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3D printing in construction was initially developed to enable manufacturers to create low-cost, rapid prototypes of product designs. Over the years, it has transformed numerous other industries, opening up opportunities for innovations to occur. 3D-printed tools, car parts, and anatomical models. There’s even talk of 3D-printed organs for transplant! With this technology, the possibilities seem endless. You can build whatever you want to build… even a house!
3D Printing in Construction
When you read about 3D printing online, most of the talk surrounds manufacturing and healthcare. But one of the most obvious and practical applications of this technology is, in fact, in the field of construction. And we’re not just talking about printing hammers and saws.
Back in 2004, a creative professor at the University of South Carolina thought of printing a wall. To do this, he developed an FDM 3D printer mounted on a robotic arm that extruded concrete layer by layer to build a 3D-printed wall. This event is believed to be the first entry of this technology into the field of construction.
Fast forward 10 years, an international team of professionals from various sectors worked together to build a 3D-printed Canal House in Amsterdam. The goal was to revolutionize the industry and offer a new customized housing solution to the world.
In 2016, just two years later, a firm in China printed a 4,300-square-foot home onsite within 45 days. Most of the attempts previous to this involved printing sections of the building in a factory before bringing them onsite for assembly. This milestone required construction workers to first build the frame, rebar supports, and plumbing before the 3D printer did its job.
In the same year, the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) built what they call the “Office of the Future” – a fully functioning 3D-printed office building. They created the building using a 3D printer with a robotic arm that layered three unique innovative materials. And construction was done within 17 days, with only a team of 18 people.
When you compare it to how a traditional building of a similar size is made, this technology can drastically reduce construction time, waste, and labor costs – by more than 50%!
A year later, a San Francisco 3D printing startup called Apis Cors built a 38 sqm house within 24 hours for a little over $10,000. The company believes that their houses can be used to provide more affordable housing. Especially to those who need it such as those affected by natural disasters.
The Future of 3D Printing in Construction
As you can see, there are already plenty of proofs of concept. 3D-printing is definitely going to transform the construction industry. This technology has shown that it can build a structure within a matter of days, which means lower costs. Since you’re using additive manufacturing, there’s a significant drop in the amount of construction waste produced.
More importantly, 3D printing offers design freedom. Complex designs that are too expensive to do or simply unattainable due to the limits of conventional construction methods are possible with additive manufacturing.
So, it isn’t surprising that several companies have developed their own machines and use different technologies to 3D print structures using various materials. Some companies are sticking to 3D printing concrete. One Italian architect by the name of Enrico Dini is using sand solidified with a binder to create large structures. The Dutch Company MX3D uses metal to 3D-print structures with its 6-axis robot.
Some of these companies such as Urban3D in Brazil and Italian company WASP are adopting this technology in order to solve the housing crisis. A Nevada-based tech startup called Haus.me is building sustainable housing using 3D printing and connected smart home technology. On the other side of the world, in Singapore, the country’s Housing Development Board has approved the development of architectural components and furniture like benches using concrete 3D printing.
Without a doubt, there are already people living in 3D printed houses and enjoying the benefits of 3D-printed structures. However, despite how promising this technology is, many in the field are still wary of it. There are plenty of reasons for this. One is the fact that it is not a method of construction that is currently recognized by standard bodies.
Another challenge that can prohibit this technology from becoming mainstream is the labor shortage. Using this technology requires a very specific skillset, and finding enough qualified workers to work on 3D printing construction projects can be difficult. Not to mention, the cost of buying or renting a 3D printer, maintenance, and materials can be quite high.
Even so, the future seems bright according to the experts. The potential advantages of 3D printing in this industry are too great to not pursue this as a viable solution. As long as companies such as Apis Cor, Urban3D, and others continue to develop and test this approach, we will continue to see construction companies adopting this technology in the years to come.