One of the rising trends in the construction industry in 2020 is the technology of 3D printing. Although 3D printing is not as widely used as some other trending advances – such as Virtual Reality or exoskeletons – it is growing in popularity.
So what is 3D printing and how does it work? How is 3D printing being used today?
Get all your questions about 3D printing answered here. For information about 3D printing in construction specifically, check out this blog.
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing is the printing of a physical, solid, 3-dimensional object from a digital file. A 3D printer works by laying layer upon layer of material until the finished object is created.
3D printing is also called “additive manufacturing”, which is spoken of as the opposite of “subtractive manufacturing”. Subtractive manufacturing is the process of cutting out or hollowing a piece of plastic or metal to create an object. An example of subtractive manufacturing is using a milling machine to punch out objects or materials.
Time and Cost of 3D Printing
The technicalities of printing such as time and cost can vary depending on the project and material type.
A basic home shelter, for example, can be printed in 30 minutes. A long-term living house on the other hand can take up to 24 hours. One article cites the cost of 3D printing a house as low as $10,000. This cost, however, is for a small 2 bed house that could also be referred to as a “tiny home”.
Image borrowed from Archinect News.
Now, the machines that print houses are piping out larger layers of concrete or other building material. For more detailed projects – such as smaller tools, machines, jewelry, instruments, etc – the layers will be thinner and the details potentially more specific or complex. This is why the printing of a small object that requires more detail at a higher quality could potentially take longer than a home shelter.
3D Printing during COVID-19
3D printing has been used during the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways. From printing medical/health supplies and PPE to inventions of new products, 3D printing has been playing a big part in relief efforts around the world.
Printing Medical Supplies
3D printing technology has been leaned on during the COVID-19 pandemic as printers around the world are being harnessed to print medical supplies. Globally, the medical community is running out of PPE supplies and healthcare gear.
A global call to action has risen in response. Anyone and everyone with a 3D printer or with access to one is being asked to help print face masks and face shields. In the spirit of community that has risen throughout the early months of 2020, the global community has complied.
Image borrowed from Forbes.
At first, there was a shortage of N95 masks. HP Inc jumped into action and they along with their partners began to 3D print more masks. They also provided free downloadable designs of medical equipment for those who have printers so that anyone could get access to the proper digital files needed to help provide this medical equipment.
It caught on so much that people also started printing face shields to go along with the masks. Beyond PPE, 3D printing has been used to fill other shortages in the medical field. One company in Italy started printing medical valves that are used in breathing machines because the local hospital was running out of them.
Image borrowed from Verdict Medical Devices.
Other Uses of 3D Printing During COVID-19
3D printing has also been used in China to create isolation pods for those who need somewhere to self-isolate after possibly contracting COVID-19.
Image borrowed from Global Construction Review.
Some people are even experimenting with 3D printing and creating new inventions for healthcare workers and the general public. One young man – a Boy Scout named Quinn Callander from Maple Ridge, British Columbia – invented and printed ear guards for healthcare professionals to hook face masks on. These guards protect their ears by holding the elastics over the back of their head. He even made the design public so anyone with a printer can recreate the design.
Image borrowed from CTV News.
The Possibilities are Endless
This pandemic has highlighted the possibilities of 3D printing in times of crisis. Beyond the crisis, however, the rise of 3D printing in recent months could lead to this technology being used more commonly and casually. If we can print face masks and shields which can actually keep people safe and save lives, what else can we print?
It’s not a new technology, but it has been reserved for specific purposes. Until now.
How is it Being Used Right Now?
As was said before, 3D printing is not new. It’s a technology that has been used for a while – but never in such a mainstream way as is happening now.
3D printing has been used for a variety of purposes. From designing moulds for jewelry to 3D printing consumable art with chocolate, there is no limit to the possibilities of 3D printing. 3D printing is even being used to make musical instruments! It has become popular in the construction industry as well and the lasting effects of this trend could affect everything from project timelines to reducing waste on-site.
3D Printing is Entering the Mainstream
3D printing is one piece of technology of the 21st century that is quickly becoming more and more mainstream. As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, the uses and applications of this ability is endless. The future of printing will only continue to develop and grow as the printers themselves are improved and a wider variety of materials capable of printing is developed.