis and repair.

Given that I was turning away paying jobs, I was just about to cough up the Franklin to get some help. At the last moment, I decided to go through the notebook of fixit instructions I had accumulated over previous problems that I’d had with the printer. This was a good call, as I hit paydirt on the second try. The problem was that the gantry (the structure on which the print head moves back and forth) had come out of alignment. It was a relatively simple matter to realign the gantry and get the Rep 2X back to normal print quality.

3d printing, tesseract, portland

Make Magazine articulated robot model in a variety of action poses.

To check the print quality, I decided to try printing the Make Magazine robot, designed by Samuel N. Bernier. The robot has multiple points of articulation, but is printed all in one go – so it comes straight out of the printer ready to rock. I scaled it up by about 50% before printing it. This meant that the spaces between the moving parts were likewise scaled, resulting in a very loose-limbed robot. Regardless, this model really piqued my interest in the inherent possibilities of 3D printing objects with moving parts with no assembly required.

The Bad: RapMan 3.0

Ah, my old RapMan. I build this out of a kit nearly four years ago. After some teething issues, I finally got it to produce some half-decent prints in PLA and ABS. Sadly, the electronics board went blooey some time back. Further, the original manufacturer, Bits from Bytes, no longer exists, making it impossible to get a replacement board. So I went to the DIY 3D printing wizards at Hedron Technology to get some help adapting a RAMPS board to the RapMan. James Mitchell put a lot of time into getting the printer running again – thanks James!

3d printing, tesseract, portland

Revitalized RapMan with RAMPS controller board.

So the old printer is running pretty much as well as it previously had. But here’s the rub: that wasn’t all that good to start with. This was a great project for learning the basic concepts of 3D printing, but maybe it’s time to let it go. It’s got some beefy NEMA 23 stepper motors that could probably be used to make a large delta printer. I’m on the lookout for open-source delta printer design; if you have any suggestions, please email me at

The Inoperable: Pegasus Touch

In a previous post, I talked about my initial experiences with the FSL3D Pegasus Touch, a resin-based stereolithography (SLA) printer. I was excited about the new (to me) printer technology, even though I was running into more debugging issues than I had initially expected. Sadly, this printer has continued to be nothing but a frustrating time-suck.

I’ve gone round after round with FSL3D’s support service, and yet nearly 6 months after receiving the printer, I still cannot get a decent print out of the thing with any sort of regularity. The most frustrating thing is that the Pegasus Touch does show signs of enormous potential. For example, I’ve tried printing out the Eiffel Tower model that they frequently use in marketing images, with no success. However, it gets the millimeter-sized hand railing right almost every time, even thought the rest of the model is a mess.

3d printing, tesseract, portland

Pegasus Touch with front panel removed.

In the latest round, I’ve had to remove the front panel and the laser diode, and ship it to Las Vegas for repair by FSL3D. I really hope this fixes the issue, because at this point, I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, only to have Lucy snatch it away at the last moment – again. Not a good feeling.

Then again, that’s how things work in a still-emerging technology like 3D printing. There’s always bound to be some growing pains as the tech develops. It wouldn’t be interesting otherwise.


For information on how Tesseract Design can provide you with 3D printing solutions, please see

3D Scanning for Architecture

Capturing Reality: Architectural 3D Scanning and Modeling


One of the big challenges of an architectural renovation project is obtaining accurate documentation of existing conditions. As anyone who has worked on such a project can tell you, “as built” drawings can be anything but. Even for relatively recent projects, the task of accurately documenting the final built project often gets overlooked, or done in a hurry. For older or larger buildings, previous renovations may not have been documented at all, or those drawings have been lost. Relying on existing documentation can be a risky bet. Sometimes these drawings deviate from real conditions by a significant amount. If not noticed in time, these deviations can result in re-design delays or costly changes in the field.

Fortunately, 3D scanning offers a thorough way to accurately document existing conditions for buildings and spaces, regardless of size and complexity.

3D Laser Scanning vs. Tape Measure & Clipboard

3D laser scanning is an unbeatable way to get fast, thorough and highly accurate documentation of existing building conditions. In this blog’s very first post, I briefly touched on this aspect of 3D scanning. I recently had a chance to do a 3D scanning and modeling project, and would like to cover this in more detail.

The traditional way to document existing conditions was to send a couple of interns to the site with a tape measure and clipboard to measure and record the important dimensions of the space. There are a number of drawbacks to this method: it’s time-consuming, open to potential inaccuracies, and not very thorough. With 3D laser scanning, however, one can quickly develop an accurate representation of the space that can be very easily converted to a 3D model in Revit.

