3D printing and the construction industry

3D printing and the construction industry

3D printing has grown in popularity and is starting to be adopted by a variety of industries, from the medical field to the automotive sector.

As 3D printers continue to expand in scope, it is inevitable they will begin to enter the construction industry. The technology is fascinating and has the potential to improve costs and speed, while providing a reduction to the sector’s environmental impact. As adoption occurs, the market will shift from intensive manual labour to automated creation on a massive scale. Architects and engineers will be able to focus on eco-friendly solutions capable of revolutionizing the way we think about construction.

The revolution

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing (AM), is any process used to synthesize a three-dimensional object. Layers are created by binding paste and aggregates to develop successive beds of material to form the intended structure. In China, WinSun developed a method of printing tiny houses out of pre-moulded concrete.

The revolution seems to be well on its way, but political, legal and economic issues relating to the industry have hindered progress. For example, building codes continue to add complexity to the argument and will need to be further addressed in the future. Additionally, the emergence of large printers capable of printing entire houses will have to be met with economies of scale before the construction industry can afford the investment.

The process

The most common method of 3D printing is binder jetting, which binds particles by pumping paste onto a layer of fine aggregates and cement. A layer of binder is created, the material is then raked over and the relatively simple process repeats until the structure is complete. The unbound aggregate holds the structure together while the paste settles. Afterwards, the excess material is pushed or blown away. Advantages include:

  • High level of control over shape
  • Less worry about the self-weight that causes deformation as the product is layered

The technological advancement is not limited to a particular material. A recent project from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) took soil from the ground, combined it with a few additives and turn it into building material three times stronger than industrial clay.

What’s next

The world is entering a massive urbanization crisis. More infrastructure will be needed in the next 35 years than in the last 3,500. Most companies in the construction industry will likely wait until the technology is tested and proven until making the adoption. Every year the technology cost halves, while the printing speed and area doubles. Additionally, the utilization of green materials and lower waste production will make the technology too attractive to pass up. Smartech expects the market for 3D technology to top $40 billion in revenues by 2027. Change is inevitable – it is not a matter of if, but when.  

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