Three-dimensional (3D) Printing in Building Construction

You’ve probably heard about 3D printing a few years ago,  from Product Design to Medical Industry, Automotive, Food and many more..It also started to enter the Construction Industry which could become the next Industrial revolution that will transform the construction industry. Which could be both thrilling and a little tricky, depending on one’s point of view. 

First, a short 3D printing lesson …

WHAT IS 3D PRINTING?

3D printing is a processing method used to create solid objects from a digital file uploaded to a 3D printer. The printer reads the file and sets out successive layers of materials, such as plastics, resins, concrete, sand or metals, until the entire object is formed.

3D Printing

Like an inkjet printer, a 3D printer has raw material tanks, often based on plastic, which extrude in a precise pattern to lay down layers. Think of it as an inkjet printer that reprints the same spot over and over until the ink column is formed.

Currently, only 3D models of structural designs, prototypes and smaller non-structural features, such as landscaping bricks or decorative parts, have been used. Viatechnik, however, demonstrates how the industry is evolving beyond that.

3D PRINTING IN CONSTRUCTION

The use of 3D printing to create homes or commercial buildings is beginning to become a real possibility and is the talk of the city in the AEC industry. The idea of 3D printing has been around for decades and has had a fair share of ups and downs, but seems to be gaining traction again. 3D printing structures are manufactured by super-sized printers using special cement mixtures that are thicker than concrete, so there is no need for support beams.

 

 

The self-supporting aspect of 3D printing opens up a whole new set of possibilities that are simply not possible with conventional construction methods.

What makes 3D printing different from conventional construction methods? 3D printing is achieved using super-sized printers that use a special concrete and composite combination that is thicker than standard concrete, allowing it to be self-supporting as it sets.

Thus, 3D printed components do not have the same design limitations that could impede existing construction methods. In addition, curved concrete structures created by 3D printing can be hollow, using less material and creating space for building services within structural elements.

THE PROs

  • Lower Construction Costs. 3D printed buildings have much lower construction costs than those of conventional methods due to the reduction in raw materials and, more significantly, labor costs. The labour costs of architectural projects can be decreased by up to 80% by getting much of the work done by 3D printers. Production costs are also minimized by eliminating the 3d printed building specifications for the management of large storage spaces and the regular transport of building materials.
  • Increased Design Shapes. 3D printing can produce design shapes and customization that are not feasible or would be super costly if performed on a regular basis. Printers may position small quantities of concrete precisely where they are required for complex shapes, significantly improving architects’ design capabilities.
  • Reduced Construction Waste. The use of 3D printing construction for architectural projects is more environmentally friendly. Although consuming very little energy, print construction can generate only about 30% of the waste generated by a normal construction project. Components are printed on demand and any content not used can be conveniently recycled for future use. The cement mixture used in 3D printers can be made from recycled plastic and other imperishable materials.
  • Reduced Construction Time. Using a 3D printer to complete a building project will dramatically reduce the construction time. Having a house constructed with 3D technology can be completed in around half a month compared to the usual 6-month construction cycle. This can be particularly useful in an emergency situation where buildings need to be constructed in as little time as possible.

 

THE CONs

  • Building Codes. There are no rules or procedures for obtaining the approval of 3D printed buildings for residential or commercial use. First, the government will have to come up with requirements to be implemented in terms of electrical , plumbing, structural integrity and public safety codes.
  • Material Types. The material that can be supplied from the printer head is limited to only concrete and plastics. Buildings needing wood or steel components would not have been able to use the printer to complete such pieces.
  • Engineering Compatibility. Very few architects and engineers have taken interest in 3D printed buildings. The additional 3D printed home capabilities that come with the latest technology may not be used during the design process. Traditional blueprints are not suitable with use with a 3D printer, so the whole design process has to be treated differently.

 

As with every exciting new technology, it will take time for 3-D printing to find its foothold. Time will tell if it proves to be a valuable complement to — or even a substitute for — existing construction methods, or whether it remains an innovative but limited development tool.

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