As a builder you spend countless hours developing and designing the perfect structure. When the plans are complete you hit the print key and in a few moments you have a copy of all that hard work in your hands. Printing a document is now just a part of everyday life. However, the art of printing has been a part of society since the 1400’s and has undergone several iterations over the centuries; from letterpress printing to offset printing to desktop printing and it keeps evolving. Can you imagine a world without the printed page?
What if you hit the print key and instead of getting a set of plans you get a house?
You may be asking yourself, “What do I care about printing, I’m a builder?” Well consider this, what if you hit the print key and instead of getting a set of plans you get a house? Yes, a real livable structure! With 3D printing that technology exists.
The term 3D printing refers to the production of physical objects layer-by-layer by an automated and usually computer-controlled machine. The machine, most often guided by digital 3D models, either melts metal or powdered solids or ejects liquid or semi-liquid materials. The technology provides for a wide range of applications, from surgical implants to spare parts for cars to lightweight structures for aerospace projects and yes, even buildings.
3D printers at work.
Many design firms across the world are implementing 3D printing technology. One of the top companies that has dedicated itself to 3D printing in the construction industry is the Chinese firm Winsun. The company made global news in 2014 when it printed ten complete houses. Since then, it has conducted several bold projects, such as printing a complete office building for the Dubai Future Foundation.
Other projects include the Dutch company MX3D that has been using it’s robotics and design expertise to develop methods for printing a metal pedestrian bridge; a California/Russian company partnership has reportedly printed a modest concrete house entirely onsite in 24 hours for barely $10,000, a 70% savings over conventional construction methods; and a Tennessee company has developed a process for printing freeform polymer matrices that can be filled with foam or cement.
The latest example of a 3D printed house. The images above show the exterior and interior of the structure.
3D printing is not without it’s critics. There are some who believe with increased automation and mechanization it will have a detrimental effect on the labor force. Also, there are still several building regulations to be delt with and testing that needs to be completed before the technology can really hit it’s stride. But, like with any new technology, eventually these problems will be solved and the construction business can enjoy a whole new world of possibilities 3D printing can bring to the industry, such as:
Better Project Planning
3D printing allows companies to quickly and inexpensively create models to have a visual representation of the project.
Freedom of Design
By reducing the costs associated with nonstandard shapes, 3D printing gives free rein to architects and designers.
Reduced Supply Costs
It is estimated that 3D printing will save construction companies up to 50% on the cost of building a house.
3D printing relies less on lumber in a home’s framework. Great for “green” construction firms, not so great for the lumber industry.
The skills shortage affecting the construction industry could soon become less relevant. 3D printers require minimal human surveillance.
Speed of Delivery
By operating 24/7 and by reducing onsite glitches, 3D printers can cut construction times dramatically.
3D printing is an affordable way to create housing for less fortunate individuals in need of shelter.
One day, perhaps, large buildings will be printed in their entirety by a single printer.
When will 3D printing really become mainstream in the construction industry is up to the industry itself. One day, perhaps, large buildings will be printed in their entirety by a single printer, with no on-site human input apart from the pressing of a switch. That is still a long way off, but as long as investment continues flowing and the learning curve gets straighter, it might be sooner than you think!