The scans are also treasure troves of information, and it is a simple matter to directly open a scan and pull a measurement, something that is extremely limited with the traditional tape-measure-and-clipboard method. Need to know the distance from the top screw of the lightswitch plate to the end of the third slat of the Venetian blind? Easy to reference with a 3D scan.

3d scanning, bim, tesseract, portland

Getting post-facto measurements from a 3D scan is easy.

Some may be concerned that the cost of 3D scanning may be prohibitively expensive, but this is just not so. A large construction company recently compared two jobs of similar scope where they needed to document existing conditions. The first, a building in downtown Portland, was done with a crew using a hand-held laser measuring tool (a slight step up from a tape measure). This was done with a crew that cost $75/man-hour and took 800 man-hours, for a total cost of $60,000. The other project, a building on the University of Washington campus, was done with a 3D scanning crew costing $150/man-hour. Despite the more expensive outlay, the scanning was completed using 240 man-hours of time, for a total cost of $36,000. So, the construction firm not only spent less time and money, they came away with a much more accurate record of the existing conditions.

Anatomy of the 3D Scanning Process

Recently, Tesseract Design was commissioned to scan and model portions of a high school outside of Eugene, Oregon. We used a Faro Focus scanner to do the job. The function of the Focus was described in detail in a previous post, but to summarize, the Focus shoots out hundreds of thousands of laser pulses per second, returning a point cloud of data of the surrounding environment.

Each point cloud represents a line-of-sight view of what the scanner can “see” at any one position. There is an art and science to planning the series of scans in order to get the most information with the fewest number of scans. Looking at the existing drawings can be useful in developing an overall scan strategy, but as I’ve already mentioned, relying on as-builts is a dubious endeavor. One of the biggest problems is that there is often furnishings in the spaces that can block out large parts of the scans. In the case of the school in Eugene, I encountered an issue right away: the locker room was full of lockers! (Who’d have figured?) These lockers were six feet tall, and of course not indicated on the drawings, so I had to wing it.

While planning is important to 3D scanning, even more vital is to have targets. Lots and lots of targets. My rule of thumb is to come up with the number of targets that you think would be reasonable, and then double that number. In a scanning project, the scanning part is easy. The tricky part is registration, which is the process by which the individual scans are knitted together to form a unified whole. Having a cartload of targets in the scans makes this difficult job somewhat easier. Or, in some cases, prevents a difficult job from being downright impossible.

There are two types of targets that can be used: spheres and checkerboards. The spheres are handy in that they can be seen from a number of different angles, but they can be hard to identify in the registration software. I tend to rely on printed checkerboard targets, which I print with an identification number so I can be sure to keep track of which target is which.

3d scnning, bim, revit, tesseract, portland

Scanner’s-eye view of a 3D scan. Green circle indicates a sphere target, checkerboard targets have black-and-yellow crosses. The “lunchbox” objects represent the placement of the scanner for other scans.

 Registering the 3D Scans

Once the scanning is done, the challenge is to register the scans to a unified whole. The Faro Focus scanner is very easy to use; the Scene software used to register the Faro scans is not. In fact, it is one of the most ornery, non-intuitive software packages I’ve ever had to use. Other applications, such as Autodesk’s ReCap promise an easier time of scan registration, but for this project I opted to deal with the devil I knew rather than grapple with an unknown.

Fortunately, the process went pretty smoothly. I had enough targets scattered about so that Scene was able to register a large number of the scans automatically. The only hitch was the transition where I went from indoors to outdoors, which Scene found confusing. I had to “force” a number of targets – that is, manually require the software to match targets by name. I also had to use some of the features of the scan (flat walls or planes) to help Scene make some fine-tuned alignments. Overall, the registered scans came out pretty well, although there were times when Scene severely tried my patience.

3d scanning, bim, tesseract, portland

Registered scan of the locker room area, birds-eye view.

Pulling it into Revit

The final step in the project was pulling the scan into Revit and modeling the scanned features. The biggest obstacle was a hitch in which the Faro software and Revit communicate with each other. This is a known issue, but both Faro and Autodesk seem to expect the other to tackle the solution. In the end, I found a workaround by exporting the registered pointcloud in a LIDAR format, and importing that into Revit. Once in Revit, I could simply begin modeling over the 3D pointcloud to develop an accurate model of the high school. There are tools and workflows that help automate this process, but in this case I preferred to stick with simply using the 3D pointcloud as the basis of the Revit model. The results were quite satisfactory, and there were features of the finished Revit model that would have been difficult to accurately model with the old-fashioned tape-measure method.

