psMetalltechnik GmbH, a design office for metal and glass construction based in the Swiss canton of Zurich, may be small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in skill. Unlike its peers, it uses SOLIDWORKS almost exclusively to design blueprints for projects that can get to be quite large and complex. Why? Because, in addition to maximum freedom of design and parametric modelling, SOLIDWORKS offers realistic 3D views to impress designers, architects and clients alike.
Paul Strasser is what you would call a seasoned expert. After more than 30 years working in metal construction and design, the owner and managing director of psMetalltechnik GmbH—a design office founded in 1992—is not easily fazed. Clients seek him out when they’re faced with a particularly tricky challenge. And along with Marco Stotzer, a specialist in metal construction, and their vocational trainee, he pulls out all the stops to solve it. “We don’t believe in compromising quality, even if the current trend is to squeeze turnaround times and minimise cost, essentially demanding premium solutions at rock-bottom prices. That’s akin to asking us to square a circle.”
One of the designers’ recent projects was the BMW Group Brand Experience Center in Dielsdorf, Switzerland. In this case, the builder charged with constructing the futuristic glass-and-metal facade was explicitly instructed to work with Mr Strasser and his team on the design. “We’re always searching for the perfect balance of functionality and cost,” explains Mr Strasser, who holds an advanced degree in metal construction. Depending on the level of detail, he even participates in the architectural process, turning a rough outline into something producible. But Mr Strasser emphasises, “This only works if all three players—the architect, designer and metal construction specialist—work together as a harmonious team.”
We don’t believe in compromising quality, even if the current trend is to squeeze turnaround times and minimise cost, essentially demanding premium solutions at rock-bottom prices. That’s akin to asking us to square a circle.
psMetalltechnik considers the 3D CAD tool SOLIDWORKS to an indispensable component in fostering the kind of teamwork he’s after. An example of this is the interior design of the new BMW Group Brand Experience Center. The interior architect wanted to install off-centre glazing, designed as rotating glass louvres, measuring 10 metres wide by 3.5 metres high. Two of them would serve as an entrance to the showroom behind them, so they had to be suitably adjustable. The design of the glazing and in particular the louvres’ metal fittings ultimately fell to Mr Strasser and his team. “The architect absolutely wanted these louvres and asked us if we could make it happen. And we were able to, but only with the help of 3D design in SOLIDWORKS.”
Mr Strasser learned the importance of excellent, thorough and reliable work during his vocational training as a locksmith—and he continues to apply these principles of craftsmanship today. It was for this reason that he switched to 3D CAD early on. In 1996 he became one of the first design offices in Switzerland to work with SOLIDWORKS and since 2003 he and his team have designed almost exclusively using that same program’s 3D features. This is rather unusual for a construction design office, which has multiple specific, highly specialised tools at its disposal, but Mr Strasser has several reasons for doing so. “As an open system, SOLIDWORKS gives us maximum freedom to design solutions that get those crucial, custom details just right. And the 3D view assures us that what we’re designing will actually work. Visual verification reduces our error rate to a minimum.”
“Without SOLIDWORKS and its visualisation options, we would not have been able to find the solution we did.”
This requires a high degree of precision during the design phase; there’s no “we’ll get a better look at it in the workshop.” Every pertinent detail is modelled in the 3D view so that no reworking is needed at the physical construction site. “We see buildings as machines,” explains Mr Strasser. For example, all drilled holes and welded joints are specifically placed so that the workshop is able to reproduce them exactly so. In addition, the three-dimensional, photo-realistic view of a structure offers an additional advantage that is not so much technical as it is communicative, helping designers more easily convince architects, end-clients and metal construction specialists of their solutions. As Mr Strasser points out, “We field much fewer comprehension-related questions.”
The advantages of visualising designs are again illustrated by the BMW Group Brand Experience Center project. A rough draft provided by the architect showed the outward-facing portals on the ground level blending in seamlessly, giving the impression of an uninterrupted pane of glass. This put Mr Strasser in a dilemma. “Suppliers had similar products, but no portals that met this requirement,” he explains. In response, his colleague Mr Stotzer designed a solution using SOLIDWORKS and produced an animated, photo-realistic rendering “mostly for the fun of it.” And the architect loved it. “The portals were built exactly as I had designed them,” Mr Stotzer states proudly. “We would never have been able to do what we did without SOLIDWORKS and its rendering features.”
Another major benefit of SOLIDWORKS is its parametric modelling, which gives designers considerable creative latitude while simultaneously accelerating the design process. “In one case, we had to plan the interior finish before the construction project even began, so we didn’t have any physical measurements to go on. Using parametrisation, we were able to completely design the relevant sections and link them through an Excel table in the background. Then all we had to do was fill in the table with the actual measurements in order to generate the blueprints.” A parametric approach also facilitates the use of carry-over parts—even entire building storeys. “This makes the manufacturing side less expensive, benefiting the end-client.”
Having embraced SOLIDWORKS from the very beginning, Mr Strasser is a self-sufficient user who doesn’t need much in the way of software support. In spite of this—or perhaps because of it—he holds SOLIDWORKS sales partners and Bechtle-owned Solid Solutions AG in high esteem, commenting, “Their response times are phenomenal.” Mr Stotzer, his colleague, relies on Solid Solutions’ YouTube channel as a valuable resource. Information also flows the other way, as Solid Solutions picks the brains of specialists such as psMetalltechnik in order to understand what different industries look for in a design tool.
[Pause] You’re right. My first licence number started with eight zeros.
It’s true that it’s not a common design tool for metal construction. But it is a 3D CAD solution that gives designers a great deal of freedom. Take stairs, for example. We could design stairs with a specific stair program that offers 30 types, of which we would pick one and adapt it. But that’s not our style. We want to inspire end-clients and architects with new ideas.
For the BMW Group Brand Experience Center in Dielsdorf, we had to design a very specific fitting for rotating glass-louvre doors, and also produce the prototype. We would’ve never been able to do it without SOLIDWORKS.
Our goal has always been to go paperless, and we’ve come very close to achieving this by designing in 3D and sending 3D data or renderings. In addition to minimising clarification requests from architects, metal construction specialists and end-clients, it has also brought our error rate close to zero. The next step would be to bring in virtual reality.
Exactly. Using augmented-reality glasses and 3D views in SOLIDWORKS, we can display interactive 3D projections directly in the actual environment, for instance.
True, but the relationship between an architect, designer and end-client is always emotional [laughs]. Another thing to think about, even further afield, is how far 3D printing will have developed in the next few years. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to print and assemble non-load-bearing parts using existing SOLIDWORKS data.
Published on Nov 9, 2016.