3D Printing for the Construction Industry

How 3D Printing Works

3D printing construction3D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing” is dramatically changing the way we work and live. 3D printing uses materials science, architecture, computation, and robotics to advance and automate proven processes.

Most consumer 3D printing machines are small and designed to recreate digital models from plastic. However, industrial grade 3D printing technology is now being developed and used in the construction industry.  Reasonably priced 3D printers reduce labor and materials costs and promote time and labor savings in construction.

3D printing applications appear to be infinite. Pioneers have already demonstrated that a home can be 3D printed easily, inexpensively, and proficiently. In countries that adhere to building codes and regulations, 3D-printing construction is already used for conception, prototyping and cosmetic architecture.

Pioneering 3D Printing Construction Companies

Apis Cor has a 4.5 meter 3D printer prototype that generated a 400 square foot structure in 24 hours. Amazingly, the project cost, including labor and materials, was just over $10,000. The printer produced the cement walls, partitions and building envelopes onsite. The process almost removed the tremendous cost of transporting parts and building materials from the manufacturers to the site. Manual labor was still necessary to install the wiring, roof, plumbing, and insulation.

Traditionally, six or seven months of construction time is required to achieve this kind of end result. But the industry is advancing so quickly that construction has been reduced from 45 days to one day in one year.

Some 3D-printing companies are using the technology to generate individual components such as connectors and joints. The internet has thousands of open source 3D printing plans for measuring tools, hand drills, wrenches, hand-screw clamps, and wire strippers.

Contractors are presenting projects to potential clients with a 3D-printed model of the finished project drafted with AutoCAD or another blueprint program. Presenting a reduced, proportional preview of the project gives them the competitive edge.Many companies see an opportunity to provide temporary housing after natural disasters and for housing shortages in developing countries. 3D printing firms still need to prove they can produce buildings that can handle inclement weather and other livability benchmarks.

3D Printing Materials

Most 3D printing technology uses a photopolymer resin. However, industrial-size printers deployed for construction projects use other materials, typically a concrete composite.

Many companies now use a concrete mix composed of recycled materials. Construction firm Cazza’s mix consists of up to 80 per cent recycled material. CyBe deploys a specifically designed mortar that sets within three minutes and dries within one hour of printing.

3D printing can save up to 30 percent of material waste, produces fewer CO₂ emissions, saves energy and resources, enables onsite production that reduces transportation costs, and encourages architectural expression.

The printer must have a powerful pump that matches the manufacturing scale. The right speed and size of the printer is critical for print quality of surfaces, edges and consistent dimensions for each layer. The printing technology must be optimized to continuously deliver materials to ensure the layers fuse properly.

The end result is full-size building blocks with smart geometry that can withstand load without reinforcements. The shape stability of the truss-like filaments in these blocks is an essential part of printing to ensure strength and stiffness to the printed objects.

This approach is expected to revolutionize the industry within the next 10 to 15 years. Scientists need to fine tune the mix ratios, and refine a printing system that copes with the rapid manufacturing of building blocks. Only then can the potential of 3D printing be harnessed to build faster, and more sustainably than ever thought possible.

3D Printing Construction Cost Savings

Apis Cor’s 24-hour home was constructed for approximately $10,000. HuaSheng Tenga’s homes were constructed with only 40 per cent of the materials in 30 percent of the time. Many companies are researching and developing inexpensive, less complex ways of roof construction.

New Story, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit company that builds housing in the developing world, recently launched a 3D printer that can print a house for $4000 in less than 24 hours. Dutch company, DUS Architects, has launched  the KamerMaker, a large 3D printer that deploys local recycled materials.

Pros and Cons

Pros include increased architectural freedom, lower cost of labor costs (due to machines doing a lot of the heavy work), rapid building, fewer errors and reduced material waste (up to 30 percent). 3D printing uses fewer resources, generates fewer CO2 emissions, and enables onsite production which lowers transportation costs.

Cons include reduced demand on labor and materials, difficult and expensive transport and setup as well as possible digital errors.

Bottom line

Innovative technology is disrupting many major industries, including the construction industry. While we probably won’t see 3D-printed buildings as far as the eye can see in the very near future, it’s important to keep in mind that 3D printing will produce massive change to the housing market.

When you select the location to build your home, a 3D printing construction company will bring in their printer and raw materials. Within 24 hours, your home will be ready. Compare this to the current six- or seven-month construction period and you will understand what awaits you. Size, scope and materials no longer present obstacles for 3D printing in the construction industry. 

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