3d scanning, Revit, bim, tesseract, portland

Exterior of gym with locker interiors modeled over the pointcloud in Revit


For more information on how Tesseract Design can help you harness the power of 3D scanning, see

3D Scanning Smaller Objects

More Than One Way to Scan a Monkey


Getting a good scan and 3D print of smaller objects can be difficult without high-end equipment. As we shall see, it can also be challenging with sophisticated gear, as well. In a previous post, I discussed the ins and outs of scanning a 3d printing a small object, in this case a 8″ figurine of a monkey reading a book. Previously, I had scanned the Readin’ Monkey with the 3D Systems Sense handheld scanner, and created a 3D model with photographs and Autodesk’s 123D Catch software. The results were good, but not great, and I wanted to see if there was a better way to scan the Readin’ Monkey and get a good 3D print.

Matter and Form 3D Scanner

As far as consumer-level 3D scanners go, the 3DS Sense is good for medium- to large-sized objects (it gets great scans of people), but does rather poorly with smaller objects and details. Desiring the ability to get good scans of smaller objects, and hopefully greater detail than the Sense, I purchased the Matter and Form 3D scanner. This is a turntable scanner similar to the Makerbot Digitizer scanner. I opted for the Matter and Form scanner because it was: 1) less expensive, and 2) had a larger scan volume. I’m a sucker for a larger scan/build volume, something that has caused problems before.

3d scanning, 3d printing, tesseract, portland

The Readin’ Monkey on the Matter and Form scanner

The Readin’ Monkey was placed on the scanner’s turntable, which is several inches from the scan head. The turntable makes a 360-degree rotation, then the scan head moves up an inch or so and the process is repeated until the entire object is scanned. There are three big differences between the Matter and Form scanner and the Sense scanner:

  • The first is that with the Matter and Form scanner tracks automatically, so there is no chance of the scanner “losing track” of the scan.
  • The second is that the Matter and Form scanner uses a visible red laser (unlike the Sense’s IR laser), which is more sensitive to ambient lighting conditions and reflective glare from the object being scanned. In order to overcome the latter, one can lightly dust the scanned object with baby powder to give it a matte finish. (I chose to do this during rush hour, stepping out the front door of the building, which is on a busy street in Portland. I got plenty of bemused looks from passersby who were surprised by the sight of a man shaking baby powder on a monkey figurine on the side of Hawthorne Boulevard.)
  • The third is that the Matter and Form scanner “sees” the scan object linearly. In order to get a good overall 3D model of the Readin’ Monkey, multiple scans had to be taken, with the RM in different orientations. The Matter and Form software does a really good job of stitching together the scans into an overall digital model of the object, but as each scan can take upwards of an hour, and I took 7 scans of the Readin’ Monkey to ensure a good model, the process was time-consuming. Also, it can also take nearly an hour for the software to combine the individual scans into a unified whole, so the Matter and Form scanner can take the better part of a day to produce what the Sense scanner can do in a matter of minutes.

However, the proof of the pudding is in the quality of the scans. The Matter and Form scanner did, at the end of the day, produce a better scan than the Sense scanner. The following image shows a comparison on the two scans:

3d scanning, 3d printing, tesseract, portland

Comparison of scans from the Sense and Matter and Form scanners

Overall, the Matter and Form scanner performed pretty well. There were just a few drawbacks: the amount of time required to perform multiple scans, an irritating tendency for the scanner to lose connection with the computer, and some horizontal striation in the model. This is somewhat evident in the comparison image above, but became readily apparent when the model was printed on the Makerbot Replicator 2X.

3d scanning, 3d printing, tesseract, portland

Striations on 3D print from the Matter and Form scanner

At first, I was concerned that the striation was indicative of a problem with the printer. I’ve been tinkering around with the printer due to some print quality issues, so the striation issue may be a combination of a scanner issue and a printer issue. I’ll update as these issues get worked out.

Faro Focus Scanner

It just so happened that about this time I got my mitts on a high-end Faro Focus scanner, which I was using to scan the interior of a high school for another project. This is a heavy-duty piece of scanning equipment, which is used for taking 3D scans of building interiors and exteriors. (More details on this in an upcoming post, but you can see and example of a building scan here.) I took the opportunity to use this scanner to scan the Readin’ Monkey, thinking that I would be able to get a really high-quality scan. While I did get a good scan, I had problems processing the output of the scanner into something that would be usable by a 3D printer.

