3D printing is happening in the construction industry right now in a number of ways. Two ways are through using this technology to print entire buildings as well as the equipment itself. The implication of 3D printing in construction, however, goes far beyond this.
The housing industry is one of the main ways that construction is and could be affected by 3D printing. Right now, it is more common for the creation of small homes – almost like emergency relief houses – for those in low-income neighbourhoods and areas. This could expand to disaster response for those who lose their homes in the event of a tornado, hurricane fire, or flood.
Printing large-scale, multi-room or large family homes is not a reality – not yet anyway. At least not in a mainstream way. The advancement of the technology seems to hint that this is coming.
One way that 3D housing is being looked at is as a way to bring homes to those who couldn’t normally afford one. As mentioned above, a small home can be built for as little as $10,000. Many believe that this price can go as low as $4,000. The low cost of these houses makes them a great option for low-income countries to help provide a safe place for families to live.
New Story is a nonprofit that is building communities completely made up of 3D printed homes. Their mission is to provide homes that look like homes for those who have never known the comfort of solid walls, a door to close at night, and a comfortable shelter to house families and build communities.
Tech Insider did a spotlight piece on them – which you can check out below:
There are a number of other structures that are being printed instead of physically “built.” In 2017, the first 3D printed pedestrian bridge was opened to the public in Madrid, Spain. The bridge was built using micro-reinforced concrete and took about a year and a half to build from the day of conception to completion.
When it comes to building, there is no limit to the application of 3D printing. As long as the printers themselves are built to handle the projects, the digital files are able to be created and the building material itself stays available, 3D printing for projects will continue.
3D printing in construction for heavy equipment comes in two forms: Printing of entire pieces of equipment and the printing of specific parts for construction equipment. Printing entire pieces of heavy machinery isn’t commonplace yet, but it has been proven to be possible.
The world’s first 3D printed excavator had its global debut in 2017 at ConExpo in Las Vegas. Project AME developed the machine alongside Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Knoxville, Tennessee. An excavator was printed in three parts: the cab, boom, and a heat exchanger.
The machine was put together and deployed at the expo as an example of what the future of construction equipment could be.
While this was the first case of an entire piece of equipment being printed, there are many cases where 3D print technology is used to facilitate the repairs and maintenance of machinery. Cast moulds for equipment parts and printing specific additional parts for equipment – such as valves, bolts, and joints – are already being done.
Construction equipment is specialized and requires very specific parts. Being able to print whatever part is needed, no matter how small or detailed it is, is a great way to speed up the maintenance process and – from a business perspective – provide exceptional customer service.
In the future, this could even lead to the creation of unique and specific attachments for machines. The ability of construction equipment could expand beyond what is currency available to whatever it is a project manager or equipment company can imagine. And making one to try could be as simple as printing a tester.
3D Printing has the power to change construction far beyond quick build homes and equipment pieces.
The long-term effects of this technology could help to speed up construction project times, reduce project costs and waste and help to streamline client-contractor-architect communications. The industry as a whole is still far away from using 3D print technology for all projects but the way it could impact the future of this industry is already clear.
Being able to print a piece of a project as a completed whole could help to speed up the overall timeline of a project. The impact of bringing ready-made pieces of a project on site has already been seen with modular construction. 3D printing can have the same effect, and perhaps even do so in a more efficient way.
One of the arguments against modular construction is that it reduces originality – being mass-produced with efficiency in mind means that there’s only so much diversity possible. With 3D printing the opposite is true. Projects can be nit-picked down to the finest detail because a computer handles the printing of that object to the tiniest features.
Since 3D printing is done off of a digital file, there’s no need to worry about mass production – the same machine can print ten unique material pieces in a row without a loss of modelling or the need to swap out any machine pieces.
Creating custom fitting materials that are already built before they get on-site is a great way to speed up production. As 3D printers in the construction industry get bigger, smarter and capable of more complex projects with different materials, we could one day see an apartment complex or hospital or road be built in a matter of months.
Imagine: an entire project being completed with machines simply 3D printing the walls, floors and ceilings to build it up.
Construction Dive cited a study that says the construction industry is responsible for producing more than 1 billion tons of waste every year – a number that is expected to reach 2.2 billion tons by 2025. While there are many movements in the industry to reduce this number, such as green construction changes, 3D printing could be a way to help as well.
The process of building using 3D printing only uses exactly what materials are needed. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no waste because the machines don’t create what they aren’t programmed to create.
Brick and concrete from demolitions are two of the largest sources of construction waste. 3D printing would make it easy for contractors to recycle concrete from demolition and use it again in the project. Recycled concrete is compatible with 3D printers for construction and houses have been printed before using recycled concrete material.
With such large numbers on the topic of construction waste, 3D printing alone will not solve the problem. But it is a way to tackle it and to begin to make a difference.
Forget large scale 3D printing for a minute and think about communication during the construction process. 3D printing could allow for the client and architect to work out the specific details and makeup of a project. Then, the plan could be printed into a physical replica of the project for the contractor to use as a point of reference throughout the project.
In a world where things are becoming more and more digitized, having a physical copy of a project to reference could help to ease any communication issues and reduce the possibility of mistakes. It could also ease any tension between what the architect imagines and what the contractor can see from prints and plans.
The applications of 3D printing in construction are clear. The ability to speed up projects, create specific parts for machines, reduce construction waste and change the way projects are completed in general will contribute to bringing construction to a whole new level.
The industry is at a time of great transition. Efficiency, safety and productivity are the three buzzwords related to construction in 2020. 3D printing is one piece of technology that will help the industry achieve this and make the industry something that has never been seen in construction before.