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Construction Tech Trends: #2 3D Printing

RhumbixApril 17, 2020 • 3 min read

Technology affects every element of our lives, from how we consume, to how we communicate, learn, and work. This is true for every industry, including construction.

One technology around since the 1980s, that has hit its stride in the last decade is 3D printing – and for good reason. Initially developed for creating prototypes parts, today 3D technology is playing a key role in transforming industries, including the medical, tool-making and aerospace sectors. Today, with major advances in capability, it’s poised to transform the construction industry as we know it!

Today’s 3D printers are capable of building walls and processing concrete. But as 3D is in its infancy, the question becomes is it just a trend, or does it have the staying power that can provide a long-term solution?

Let’s look at the transformative power of 3D printing, how it’s impacting the construction industry, and what the future may hold.

3D Printing History and Milestones
The concept of stereolithography (SLA) was first conceived in the 1980s. SLA consists of a high powered laser being used to turn liquid resin into a solid material. It is an additive process, meaning that it creates a product layer-by-layer. Today, there are several different additive technologies being used to create output using a variety of materials including metals, and concrete.

Initially used to quickly create prototype parts, as additive processes improved, 3D printing’s viable uses have expanded. The earliest adopters in the building trades were architectural firms that used it to create scale models. For over a decade now, 3D printing has been used for several initiatives and projects in the construction industry.

Milestones include:

  • The 2004 attempt by a University of South Carolina professor to print a 3D wall, widely accepted as the first use of 3D technology in construction.
  • In 2014 a complete canal house was built in Amsterdam using 3D printing.
  • In 2016, the Dubai Future Foundation built the “office of the future” entirely with a 3D printer. This was a milestone as a fully-functioning 2700 sqft building was constructed using a 120′ x 40′ x 20′ printer. Construction took 27 days!

Future Growth
The technology’s use in construction is growing. Certain areas, like concrete printing, are expected to grow rapidly and is projected to be valued at $54.6 million by 2021. 3D printing is showing great potential. Soon it may be possible to build everything from foundations, to walls, individual cinder blocks, even complete bridges faster, and sustainably.

As budgets and timelines tighten, 3D technology can increase efficiency and speed. The technology has already proven that it’s possible to build a home from the ground up in a matter of days, significantly faster than the months it can take to fully construct a building today.

As a process, 3D technology reduces waste because only uses the necessary material needed to create a structure. When combined with techniques like lean construction and pre-fabrication we may someday achieve the dream of a waste-zero building.

One of the greatest benefits of 3D printing is design freedom. In the future, architects will create complex designs too expensive, or labor-intensive to achieve using traditional methods. This will usher in a new era of innovation for the industry.

So is it a fad or does 3D printing have staying power in the construction industry? It’s important to note that currently, the technology isn’t advanced enough for large-scale use to complete projects. However, as technology advances, 3D construction is poised to be a viable solution that offers key benefits in terms of cost savings, environmental friendliness, and may completely transform the construction industry.


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