Without going into too much detail, the output of the Faro Focus is a raw point cloud of X,Y and Z coordinates, whereas the output of the Sense and Matter and Form scanners are printer-ready STL files. The problem that I encountered was that the Focus shoots so many laser points that there is a fair amount of scattering that occurs along the edges of the target. I took eight scans of the Readin’ Monkey with the Focus, and when they were stitched all together, there was a wonderfully detailed scan of the RM, but it was surrounded by a nimbus of random scattered points.

3d scanning, 3d printing, tesseract, portland

Faro Focus Readin’ Monkey scan with scattered scan points

When converted directly to an STL file, the result is a “blobby mess” that I didn’t even try to print. The trick is in finding a way to filter out points that are a certain distance away from other points. The software the accompanies the Focus is incredibly difficult to use, and I was not able to figure out how to successfully filter out the unwanted points. I suspect that other apps such as Blender or MeshLab will be able to accomplish this, and I’m looking forward to seeing what can be achieved with these tools.

Overall, it’s been very interesting to see how the Readin’ Monkey can be scanned and replicated with a 3D printer. So far, the Matter and Form scanner has produced the best scanning results. (I’m still working on ways to eliminate the striation issue.) As I run across other ways to scan and print the RM, I will be sure to post the results to this blog.


For more information on how Tesseract Design can help you with your 3D printing and scanning projects, please see


More 3D Printing and Scanning

New Adventures in 3D Scanning and Printing


3D Scanning & 3D Printing Headphones for Critters

Tesseract Design has had some interesting jobs come through in the last couple of weeks. The first was a job from a local production company that is making a TV commercial for the Oregon Lottery. They needed headphones for some small animals – originally a cat, but the script was changed to incorporate a dog and a guinea pig.

The production company provided full-scale headphones that would be worn by the human actors in the commercial. I removed one of the cans and performed several 3D scans with a Matter and Form turntable scanner. The headphone strap looked like it was going to be problematic to scan, so I modeled it directly in 3D Studio Max.

One of the problems was the size of the headphones – we weren’t sure exactly how large they needed to be to fit the animals. The initial swag was 2/3 size for the dog, and 1/5 size for the guinea pig. Of course, one the scanning and modeling was done, it was a simple matter to scale the objects.

3d printing, 3d scanning, tesseract design, portland

Scaling the headphone cans prior to 3D printing.

In order to try to match the original look of the headphones, the pieces were printed in black and red. The cans were separated into upper and lower models. The lowers were printed in black ABS, which has a matte finish. For the upper part of the cans, it was desired to have a glossy finish, so they were finished with an acetone vapor bath (for more information on this process, please see this previous post).

As it turned out, the dog’s headphones fit well, but the ones for the guinea pig were a little small.

3d printing, 3d scanning, tesseract design, portland

Little Binky’s headphones were a bit too snug, requiring a larger reprint

Fortunately, it was a simple matter to scale up the model and reprint them in a more guinea pig-appropriate size. Shooting for the commercial starts this week; I hope to be able to provide a link for the finished commercial when it airs.

UPDATE: The Oregon Lottery commercial has aired. The critter phones look good for the fraction of a second that they appear onscreen.

3D Scanning for Fashion

Tesseract Design has teamed up with bespoke shoe designer Saint-Jean Shoes to provide “perfect fit” custom shoes. Saint-Jean has a network of 3D scanning providers that will scan the customer’s feet in order to provide the most accurate measurements for the custom shoes. Saint-Jean Shoes has scan points available all over North America, Europe and Asia.

3D scan of a foot used to make bespoke Saint-Jean Shoes

The scans are then sent to Saint-Jean Shoes and used to create high fashion footwear. Who says high-tech and high-fashion aren’t compatible?

An example of the finished product


For more information on how Tesseract Design can provide you with 3D scanning and 3D printing solutions, please see

BIM Coordination During Design

Do It Right the First Time – Using BIM to Coordinate Systems During Design

November 22, 2014

Leveraging BIM for Design Fees

One of the problems encountered with implementing a BIM program in a design firm is the difficulty in leveraging the use of the BIM tools to generate more direct design fees. Of course, the use of BIM has plenty to offer in terms of greater efficiency and productivity, as I’ve mentioned in several previous posts (here and here). It would be great if a design firm could demand a higher fee by using sophisticated BIM tools – and it can be done. Depending on the market segment the firm is pursuing, it can be easier or harder to make the argument for higher fees for using BIM. Some design firms worry that, given the cutthroat business environment there’s been in the last six years or so, their clients (or potential clients) won’t give a hoot how the drawings are produced, as long as there is a legible stack of construction documents at the end of the design process. However, many more sophisticated clients understand the value that BIM brings not only to the design process, but also the construction and post-occupancy phases of the project. And they’re willing to pay extra to come away with a well-managed BIM model in addition to a stack of paper drawings.

