3D Printers and the Construction Industry

3D Printer

Change is the only constant in life. Heraclitus

Change is an inevitable part of life. To understand this concept, one must first understand that change is fused with time, and that time stops for no man. Looking at recent events and technological advancements, we can see that change should be embraced, rather than feared. Here are some examples of recent changes:

  • Democrats give way to Republicans.
  • Hoverboards give way to self-tying shoes.
  • The iPhone 6S gives way to the iPhone 7.

With the advent of 3D printers, even the behemoth that is the global construction industry is undergoing profound and rapid transformation. In this month’s blog, we take a brief look at how using 3D printers can help this industry transform into a leaner, more responsive sector.

3D Printed Buildings?

Residential and commercial buildings created by a 3D printer are expected to be cheaper than traditionally built structures. Minimal labor, materials, and costs are associated with these machines. New buildings could be constructed in a matter of days rather than weeks; pending all required permits were previously obtained.

While the technology is still evolving, rudimentary buildings, are already being printed around the world. A single-story, 2,690 square foot office building was recently printed in Dubai in just 17 days. Installing it onsite took only two. The building’s interior design including furnishings were also printer-made.

The finished building, which opened May 23 of last year, cost just $140,000 to erect. In 2015, China erected the world’s tallest 3D printed building – a five-story apartment complex – with interior and exterior decoration to boot. The latter building, however, is currently more of a showpiece than a functioning residence.

How Do 3D Printers Work?

The creation of a 3D printed object or in this case, building is achieved using additive processes, which lays down construction materials one layer at a time until the object is created. It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create using a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program. A 3D scanner can then be used to create a model, which once sliced, is ready to be fed into the 3D printer. Integrated robotics then work to build the object.

Materials Used in 3D Printing

Many different materials can be used for 3D printing. Plastic still reigns supreme in the 3D printing materials world, followed by other resins, as these are easily extruded using the printer. In fact, according to a recent SmarTech Markets Publishing report, this technology is expected to generate $1.4 billion in plastic sales by 2019. Other materials include metal, graphite and graphene, as well as cement.

The Benefits of 3D Printers

Although many challenges remain – namely equipment costs, material variety, and high-volume production – many large construction companies are embracing this technology…and with good reason. Industry experts anticipate 3D printing will reap the following benefits for both them and their clients.

Labor Savings

3D printing is expected to reshape the job market. The labor savings this technology can yield for employers is quite substantial. Where it once took a large workforce to build a two-story office building, 3D printing can now cut both the amount of workers, and the amount of time in as much as half to create the same size building. The technology, however, won’t take away jobs – but instead create markets for higher-skilled jobs.

Affordable Custom-Designed Architecture

It is anticipated that the 3D printer, by transforming the way traditional custom-designed architecture is built, will be able to make home ownership more affordable especially for those in low-income housing areas and on Mars. This is achievable by reducing wasted dollars, time spent on one project, and raw materials.

Quicker Production Time

The average speed in which a 3D printer can complete the construction of a new commercial or residential building, or make repairs after a natural disaster, compared to traditional methods is made up in a matter of hours vs. months. Weighing less than 500 pounds, these printers are also portable, making it easy to transport them from one job site to the next.

Better for the Environment

The fact that this process of building doesn’t waste as much raw materials compared to that of traditional methods, is not only a cost savings feature, but also a possible attribute to ensuring our environment remains sustainable for future generations. Many companies today use eco-friendly, renewable materials.

Affordable First Step

Construction components such as block or trusses may help companies enter the market one step at a time. Starting with components, such as these, is a reasonable and affordable approach. This provides companies the opportunity to raise the necessary capital to implement one of the many high-quality 3D printers currently available on the market or coming soon.

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