3D Printing’s Emergence!

3D printing in construction is as described by PlanRadar, "At first glance, it looks like the shell of any other half-finished building. But, on closer inspection, you see there are no bricks. Instead, layers of material are pasted on top of each other to create an intricate structure. This is the futuristic world of 3D printing in construction, where robotic arms automatically squeeze layers of cement, plastic or other material onto a foundation and ‘build’ a structure."

3D printing has been a big buzz term over the past decade–and for good reason. Though initially developed for product prototyping purposes, 3D printing technology has advanced to the point where it has emerged as a key player in a variety of industries.

Prior to the adoption of building information modeling (BIM), 3D printing was even used by architectural firms to build scale models. It wasn’t long before it was administered for more ambitious construction purposes. With 3D printers now capable of printing building walls and processing cement, the technology could help reshape construction as we know it.

Here are three of the most promising examples handful of 3D printed projects completed in the construction sector.

  • Dubai municipality office building, UAE

- In December 2019, 3D printing robot firm Apis Cor announced it had completed the world’s largest individual 3D printed building. The office block, built in the UAE, is 9.5 meters in height and has a floor area of 640 m2.

  • Office of the Future, UAE

- Another impressive 3D printed building in the UAE, the Office of the Future is a unique structure which is currently home (appropriately enough) to the emirate’s Future Foundation.

For this building, the printing itself was done offsite, with all the parts printed in 17 days. Workers installed the whole building in just 48 hours.

  • 3D printed houses by WinSun, China

- Chinese 3D printing firm WinSun also uses factory-based 3D printers to construct human dwellings. The firm has created a handful of home designs, including a small apartment block. The design’s users can quickly and cheaply print the parts before installing them on-site.

3D printing in construction offers a significant potential and benefit to increase efficiency in the building sector such as:

1. Time saving

- As with AI in construction, a 3D printer can work 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. This means construction projects could potentially be completed much faster, and some low skilled labor costs could be avoided.

2. Reduces waste

- It is common to order more materials than are needed in conventional construction whilst 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that only uses as much material as is necessary for creating a structure. Hence, it basically helps to reduce unnecessary wastage.

3. Customize design

- 3D printers work by layering up material, they can be programmed to create unusual shapes which would be much harder to build using traditional techniques. Hence, architects are allow for a lot more innovation and creativity design in the commercial construction space.

Even though 3D printing is certainly an appealing concept, but there are still several challenges or drawbacks to the technology:

1. High cost

- High cost of purchasing or renting such equipment and the logistics involved in getting these large 3D printers to the work site causes many construction professionals having difficulty to justify 3D printing’s cost over the technology’s benefits.

2.. Limitations to print materials (Ink)

- Most suitable materials, such as concrete and other earthen materials to build a concrete structure, are capable to put into the printer, however there are still materials that 3D printers are not yet versatile enough for to work with.

3. Quality control

- Construction risks may be higher because any errors in the digital model could result in problems onsite that will need special handling or rework. If not constantly monitored and overseen by real humans, quality in 3D printing could end up being a very expensive mess.

As the construction industry faces increasing pressure to meet tight schedules and budgets, companies are looking to new innovations to help fill the gaps. As of today, the 3D printing construction market is quickly growing, expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2024. This is potentially showing that 3D printing is credible and applicable in the construction sector, and it is likely that this technology will start to be seen more and more in the industry in the coming years.

There is no doubt that 3D printing with concrete is the next big trend in the construction sector. However, the technology hasn’t matured enough for large-scale deployment across the world, though there are obvious advantages. Till then, startups and companies dealing with construction 3D printing are slowly harnessing the power of this medium to create something that will one day change the course of human history.



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