Design firms can also make use of the BIM-based design by offering additional services based on the BIM model. These can be commissioning or post-occupancy studies, as well as space planning or maintenance scheduling. However, most of these “add-servs” aren’t possible until the construction – or at least the design – is complete. However, there is one highly marketable service available for the BIM-savvy designer during the design process: design coordination amongst the various disciplines.

Delivering a Well-Coordinated BIM Design

Of course, the designer always has a responsibility for performing coordination with the engineers and other technical design consultants. In the past, due diligence in this area has taken the form of overlaying plans and sections for various disciplines and checking for problems with architectural/structural/MEP system clashes. While this will pick up the more obvious clashes, it also allows smaller or well-hidden clashes to make it into the field, frequently resulting in costly RFIs and change orders. Now, BIM tools such as Navisworks takes systems coordination to a much more detailed level.

Navisworks is an “aggregator” program capable of importing a large variety of 3D file formats and overlaying them in their proper positions. Tests can then be performed to determine whether there are any clashes or intersections between different systems or objects in the models. These tests can be highly customized to make sure they are only turning up relevant clash issues. This information can be fed back to the design team, who can then quickly make adjustments to prevent these clashes from reaching the field.

navisworks, bim, tesseract design, portland

Navisworks is capable of coordinating multiple complex systems

When working on a project that is entirely or mostly BIM-based, clash detection tools can be used to detect very obscure clashes and fix them during the design process. This is much less expensive than dealing with these clashes in the field, which frequently leads to large cost overruns. In the past, it has mostly been general contractors who have performed these clash tests, frequently having BIM models created from 2D design documentation in order to do so. Now, designers have the ability to perform this function during the design process, and earn more money by doing so. Additionally, they will be delivering a better design that will be less costly to construct – resulting a a happier client.

300% Return on Investment

Convincing the client to pay for additional coordination services during design can be challenging, but having strong numbers to back up your argument can help your pitch. Here’s a number that’s hard to argue with: a 300% return on investment for systems coordination during design. That’s right, for every dollar spent doing clash detection during late design, the owner will save $3 in the field in reduced rework costs. That’s a pretty impressive figure.

This number was validated with several projects. The first was a small mixed-use building. A Navisworks coordination effort was performed at the very end of the design process. The time spent doing clash detection was compared with the GC’s estimates of how much money had been saved by correcting these projects before they reached the field. It was determined that the project avoided $9,000 in field costs by incurring $2,945 of costs for Navisworks coordination, resulting in an ROI of 306%.

On a subsequent project, it was desired to perform a more in-depth study. This project was for a high-rise renovation project – a deep renovation which included taking the original building down to the structure. The Navisworks coordination was begun early during the CD production process. At weekly coordination meetings, the participants would review each clash, and make a determination over whether a particular clash would have made it into the field, or would have otherwise been caught during a traditional coordination/QC process. The vast majority of the clashes fell into this latter category.

For the clashes that would have made it into the field, a worksheet was generated. The designer, GC and relevant trade contractor were consulted, and an estimate of the time and cost of fixing each of the clashes in the field was generated. These included an administrative cost (usually $750 per rework item), and costs related to additional design work, additional GC involvement, additional trades work, and cost associated with schedule delays. These were totaled for the entire project and compared against the costs of performing the clash coordination.

bim, navisworks, portland, tesseract design

Sample worksheet used for estimating clash field costs

The costs included time spent running the clash tests, time spent by designers and contractors in meetings, and the cost of the Navisworks software. Total costs were $43,402.

The savings were based on an estimate of 21 RFIs that were averted, plus additional costs to electrical, mechanical and fire protections systems. Total estimated field savings was $127,850, for a total ROI of 295%.

Rewards of BIM

The rewards of using BIM are multifaceted, as I’ve discussed in earlier posts (see The Benefits of Being a BIMwit for details). Often, it seems as if the designer’s effort in adopting BIM goes unrewarded, at least from some clients. There are other clients who not only appreciate the use of BIM on their projects, but require it as well. Sophisticated owners such as these should willingly pay additional fees for BIM-related ad-servs such as Navisworks clash detection. This effort is well worth the cost, having provided a 300% return on investment on multiple projects. Why not include additional services in your BIM planning? The rewards of using BIM should be straight-up profitable along with all of the other intangible benefits.


For more information on how Tesseract Design can provide you with Navisworks coordination and training, please see